Santa Cruz's innovative Open Counter platform going national with Knight grant

Cowell’s Beach is a great place to start.

Santa Cruz is proving itself to be a leading center for twenty-first century e-government. The latest endorsement came from the Knight Foundation today, which announced it was giving a $450,000 award to the Open Counter project. It was one of only eight winners, out of 860 applicants, of the Knight News Challenge on Open Gov.

Led by Peter Koht, an economic development staffer with the City of Santa Cruz, the Open Counter initiative was originally backed by Code for America, a private foundation that bills itself as a Peace Corps for geeks. A team of CfA fellows worked with Peter last year to build a one stop, online system for starting a new business in Santa Cruz. It walks entrepreneurs through permits, licensing, employment issues, zoning, taxes and fees, and more. What might have taken several visits to different city department over a few days can now be done in minutes.

The Knight Foundation grant will be used to fund the expansion of Open Counter to more cities, including some where CfA fellows are already at work. Peter has been tapped to lead that effort, and was honored today during the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although his public sector career has been relatively short – less than five years – he’s been involved in several digital governance projects, including serving as policy lead for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and as an advisor to Civinomics, a Santa Cruz-based online platform for town hall meetings.

The original idea was to keep people in town and thin the morning commute to Silicon Valley. Looks like the traffic jam will be heading the other way.