Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CityWatchLA - LA: A City at War with Itself

CityWatch, Oct 19, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 83

When departments within the City of Los Angeles fight with each other, their warlords take the struggle for turf into local neighborhoods and the streets of LA become battlefields where quality of life is written off as collateral damage. The casualties are the residents and business operators, because city attorneys work overtime to minimize departmental liabilities. On battle scarred Hollywood Blvd., locals navigate this eight foot excavation pit that bears witness to the no-man’s land that separates city departments from collective accountability and the responsible delivery of city services.

Weeks have gone by and the pit sits as a quiet reminder that the City of LA can take a sidewalk out of compliance and then simply drive away, violating its own standards and demonstrating the need for greater connectivity at City Hall.

The pit's origins lie in the Fire Department's construction of Regional Fire Station #82, a 32K square foot facility funded with $30 million of Prop F money that is 18 months post-groundbreaking.

The effort is administered by the Department of Public Works and involves Contract Administration, Engineering, Planning, General Services, Transportation, Street Lighting, Street Services, and a host of Contractors and Sub-Contractors.

A simple boring project by sub-contractors in order to install a Fire Department traffic control override system resulted in the discovery of lead covered conduit of unknown origin. By law, contractors notify the DWP upon discovery. The DWP then takes control of the site to determine what's underground and who the owner is.

The DWP excavated, they deliberated, and they evacuated. They left behind a plywood covered pit, crumbling asphalt, a berm of dirt and cement debris, and the obligatory misplaced DWP barricades and caution tape. Weeks have gone by.

A city official described working with the DWP by comparing it to the Roman Army. "Decentalized command with autonomous Generals running their own battalions, you can't rely on rules and code, you have to negotiate with each commander."

While private contractors are limited from street work during peak hours, from haul routes without authorization, and from street closure without permit, the DWP is charged with operating to their own authority.

In situations such as this, contractors and sub-contractors are prevented from completing their work, setting them up for claims against the city for the additional cost of pulling crews off jobs and standing by while the city of LA appears on Family Feud.

The irony of the departmental liability battle is that each department is represented by diplomatic forces that come from the City Attorney's office. While it's unclear whether the attorneys consider the City of LA or the specific department to be their client, it's abundantly clear that they do not serve the people who live and work in LA: A city under siege.

(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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