City Approves Use of Neighborhood Social Networking Site Funnels Info from Neighbors, City Hall Directly to Residents

Joining its Goleta and Ventura neighbors, the City of Santa Barbara last Tuesday became part of — a neighborhood-specific social networking site — after the city council approved staff’s ability to post pertinent city information on the site.

Nextdoor, which is free and found in many other communities across the country, is more secure than other social networking sites in that it requires members to prove they actually live in the neighborhood they sign up to join. It can be a resource not only for neighbors but also for the city.

“Frankly, there are very limited options for the city to communicate directly with neighborhoods, so we discussed this particular tool helping us provide one route,” said Nina Johnson, assistant to City Administrator Jim Armstrong. The city, Johnson said, will use the site to keep neighborhoods abreast of construction projects, upcoming events, and what to do in an emergency.

After seeing Goleta’s February launch of the site, Johnson said that the City of Santa Barbara thought it would be a good idea. “We thought it was a great tool,” she said, “especially for people who like to use social media.”

Johnson said that in the three days since its launch, Santa Barbara’s Nextdoor has had 415 members join across 32 neighborhoods, some of which — including Hitchcock, the upper Eastside, and San Roque — are more active than others but “growing” by the day.

Councilmember Cathy Murillo, although initially concerned that neighborhood monitors could use their position to advance their own interests — a worry Murillo said was assuaged when she found out neighborhoods can have multiple leaders and problems can be reported to the program’s customer service department — lauded the site’s security.

“Everyone has to say who they are,” she said, mentioning the site’s identity-verification system. “People are held to a little bit of a higher standard.” Murillo also said that the city’s ability to now funnel relevant information to specific areas will be helpful. “They’ll be able to talk directly to that neighborhood,” she said. “There’ll be an electronic communication venue, and I think it’ll be great.”

San Roque resident and community activist Mari Mender is really liking Nextdoor so far. After doing some research on the site — “Homework,” she said, “no pun intended” — Mender joined and has since seen benefits aplenty.

In addition to using the site to coordinate her already-close-knit neighborhood’s regular block parties, Mender was finally been able to meet one of her neighbors — an 80-year-old woman who lives diagonally across from her. Now, after connecting with the woman on Nextdoor, Mender said, “everybody has gathered around her to see if she needs anything.”

“It’s been terrific,” Mender added. “The original social network used to be the neighborhood. This brings you back.”

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