Thursday, December 04, 2008

CityWatchLA - Hey! I’m Talkin’ Here

CityWatch, Dec 5, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 98

Recent events at City Hall reveal a disturbing trend, one where the City Council speaks and the City Departments nod, smile, and then continue with business as usual, ignoring the directives and instructions of the Councilmembers.

In July, I attended a Transportation Committee meeting and spoke in support of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. I was pleased with the Committee response, the highlight of which was Committee Chair Greuel's instruction to the LA Department of Transportation and Planning staff to include the Cyclists' Bill of Rights in the City's Bicycle Master Plan. In the hallway, following the meeting, I was shocked to hear a consultant working on the Master Plan explain that the work had already been done, that some of the basic principles were already included in the Plan but that the Cyclists' Bill of Rights would not be included "as written." I protested, referring to Greuel's specific instruction but the consultant dismissed it saying "We work for the department, we don't take direction from the City Council." Ouch!

In September, the Education and Neighborhoods Committee took up the issue of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Neighborhood Councils and the Department of Transportation. The DOT had been directed to report on the MOU and instead turned in a report that never actually mentioned an MOU. DOT GM Rita Robinson and Department of Neighborhood Empowerment GM BongHwan Kim appeared and engaged in a dialogue with the Committee. The session concluded with Committee Chair Richard Alarcón directing the DOT to respond again, this time with a definitive departmental report on the development of an MOU and he gave a 60 day deadline. The report was due in November and yet there has been no response.

Last month, the Transportation Committee responded to complaints from the community that the LAPD was citing cyclists for riding without bike licenses and yet was unable to provide cyclists with a system for procuring the licenses. Chief Paysinger stood before the Committee and smiled as Councilman LaBonge, Councilman Rosendahl, Councilman Parks and then Committee Chair Greuel all asked the Chief to simply suspend enforcement until the City Council could review the law and address the public's complaints. The Chief refused. The Committee then responded quite vehemently that the process wasn't working and repeated the request, emphatically. The Chief smiled and politely refused.

Last week, the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee convened, this time operating under the City Council directed new rules of order. In response to complaints that the BAC had gone adrift and was no longer functioning according to its mandate, the City Council had intervened and directed the Department of Recreation and Parks, Department of Public Works, the City Attorney, and the Planning Department to staff and/or support the BAC in its endeavors. This specific directive from the City Council was ignored by each of the departments and the BAC fumbled through the meeting, unclear on their agenda, how to make a motion, when to hold elections and how to operate under the Brown Act, all the while looking around the empty room for the support promised by the City Council. A promise broken when City Staff simply ignored the City Council's direction.

I believe in our City Government. I've got skin in the game. I regularly attend Council and Committee meetings, speaking in support of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, in opposition to proposed speed limit increases, in favor of greater NC participation in the process and on the many issues that are relevant to me and to my community. I encourage others to do the same, all the while professing my belief that it is important for us to participate in the system and to partner with our representatives to improve the quality of life in our communities.

I also believe that our representatives have an obligation to represent. I fully expect our City Councilmembers to respect us by taking the power that we entrust in them and by putting it to work. I fully expect our City Council to speak and then follow up to ensure that their words mean something, after all, they're spoken on our behalf and I'm convinced we're worth it.

Elsewhere in the City, words mean something. When the City Librarian says return the books, failure to comply results in a fine. When the DWP says pay your bill, failure to respond results in a loss of power. When the DOT issues parking tickets, failure to pay results in an impound.

And yet...when our City Council speaks...what's the penalty when our City Departments ignore them?


david said...

steve, i think the answer is clear. you need to run.

Joe said...

This isn't a new trend... It's been happening for as long as I have been tracking city activities - ie since the early 1990's. While there is some power behind a city council motion, many sit on a shelf unless someone puts pressure. This is also true for plans - including the bike plan and the river plan.

One thing that departments do listen to is money. When there's funding in the city budget, or other grant money (like the Metro Call for Projects, etc.), then projects move forward.

The bureaucracy has a lot of power to keep new things from moving. The momentum is for staff to just keep doing what they're doing... that's why we need activists like us to prod and prod and prod and get things moving in a healthier direction.