Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CityWatchLA - If Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs Ran City Hall, What Would He Do?

CityWatch, Aug 31, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 69

Councilmembers Garcetti and Krekorian have both utilized iPhone Apps as tools for connecting their constituents with City Hall, earning accolades for their innovation and vision. This small step begs the question, what would happen if LA simply rebooted City Hall, embracing the way of the iPhone’s creator … Apple Computers, Inc … and installing the latest iGovernment Operating System? More significantly, what would happen if Los Angeles embraced the ideals and commitments of Apple?

1) LA would have a long-term vision in place. Progress would be measured based on the development and implementation of stepping stones that are all part of building the future into LA's platform.

LA's current vision, if it can be called a vision, consists of reacting to a long series of crises with short term fixes that merely stave off the inevitable and allow City Hall to engage in prolonged triage.

Apple, by comparison, went from a 1997 low that saw Fortune Magazine label it "Silicon Valley's paragon of dysfunctional management" to its recent high where it became the largest company in the tech universe, passing Microsoft in market capitalization. Apple CEO Steve Jobs did it by focusing on the Apple Core and challenging his team to a high standard. "Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected."

2) LA would have a plan for moving forward. Performance would be evaluated based on the implementation of progressive solutions that build on prior successful innovations.

LA's current plan is reactive and compartmentalized to the point of absurdity. City Departments operate independently and redundantly, competing internally for resources, and operating out of a commitment to self-preservation.

Apple, in contrast, is led by a CEO who is focused on the user experience and on keeping the company on track. Jobs defines his role, saying "The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay."

This focus has led to the release of a series of platforms (Mac OS X, iPod, iPhone OS, iTunes, retail, App Store, etc) that, in hindsight, demonstrate a vision and a plan for delivering products that exceed the customers’ expectations, setting industry standards along the way, and building on prior successes to fuel the next innovation.

3) LA would embrace simplicity. City Hall redundancies would be eliminated and LA's CEO would focus on the simple delivery of prioritized city services and the satisfaction of the simple common goals of the people of Los Angeles.

LA's current bureaucratic maze defies navigation and requires the assistance of gatekeepers, handlers, fixers, navigators, consultants and facilitators. As for the simple folks of LA who attempt to reach out to City Hall, literally every door leads to the Department of "No!"

Apple, on the other hand, sets a standard for simplicity and then again for exceeding demands. Mac faithful have grumbled over the years as features and operating systems have disappeared. But the loss of the floppy disk, the threat to the optical drive, and the anticipated demise of the mouse are all quickly forgotten because of the simple brilliance of the replacement.

Jobs explains his commitment to innovation by quoting Henry Ford who said "If I'd have asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, "A faster horse!'"

Apple's CEO sees his role as a filter. Jobs keeps his finger on the DELETE key but when he says "Yes!" he means it and it resonates throughout the company, transforming the market and eventually the industry. He starts with the customer's experience as the foundation, using their requests as the inspiration for exceeding their imagination and vision.

Jobs explains "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." He concludes by explaining his position, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."

4) LA would have Genius Bars at City Hall and in every Council District! City Hall would move beyond the basic commitments of Public Safety, Public Health, Public Works, Public Education, Public Service and Public Benefit, embracing Public Trust as the glue that holds LA together as a Great City.

LA's current Operating System seems to be something that happens in spite of the people, not because of the people. That needs to change.

Ten years ago, Apple implemented a retail strategy that set out to imitate the customer service standard found at a hotel concierge desk. This led to the creation of the Genius Bar, something referred to as the "heart and soul" of every Apple Store.

Apple Geniuses will look at Apple products for free, regardless of where they were purchased, operating with authority to waive any repair fees that might apply, all in a commitment to forging a relationship that transcends the hardware/software issue at hand.

Sydney is a city of five million people and they have a concierge on the first floor of City Hall. I think Los Angeles could go one better and staff City Hall with a Genius Bar, staffed with people who are committed to creating a City that Works!

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

Friday, August 27, 2010

CityWatchLA - Planning for Billion Dollar Project: LA City, County MIA

CityWatch, Aug 27, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 68

This past week, nine people gathered at the Metro's 405/Sepulveda Project headquarters in an effort to prepare for a meeting they did not intend to attend. If not attending a meeting requires the participation of nine engineers, consultants, and outreach coordinators from the Metro and Caltrans, one can only imagine how many people would be required in preparation for a meeting that actually took place.

