The Buzz from City Hall

Anyone who’s watched televised meetings from city hall knows about the background buzz when the camera angle changes.  It sounds like a short circuit in the video wires.  “Councilmember bzzzzzzzzzz.”  “Whabzzzzzzzz is the bzzzzzzzz fiscal bzzpact of bzzzzzz.”

Once when this happened, my husband complained and I switched the channel only to hear Judge Judy say, “Get over it.”  Now we can indeed get over it because the buzzing is expected to be gone soon.  The city is in the process of overhauling all its video equipment.

The city is paying for the new equipment with a fee collected from our cable providers, Comcast and AT&T.  Because cable franchises no longer have to maintain and support local access television studios, cities are entitled to collect an annual fee of up to one percent of a cable company’s gross revenues to support public, education and government (PEG) cable channels.  This year in Alameda the fee has generated about $175,000 for new equipment.  The monies may only be spent to replace or upgrade existing equipment used for programming and broadcasting on the PEG channels.  Until now, the city’s old equipment has not been compatible with our cable companies’ new digital equipment.

Sean Jones, who has been filming city hall meetings since 2004, is excited about the change.  “We used to have only one output.”  The upgrade allows for full audio, camera and graphic controls.  Using three new high definition wall cameras, he and coworker Alex Andrews will be able “to hear and monitor the room volume, television and web, and adjust each independently” through a computerized system.

High definition subscribers will find themselves watching city hall meetings in high def.  Besides better sound and picture, a new look in between meetings will include slide shows rather than the scrolls of upcoming agendas and press releases currently being shown.  All upgrades should be completed in February.

City Clerk Lara Weisiger said Sean’s work, which began as a result of a high school TV Media course referral, “has saved the city lots of money.  Because of his talent, the city did not have to hire an outside contractor for the position.”  Weisiger says the city would be happy to offer future internships to students.

The equipment upgrade comes as the city increases its number of broadcasts to meet the requirements of the Sunshine Ordinance, which goes into effect February 1.  In addition to regularly aired city council, planning board, public utilities board, economic development commission, and transportation commission meetings, Alamedans will soon be able to see meetings of the historical advisory board, recreation and parks, and open government commission (the newly formed commission that will enforce the Sunshine Ordinance).  Meetings are aired on Comcast channel 15 and AT&T channel 99.

With the additional fees generated in upcoming years, the city could install a remote feed in the main library or other venues.

This news is the kind of buzz I like coming from city hall.

Originally published in Alameda Sun

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