Thursday, September 23, 2010

CityWatchLA - Disappointed LADOT GM Leaves City for County

CityWatch, Sept 24, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 76

Rita Robinson, General Manager of LA's Department of Transportation, has tendered her resignation and is headed for a position with the County of Los Angeles, according to City Hall and LADOT insiders.

Ms. Robinson has served the City of LA for more than three decades, proving to be the consummate City Hall insider and a sharp navigator of departmental rough waters. Reports indicate that she will be joining Bill Fujioka, Chief Executive Officer of the County of LA, her old boss from the CAO's office at City Hall.

Neighborhood Council leaders will remember Rita Robinson as the LADOT General Manager who invested significant time developing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the NC's only to have it collapse at the finish line as the impact of the city's budget crisis set in and staffing commitments were in flux.

Robinson also was the first city official to warn neighborhood councils that the City’s budget picture was dire. She told them the current crisis was deeper than they were being told and would “change the City forever.” She encouraged them to grab a seat at the City Hall budget table and help rework the City into their vision. Otherwise, she said, “you will have to take what they give you … and no one at City Hall know what they’re doing.”

Her disappointment is reflected in her comments to the Times: “There have been times that I have been discouraged, that we have had every opportunity to make great gains, and for whatever reason, we just don’t quite get there,”

Robinson's department has been in the hot seat of late, including most recently when Councilmember Smith took umbrage with the manner in which the LADOT reengineered a local street, pushing hard to complete the work in spite of local pushback. The announcement of Robinson's retirement comes on the same day as Smith's motion requiring Neighborhood Council review on all new Department of Transportation (LADOT) traffic features before installing them.

The LADOT has also taken hits for its poor performance on Safe Routes to School grants, on its ineffective Call for Projects process, and on its failure to perform with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. The most recent City Controller audit of LA's performance with (ARRA) funds revealed that the LADOT was awarded $40.8 million but only created or retained 9 jobs, far short of the anticipated and intended benefit.

Robinson has served the City of Los Angeles in a number of capacities, including stints with the Office of the City Administrative Officer, the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Community Development Department. She helmed the Department of Transportation twice and received acclaim for her recent tour of duty at the Department of Sanitation.

General Managers within the City of LA occupy their positions at the pleasure of the Mayor and Robinson was reported to be a loyal Mayoral appointee, representing him on the Metro's Board of Directors where she chairs the Operations Committee.

Robinson's resignation comes at a time when the Mayor is investing a significant amount of his political capital in transportation issues, from supporting active transportation and the City's first CicLAvia to pushing for federal support for the 30/10 plan.

The resignation also comes as the LADOT's assets are being discussed as "fire sale" options to balance the budget and departmental consolidation is being positioned as an option for reducing bureaucratic redundancy and inefficiency.

Mayor Villaraigosa's office has been hosting retirement parties with increasing regularity of late, saying goodbye to Chief Deputy Mayor Jay Carson, City Planning's Gail Goldberg, CRA's Cecilia Estolano, and others who reportedly hindered the Mayor's push for focus and relevance in the face of the city's budget crisis.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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