Saturday, October 25, 2008

CityWatchLA - Transportation Talks One Game, Plays Another

CityWatch, Oct 24, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 86

By Stephen Box

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Rita Robinson’s Transportation Department has no intention of letting the neighborhood councils and the public into City Hall’s decision-making inner circle. Not even as the advisors the City Charter mandates them to be.

The alternate conclusion would be that there just aren’t enough bright bulbs in the Department to connect the dots: City Charter to City Department to Neighborhood Council.

That DOT’s interest in the public’s voice is as shallow as a one-ply tissue came into focus again this past Wednesday. The LADOT staff went before the City Council's Transportation Committee to deliver a report on the prioritization of transportation projects and programs. They also gave a demonstration of the LADOT's contempt for Neighborhood Councils.

During a discussion of funding strategies, a member of the public pointed out that the LADOT's process consists of working with the Mayor's office, the Council offices and Bureaus of Engineering, Street Lighting and Street services to determine the City's priorities. The LADOT makes no effort to actually work with the public in spite of the fact that applications typically get better ratings if there is community support for the project. Examples were offered such as SAFETEA-LU, Metro's Call for Projects, Safe Routes to School and BTA funding, all of which are specific in recognizing community support as a rating factor.

Rosendahl commented that consulting the community seems like a "no-brainer" and referred to his Westside Regional Transportation Committee as a model of community engagement.

Committee Chair Greuel commented that in the past the City has obtained funding for projects, only to find out too late that a particular project was unpopular in the community. Bad projects with no local support result in lost funding.

Councilman Alarcon simply asked "Where's the buy-in?"

Greuel repeated the question to Michael Uyeno, asking "Does the DOT involve the Neighborhood Councils in the process of prioritizing projects for funding?"

Uyeno paused. "In the past we have looked to the Council offices to deal with the Neighborhood Councils. There are so many! I assume the Council offices know the issues."

Through this entire exchange, the LADOT's leadership's behavior communicated clearly their position on Neighborhood Councils.

LADOT's General Manager, Rita Robinson was unresponsive, sitting silently in the audience. Haripal Vir, head of LADOT's funding department, followed suit, sitting silently in the front row. Assistant GM Amir Sedadi was in sync, also sitting silently in the front row. Next to Ms. Robinson, also silent, sat the LADOT's Neighborhood Council Liaison. (How easy must that job be? "Did you talk to the NC's today? No? Excellent! Keep it up!")

LADOT's leadership demonstrated the lack of responsiveness that Neighborhood Councils have learned to expect.

Against this background of silence, Jim Clarke, Intergovernmental Federal Relations for the Mayor's office, jumped up and walked over, saying to the members of the public, "I'm going to work with you. Here is my email. I'd like to meet with your Neighborhood Council on transportation funding opportunities." That is how it's done!

It is acutely apparent … even to some former LADOT supporters … that the Neighborhood Councils will have a working relationship with the LADOT when the NC's insist on it and then fight to make it happen, not a moment sooner.

(Stephen Box is a transportation activist and a CityWatch Contributor. He can be reached at:

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