The "I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project" is a 10 mile HOV lane project that includes modifications or replacement of supporting infrastructure such as 27 ramps, 3 bridges, 13 underpasses and 18 miles of sound walls. Along the way, the gravitational pull of this mega-project resulted in the already-funded Sepulveda Blvd. Reversible Lane Project getting absorbed into the 405/Sepulveda project.

The 405/Sepulveda Project is a "design and build" endeavor that involves Caltrans, the Metro, the LADOT and the County of Los Angeles. The lines of responsibility are blurred to the point of absurdity, resulting in community meetings that direct local concerns to "The Department or Authority not in attendance.

Case in point, two months ago, the Metro and Caltrans sent a team to Caltrans Headquarter to present the 405/Sepulveda project to the Caltrans District 7 Bicycle Advisory Committee, a group made up of representatives from local municipalities, advocacy organizations, consulting groups, and community councils throughout LA and Ventura Counties.

The Caltrans team was ill-prepared. Two lead members were within their second week of employment, and on the first PowerPoint slide it was evident that the audience should be giving the presentation, perhaps even building the project.

An audience of professionals might be a tough crowd but they are also an asset which makes it curious that Caltrans and the Metro never followed up, save for the meeting to prepare an exit strategy to their promise "to return with more information!"

Even more importantly, where was the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and the LA County Planning staff through all of this and why does it take the audience members in an outreach meeting to point out violations of law and design standards to the 405/Sepulveda engineers and outreach team?

The 405/Sepulveda project is positioned as a connectivity solution, one that will facilitate the smooth flow of people through the Sepulveda Pass. While the potential impact of a billion dollars in physical infrastructure is considerable, it is acutely evident that the real potential for connectivity is in improvements to our human infrastructure.

Now more than ever it is imperative that the City of Los Angeles take the lead on connecting the many agencies and authorities that have an impact on our streets, our neighborhoods and our quality of life.

It is completely unacceptable that Caltrans and the Metro call a meeting to address the impact of the 405/Sepulveda on the streets of LA and the LADOT fails (again) to consider it important enough to attend.

It is completely unacceptable for Caltrans and the Metro to hold a planning meeting to discuss improvements to LA County land without the participation of LA County engineers and planners.

Most of all, it is completely unacceptable that the project manager of a billion dollar project can't simply take charge and address the concerns of the public without resorting to responses such as "The Agency not in attendance is responsible for that element of the project. You'll need to talk to them."

If Los Angeles is to move forward, it will be because we connect as people first, setting a standard for connectivity that creates stronger and more efficient relationships.

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CityWatchLA - Is LA Developing Tunnel Vision...Again?

CityWatch, Aug 24, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 67

LA's most recent commitment to connectivity demonstrates a complete disconnect from our history, from the wishes of the community, and from reality.

90 years ago the City of Los Angeles implemented a School Pedestrian Tunnel Program in an effort to address the brutal fact that fully 2/3 of all traffic collision deaths were pedestrians.

LA's noble but misguided experiment with segregated underground facilities for pedestrians was limited by the sheer complexity of the initiative and was soon replaced by more effective strategies such as implementation of traffic control devices, crosswalks, all-stop phases, pedestrian right-of-way standards and traffic enforcement.

LA's tunnels have theoretically been maintained by the City’s Department of Public Works which relies on a meager "Bridge and Tunnel Maintenance Account" funding that apparently fails to cover any security improvements, let alone even simple maintenance costs.

Community concerns over the deteriorating condition of the tunnels date back 40 years when the Los Angeles Board of Education referred to some of the tunnels as "unsafe, filthy places that harbored criminal activity." The LA went so far as to adopt a policy for pedestrian tunnel closure that required the participation of the City Transportation, the LAPD, the Board of Education, and local community members.

Over the years community groups have rallied to address the blighted tunnels in their neighborhoods, pointing out the inherent design flaws that create inhospitable environments for vulnerable pedestrians.

