Wednesday, August 06, 2008

CityWatchLA - They Never Promised US a Rose Garden

CityWatch, August 5, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 63

Department Violates the Charter
By Stephen Box

(“We’re not required to notify neighborhood councils’ on proposed speed limit increases.-Rita Robinson, Department of Transportation General Manager.”)

It's been three years since my wife and I joined representatives from four Neighborhood Councils and sat down with the senior Management of LA's Department of Transportation to develop a memorandum of understanding, all as part of USC's Civic Engagement Initiative.

Dr. Terry Cooper and his team from USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development facilitated the event which spanned several months, (including two holiday weekends as some of the LADOT staff repeatedly pointed out) and included moderated team building exercises designed to encourage empathy and a win-win working relationship. The participating NC's were Silver Lake, Hollywood United, Northwest San Pedro and Mar Vista, each sending five representatives who met on weekends with a team from the LADOT led by Assistant General Manager John Fisher and Senior Transportation Engineer Glenn Ogura.

Through it all, I found the opportunity to develop relationships with the members of the LADOT and the other NC's to be of tremendous value, a benefit that I value to this day. I also thought the final work product, the LADOT/NC MOU, was of value and I was proud to have participated in its creation.

The journey was not without drama with some neighborhood council reps demanding that the process include the Department of Planning and threatening to withdraw if changes weren't made. The NC reps also found that the DOT representatives were unwilling to accept terms such as "major project" and "significant impact" without great debate that resulted in a watered down MOU.

Ultimately, we completed the process and produced a document that was approved by the participants and then sent to the respective NC's and the Department of Transportation for endorsement.

The Boards of the four councils each approved the MOU and I was honored to be selected by Hollywood United to serve as its NC rep, serving as the primary contact for the DOT.

The project leader, Thomas Bryer, called to invite us to USC's Rose Garden for a small ceremony to commemorate the signing of the MOU and the commencement of the "new" relationship between the NC's and the LADOT.

The ceremony never took place.

Since then, Bryer finished his work at USC. He is now known as "Dr. Bryer" and is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida. Gloria Jeff has come and gone as LADOT's General Manager and the department is now led by Rita Robinson.

As for the NC's relationship with LADOT, not much has improved. The LADOT recently appeared before the Transportation Commission with recommendations for speed limit increases in the valley. Ms. Robinson was asked if the department had notified the neighborhood councils of the proposed changes and she responded, "No. We are not required to notify the neighborhood councils of actions such as this."

Perhaps it's time to revisit the City Charter.

Meanwhile, we wait, acutely aware that the LADOT never promised us the Rose Garden. Read the proposed NC/DOT Memorandum of Understanding here .

(Stephen Box is a community activist and a contributor to CityWatch.)

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