Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

City Hall, FUSD, Bulldogs and Big Data

Here are three more examples of Big Data’s growing presence in the Valley:

1.) The Fresno City Council on April 25 approved a deal between City Hall and the state Franchise Tax Board that should give pause to local business-owners who don’t like paying taxes.

It’s one of those you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours agreements between branches of your friendly Big Brother.

Just about all businesses in Fresno must a business license fee. In essence, it’s a tax. For most businesses, there’s a single fee based on gross annual income. Professionals such as lawyers pay a flat fee for a professional license, while the lawyer’s firm pays a fee based on gross receipts.

City Hall loves this money because it goes straight to the general fund. The city collected $15.56 million in business license fees in Fiscal Year 2012. This jumped nearly 6% to $16.49 million in FY 2013. The city hopes to collect $16.82 million this year — and wouldn’t be a bit disappointed if the tax-collectors far exceeded that goal.

Gov. Jerry Brown likes business-owners’ money, too.

City Hall and Brown have one big fear. They suspect some businesses are paying their City of Fresno business license fees, but not their full share of sales and income taxes to the Franchise Tax Board. And they suspect that other businesses are paying their full share of sales and income taxes to the Franchise Tax Board, but not their City of Fresno business license fees.

You can see where this was headed on April 25.

The council agreed to send City Hall data on local businesses to Sacramento in exchange for Sacramento’s data on local businesses.

If Joe’s Widget Shop is on one list and not the other, well, Joe had better haul out his checkbook or get a good lawyer.

Karen Bradley, Fresno’s assistant controller, and Kim Jackson, the city’s business tax manager, explained the deal to me.

They said City Hall sent its data to the Franchise Tax Board in June. The state crunches it. The Franchise Tax Board in December will send its data to City Hall.

Neither side will have direct access to the other’s data. City Hall will send only the names and addresses of local businesses. No figures on gross sales will be sent to Sacramento.

City Hall must “scrub” the data it gets from Sacramento, Bradley and Jackson said. This means, among other things, making sure discrepancies between the two lists aren’t due to typos. For example, Joe’s Widget Shop on one list may be Jo’s Widget Shoppe on another. Are they the same business or two separate businesses?

But make no mistake, Bradley and Jackson said. If Joe of widget shop fame is paying state business taxes but not his City of Fresno business license fees, he can expect a letter of tactful finger-wagging from City Hall next spring.

The city and the state shared data in the past, but their computer systems didn’t mesh. The new world of relatively-inexpensive supercomputers has changed that.

Will the April 25 deal work as planned?

Said Assistant Controller Bradley: “We hope so.”

2.) Video surveillance is part of Big Data. The Fresno police department has 150 security cameras throughout the city. But that’s nothing compared to Fresno Unified School District — 750 security cameras keep an eye on approximately 100 high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.

Police Chief Jerry Dyer told me several weeks ago that his department and the district have an agreement that allows police direct access to the video feeds. That makes sense on two levels. First, a lot happens on FUSD campuses that merits police review. Second, Dyer is building a sophisticated Big Data command center in police headquarters that apparently will be able to handle the production of 750 school cameras running 24/7.

It all sounds very simple. But perhaps it’s not that simple. Politically-speaking, it’s one thing for police cameras to automatically send data back to police headquarters, and it’s something entirely different for a public-school district’s cameras to automatically send data back to police headquarters.

FUSD officials at first told me the deal is exactly as Dyer described it to me. The agreement is in place. Police can access the district’s video feeds as needed. Everyone wins because security is improved.

Then FUSD officials changed their tune with me. The district-PD deal is still in the negotiating stage. Police won’t get unilateral access to video feeds. Instead, police will have to get permission from a district official to review video.

If I understand correctly, if something bad is happening at a school at 3 a.m., police will have to get a district official out of bed and successfully make their case over the phone before getting a look at potentially important video.

And if I understand the district correctly, the video-policing policy that could eventually be worked out will not permit the police to have immediate access to video recorded during school hours.

Does that mean a cop assigned to a high school campus is permitted to witness something with her own two eyes but not permitted to take a second look at the incident on video?

I don’t know. Then again, it appears hardly anyone at FUSD knows what’s going on. FUSD Trustee Michelle Arax Asadoorian told me last week over the phone that no one in the district administration has told her about this district-police department video-deal-in-the-making.

“The reality is this is something that should come before the public in a public setting,” Asadoorian said.

3.) Fresno State football Coach Tim DeRuyter is a big consumer of Big Data/Big Computers.

“The average fan probably doesn’t realize how much we rely on those things,” DeRuyter said after a morning practice late last month. “We’ve got a great system made by XOs Technologies (I think that’s what he said) that tells all the data — downs, distance, personnel, what hash, how much time is left in the game, what the defense is, the formation, the play, the gain or the loss. We put all that information into a spread sheet. It ties that information to video clips. You can get what we call cut-ups so you can look immediately. Instead of an entire game in sequence, I just want to look at the third down in one to four plays. It’ll pull it up just like that. I’ll say: ‘I want to look at second down and 10 after an incomplete pass.’ Right away it’ll give us a cut-up of just that situation.”

I don’t fully understand what DeRuyter said there, but his main point is clear. Big-time college football is neck-deep into Big Data.

DeRuyter said his graduate assistants grab all the data from the previous week’s game and put it into digital form. Then DeRuyter and his staff analyze the data in ways that make them useful to players and coaches alike.

“It’s all part of our prep,” DeRuyter said. “You know as a playcaller on Saturday what the other team has done in the prior four games so you can anticipate what they may do against you.”

DeRuyter said recruiting databases are growing in quantity and content.

“In the last five to seven years, through the advent of recruiting video being put on computers, you can really expand your recruiting base and not have to go there unless you’ve got an actual prospect,” DeRuyter said.

He said Internet video helped Fresno State decide it was worth the effort to recruit running back Marteze Waller of Georgia.

The power of the Internet, DeRuyter said. “has changed the game.”

DeRuyter surprised me when he said there’s not a direct and continuous exchange of computerized data between the training room and the coaches’ offices. The stakes are so high in top-level college football, the number of variables that go into success so big, and the temptation of managers to manage so intense that I figured the coaches would want all the real-time Big Data they could get.

This isn’t to suggest that DeRuyter ignores training-room information.

“We track guys when they first come in here: height, weight speed, body fat,” DeRuyter said. “We’ve got a piece of equipment called the ‘bod pod’ that measures their lean mass and body fat. We take a picture of those guys when they first get here. Hopefully through training their body fat percent goes down but their lean muscle mass goes up — becoming better athletes. A lot of that information is tracked. It’s more of our database.”

I told DeRuyter that in a year or two his training staff will be sending continuous, real-time data to the coaching staff’s computer experts.

Said DeRuyter: “You’re probably right.”

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