CityWatch, Jan 9, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 3
The best argument for an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the Department of Transportation and the Neighborhood Councils was made by none other than the LADOT's Assistant Manager, Amir Sedadi, when he went before the City Council in the opening session of the new year to discuss the City's controversial parking meter rate increases and stubbornly insisted that the LADOT was not responsible for communicating with the public.
Sedadi was taken to task by several Councilmembers for the LADOT's failure to conduct outreach to the community as the Department implemented the recent parking rate increases, adjusted the hours of operation and installed the new parking pay stations, all of which have stirred discontent and complaints throughout the city.
Sedadi was at first resolute when Councilwoman Janice Hahn and then Councilman Tom Labonge took him to task for failing to conduct adequate outreach, claiming that the outreach was good, "Given our resources!"
Then Councilman Dennis Zine got into the action: "Let me ask you a simple question. Did you communicate with the Chambers of Commerce, the Neighborhood Councils and the community groups in the affected areas?"
Sedadi tried to give a non-answer saying "We communicated with the Council Offices." Zine repeated the question again and then again before Sedadi acknowledged that the LADOT did not communicate with the public because they simply don't have the resources and because their plan is to work with the Council District offices who, he said, “We depend on to deal with the public."
This is a popular response that seems to be the party line and the LADOT is to be commended for its message control. From the Transportation Commission to the district office, from General Manager Rita Robinson to the local traffic engineer, over and over the public hears that the LADOT communicates with the Council offices and it is up to the Council office to communicate with the public.
Zine wasn't buying it. He pointed out that if that was the case, why didn't he know more about the new parking meter plan and the new parking rates and the new hours. Zine asked who in his office had Sedadi worked with on this plan. Sedadi had no answer.
As the discussion continued Zine went to work and within a few moments, Cliff Ruff, Zine's Chief of Staff appeared in chambers with a document in his hands. Short on pages and apparently unimpressive. Zine glanced through it and stood to his feet … passion accelerating … "If this is the plan, then your outreach is a failure!"
Sedadi sank back in his chair but recovered quickly, offering up what appeared to be a heartfelt apology. "On behalf of myself and on behalf of Rita Robinson, I'd like to apologize to the Council for our failure to conduct effective outreach." Wow! An apology from the LADOT!
Not so Fast!
He quickly got back on the offensive and told the Council the problem was their fault. “You told us what to do. You gave us 90 days in which to do it. You never told us to talk to the public! Why, some of those groups want to vote on things!"
On the hot seat, under attack from the City Council for not conducting outreach to the Neighborhood Councils, the Assistant General Manager of the Department of Transportation opens with an apology and then closes by chastising the Council for expecting the DOT to talk to the public.
Lack of outreach to NCs is not new to this group. The Department of Transportation's long-standing apparent contempt for the Neighborhood Councils was evident when GM Rita Robinson visited the LANNC a few months ago and offered a tepid endorsement for communication while she gave feeble excuses for not implementing an MOU.
Earlier she turned up in the Education and Neighborhoods Committee in response to a request for a report on the MOU and turned in a report that failed to mention...you guessed it...the MOU. It continued when the 60 day deadline for a new report came and went and she failed to respond to the same committee request for a report on an MOU.
Links to other stories and commentaries on the parking meter rate increase backlash:
At the end of the day, Councilman Ed Reyes is to be commended for responding to the complaints of his constituents, many of whom were local merchants concerned about losing customers and Councilmembers Hahn, LaBonge and Zine deserve credit for stepping up and asking LADOT the hard questions including "Have you spoken to the Neighborhood Councils?"
Neighborhood councils have also complained about not being given the opportunity to provide input on proposed speed limit increases in their communities.
In trying to resolve her outreach issues with NCs, Robinson has spent a fair amount of time looking for help from other departments. There are those who feel that LADOT’s GM would be better served by starting with a reading of the City Charter’s Article IX. The part about neighborhood councils being created to provide City Hall with advice. And needing to have sufficient advance warning that they can measure the voices in their neighborhoods before they formulate that advice.
The Charter mandates that responsibility to neighborhood councils. It’s the law.