25 years ago Atwater Village residents spent a year collecting petitions in an effort to close local tunnels that the LA Times referred to as "smelly, dangerous lairs for gangs, graffiti artists and drunken slumberers." Councilman Wachs, LAPD Capt. Cunningham, and Fletcher Drive Elementary School Principal Christensen called for the closures. Evidence such as trash-littered tunnel entrances, human excrement smeared floors, graffiti marked walls, and empty beer bottles confirmed the wisdom of their actions.

More recently, communities such as Woodland Hills and Valley Village have fought to close pedestrian tunnels under their freeways, citing the same concerns of public safety and ineffective connectivity.

Two tunnels in Woodland Hills run under the Ventura Freeway and they came under scrutiny when LAPD's Sgt. Kearney was attacked in the Sale Avenue tunnel by two men who hit him over the head with a beer bottle and then charged at him with a long kitchen knife.

Two tunnels in Valley Village run under the Hollywood Freeway and they also came under scrutiny when their seclusion resulted in criminal activity and long-term encampments that prevented local residents from enjoying the adjacent parks.

Through it all, it's typically local residents who partner with the LAPD and local schools in an effort to make the streets safer for the pedestrians and the neighborhood safer for everybody. Tunnels have been closed all over the city, some filled with cement, some simply barricaded, and others fenced off and locked with a padlock.

These tunnels have all been closed ... until now!

Current proposals for connectivity include re-opening two tunnels that connect to schools and re-opening two tunnels that connect to parks. In one case, funding requests have been made in an effort to reopen the tunnels and enhance them with better lighting. In the other case, reopening previously closed tunnels has been positioned as an "option" in a City Planning document.

Training children to fear the streets instead of supporting them with traffic calming measures is a complete abdication of responsibility.

Training children to use underground tunnels contradicts simple crime prevention standards that include awareness of surroundings, staying visible, and keeping an escape route.

Simple self-preservation strategies are at odds with "Walk into the tunnel!" Most importantly, the ever present trash and debris is a signal that the area is unsupervised. It's a signal to turn away and seek another route.

Current efforts to enhance connectivity are noble, especially because they address the needs of pedestrians and cyclists on their way to school. But it's imperative that Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Standards (CPTED) serve as a foundation for all proposals and that the safety of people of all modes are supported on the streets of Los Angeles.

Most importantly, any efforts to address connectivity must start by connecting the LAPD, Councilmembers, Neighborhood Councils, the local schools, the LADOT, City Planning, Public Works, Caltrans, local residents and anybody else who has a vested interest in mobility and public safety on the streets of Los Angeles.

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

East Hollywood Connects Community via Route 66

CityWatch, Aug 20, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 66

The Route 66 legacy of connectivity continues to resonate in East Hollywood, bringing the community together in a street revitalization campaign initiated by the neighborhood council and involving the Metro, City Hall, local businesses, residents and transit passengers.

LA's Santa Monica Boulevard section of Route 66 had long ago fallen victim to multi-jurisdictional oversight that resulted in CHP, the Sheriff's Department and the LAPD sharing law enforcement authority. Caltrans and the City of LA share responsibility for maintenance while the Metro and the City of LA share authority over the transit activity, street furniture, and bus stops. Local advocates, from property owners to pedestrians, have long complained of conflict and congestion, yet the process for pursuing solutions typically frustrated even the hardiest of community members.

All that changed when the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council turned a crisis on the streets into an opportunity for the rebirth of Route 66.

The Metro's Duane Martin and Councilman Eric Garcetti's Transportation Deputy Marcel Porras joined forces and committed to supporting the neighborhood council's newly formed Transit Task Force and their mandate of supporting transit as a tool for improving the quality of life for everybody.

Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition joined forces and offered insight in navigating the bureaucratic maze, one that involves the State, the County, the City, and then departments ranging from Transportation to Public Works to Planning to the LAPD to Cultural Affairs.

Throw in the LAUSD and it became apparent, one really does need a guide if they intend to cross the street.

EHNC President David Bell moved from a problem solving paradigm and embraced an aspirational approach, implementing a connectivity strategy that embraces the rich history of Route 66.

The EHNC Transit Task Force includes Historic Preservation experts, Homeless and Social Service advocates, Arts and Culture representatives, along with members of the neighborhood council's Beautification, Public Safety and Transportation committees.

