City Launches 311 Call Center for Public Services

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday November 25, 2009 - 08:45:00 AM

Next time you find a pothole on your street or graffiti in your neighborhood, call the city. It might just work. Or so promises the City of Berkeley, which launched a 311 call center program at the Nov. 17 City Council meeting to troubleshoot these kinds of problems. 

Berkeley residents, visitors and businesses can call 311 from their landlines or cell phones for routine city service requests—“information they want every single day,” said Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna. 

“The city is really excited that there’s a number for the public to call,” said Caronna. “We have consolidated a lot of information into this center. By providing one easy-to-remember, convenient number, we want to help community members get the information and services they need as quickly as possible. Our goal is to resolve 70 percent of all calls that come into the city.” 

The 311 line will remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during regular business days. 

The city also launched an online service center (www.CityOfBerkeley.info/onlineservice) where people can pay parking tickets or apply for jobs. The website, which is designed to take care of some of the same services as 311, will remain open 24 hours a day. 

“People can put in a service request online for things that have not been resolved,” Caronna said. “Tennis shoes hanging from the telephone pole, or just routine activities ...” 

Caronna said the city had also published a public staff directory online which would help people identify employees in a particular city department. 

Caronna said Berkeley received 65,000 calls through the pilot program last year and expected a lot more in the future. 

The city spent $800,000 from its 2006 technology improvement funds for the program. 

“I told my constituents that if their green bin didn’t get picked up, if there’s debris in their storm drain, they could call 311,” Councilmember Linda Maio said. “They couldn’t believe they could call one number and have everything resolved right there.” 

The City of Berkeley website points out that 311 is not a city switchboard—“calls are answered by customer service representatives who can help most callers complete routine city business without being transferred.” 

The city is currently inviting feedback on these pilot programs and is planning to expand the services in 2010. 

Comments can be mailed to 311@cityofberkeley.info.