In the coming years, the public library in San Leandro could have more than just books and movies to lend out: Patrons may also be able to check out a mobile Wi-Fi hot-spot device.

The move is part of the community’s plan to become a smarter city and includes moves like upgrading traffic signals to the latest intelligent tech to better manage traffic, as well as a bevy of sensors and cameras to enhance public safety.

“All of those projects have moving pieces," said Tony Batalla, information technology manager for San Leandro. "Some of them are farther along than others. Some of them are just beginning. Some of them, we’re still planning. And some of them are off and running.

“By five years from now, there will be a lot of transformation,” he added.

San Leandro, a Bay Area city with about 85,000 residents, recently adopted its Fiber Optic Master Plan, which puts in place a strategic plan for developing smart city projects, as well as expanding broadband services. The city worked with the consulting firm Magellan Advisors, and over the course of a year, held a number of public meetings with residents, business groups and other stakeholders to map out what form smart city projects should take.

“I think the big takeaway is this was an attempt to demystify smart cities and create a really actionable road map, so that if we want to implement smart city over the next five years, this is what it will look like, and this is what matters to the city staff and to the community,” Batalla explained. 

“We’ve taken a step to define smart city on our own terms and what it means to be a smart city in San Leandro,” he added.

Part of what the meetings with residents revealed was the need to ensure digital access. Research shows a fairly sizable digital divide in San Leandro, where some 22 percent of homes don't have a broadband Internet connection. This is where the idea of developing a “Wi-Fi lending program” with the public library came from.

“We have a pretty robust public Wi-Fi program, and we’re expanding that into city parks this year,” said Batalla. “And the final piece of this is digital inclusion, and making sure that all of this stuff that we’re doing and all these services that we’re building aren’t overlooking parts of the community.”

The smart city projects will be supported by San Leandro’s existing 21-mile fiber-optic communications network, which was completed by 2015 with a $2 million federal economic development grant.

“We had an abundance of fiber, and we were looking at 'What are we going to do with it?'” said Batalla. (There are similarities to the city of Oxnard, which combined fiber optics with foresight to make the city smarter.) 

In the past, without a clear strategic plan to guide smart city projects, the San Leandro’s approach was less targeted.

"We had been utilizing the fiber network in these independent projects — opportunistic projects,” he said. “So as opportunities arose, we would connect them to the city’s network and continue to build on it.”

By 2016, officials realized it would be better to have a smart city master plan guiding the efforts.

“It was time to take a step back and look at the big picture,” Batalla explained. “What’s going on with this fiber network and where are we going with smart city technologies? How can we utilize this network, and this asset, to really drive where we want to go?”