One of California’s oldest cities is using digital technology to preserve 150-year-old civic records for future generations.

The city of San Luis Obispo, which was founded in 1772 as a mission and incorporated in 1876, has a vault filled with municipal memories. Over a hundred boxes of agendas, minutes, ordinances, land applications, police/fire records and notices sit in boxes loose or aging in crumbling leather bindings.

City Clerk Audrey Hooper couldn’t bear to see the documents get damaged or thrown out, so three years ago she enlisted the help of historian Joe Carotenuti and started a Saving Yesterday for Tomorrow project.

Hooper’s goals are threefold.

First, she plans to restore water-damaged pieces by having them treated and preserved then rebound in period books by preservation specialist Brown’s River at a cost of approximately $1,500 per volume.

The business of the day will then be digitized on compact discs to increase accessibility and research value.

A microfilm version will be shipped offsite to an undisclosed underground storage facility as a backup.

Civic groups such as the Order of Odd Fellows and Order of Minor Historians stepped up with donations. Individuals donating more than $500 had bookplates dedicated to them.

Hooper has collected $10,000 and had seven books preserved so far. She retires in June, but plans to continue the effort.

What will future generations discover when they look back on the birth of their city?

When it comes to city council agendas, the more things change, the more they stay the same, says Carotenuti.

The main order of business was often revenue generation.

“The attitude back then was if you want something you have to pay for it locally,” Carotenuti says.

One of the first income areas? Dog licenses. Pet owners were charged $2 per male and $3 per female.

The job of poundmaster was a popular one because he – and it was always a he back then – got to keep a percentage of the revenues.

JT Long can be reached at n