The Santa Rosa City Council chambers is getting an audio/video upgrade designed to improve the viewing experience for those attending public meetings as well as those who prefer to monitor democracy in action from home.

The city is spending $350,000 to install high-definition cameras, new projection equipment and other high-speed gear and software to bring the most accessible portion of City Hall, constructed in 1969, into the 21st century.

"It's a long-overdue upgrade," said Eric McHenry, the city's chief technology officer.

Crews have been using the council's three-week summer hiatus to install the new equipment and will be troubleshooting it this week in preparation for the council meeting on Tuesday.

The council chambers, with its 135-seat capacity and amphitheater-style seating, is used by a number of public boards and commissions, including the Planning Commission, Board of Public Utilities and Santa Rosa School Board.

The upgrades are intended to improve the viewing experience for those in the chamber and those watching on cable television or, as is becoming more common, streaming video live or replaying it on computers and mobile devices.

The new equipment should be more reliable and lower the cost of operations by allowing one technician to do what currently takes two to manage, McHenry said.

Currently, staff presentations to the various boards are projected onto a large screen located to the left of the audience. Those sitting in the center and right side of the room can see fine, but the farther to the left people are seated, the more they have to crane their necks to see.

To fix the problem, a new, brighter projector will be reoriented and aimed at a "huge drop-down screen" behind the dais, McHenry said.

To help the council see, two large flat-screen monitors have been installed on either side of the dais, McHenry said. None of that would mean much if the projector didn't work, which it hasn't for months. The problem was signal interference from cables under the floor. But new high-speed shielded cables should resolve that issue, McHenry said.

The new high-definition cameras will result immediately in better-quality video, but won't rise to the HDTV level just yet. That's because the cable networks aren't expected to upgrade the public access channels to HD for years, McHenry said.

The city will be able to upgrade its website to HD sooner, perhaps in a matter of months, McHenry said.

Included in the project are upgrades to the city's Utilities Field Operations Building on Stony Point Road, which is designed to operate as the city's emergency command center.

All of the funds for the upgrades come from fees paid to the city from cable television providers Comcast and AT&T, funds that must be spent on capital or equipment upgrades for public education and government channels.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or