This unique approach to problem solving starts with a commitment to creating an environment that is inspirational and aspirational, focusing on a goal that has a residual impact of addressing the specific problems that initially prompted a local business owner to cross the street, attending a neighborhood council meeting and asking for help.

This is just the beginning but every great journey starts with a single step and the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council's Transit Task Force is that step, this time setting in motion another Route 66 adventure that has the capacity to transform a community.

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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dennis Allen brings the Streetcar vision to the Transit Coalition

LA Streetcar's CEO, Dennis Allen, was the latest in a Rock Star lineup of transportation executives to join the Transit Coalition for its monthly advocacy session at Philippe's the Original, presenting the non-profit's vision for positioning a streetcar circulator as an integral element in the Bringing Back Broadway movement.

Allen's presentation was equal parts vision, technical, urban planning, funding strategy, community engagement and economics. His ability to address and satisfy the diverse interests of the Transit Coalition's "peer review" approach to project presentations speaks volumes to the LA Streetcar's ability to connect the many needs of the local community.

In other words, sometimes a Streetcar isn't simply a Streetcar.

Allen was joined by Russell Brown, LASI Boardmember and Executive Director of Historic Downtown BID, and together they presented the many facets of the LA Streetcar vision along with the many ways to position a streetcar as a transportation solution, as a placemaking tool, as an economic stimulus, as an opportunity to create community, and as an opportunity to connect people, neighborhoods, and transportation modes.

The proposed streetcar route is approximately four miles in length and would serve areas including Bunker Hill, Grand Avenue and the Music Center, Historic Broadway and the Historic Core, South Park, L.A. LIVE and the Los Angeles Convention Center, running seven days a week and as much as eighteen hours a day.

It has been a couple of years since community members from the downtown area gathered together for a field trip to Portland and Seattle, all in an effort to turn the theoretical into reality. First person experiences of the LA team combined with good data from the merchants and residents who participated in the Portland and Seattle streetcar projects provided the fuel for the LA Streetcar campaign which then resulted in LA's Streetcar Conference and the community based Streetcar planning process. A simple vision took on grassroots support and is now moving forward with seed money, first phase funding, a Metro partnership, and a timeline.

Allen and Brown are adept at addressing the many benefits of a simple four mile connector, moving fluidly from "last mile" solution for commuters to "park once" options for visitors. Key to the entire operation is their ability to engage the local property owners who stand to benefit from an improved streetlife but who will also be financial partners.

A recent poll in the Los Angeles Business Journal asks "How much new vitality would the downtown business community enjoy if streetcars started running again?" The unscientific poll resulted in 70% of the participants declaring "A great deal." This position is supported by the operators and the merchants of the Seattle and the Portland streetcars systems as evidenced by their participation in the LA Streetcar conference and their stories of moving from naysayer to yeasayer.

The promise of a streetcar in Los Angeles is not without obstacles but they are not technical or logistical, they are simply funding and process oriented, still formidable but certainly manageable. Allen and Brown estimate that the journey will take two years for the funding and environmental work and then two years for the construction which will be somewhat low-impact on the local community because of the simplicity. At the same time, the implementation of the streetcar improvements is also the best time to implement street level enhancements that improve the walkability of the area.

Brown estimates that the cost of the four mile Streetcar circulator at $100 million, noting "The first thing you do need is to be simple and realistic, start at one place and complete a manageable size because the startup is the most expensive period." Allen added "This is a small investment when you consider that ten thousand riders a day will be drawn to the community and engaged in the economic revitalization of the neighborhood."

The LA Streetcar presentation came the day after the 20th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, prompting several questions about accessibility and integration with the street design. Modern Streetcar designs incorporate nostalgic elements but on a foundation of innovation that resolves ADA access issues of days gone by. From island ramp access to streetcar designs to street bulbouts that support safer streets for peds, cyclists, and other transit modes, the ADA advocates left confident that the LA Streetcar process was focused on moving people safely. There really is no tougher challenge, nor is there a greater endorsement.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Metro's Art Leahy holds court with the Transit Coalition

The Metro's CEO, Art Leahy, joined the Transit Coalition for its monthly get-together at Philippe's the Original, sharing double-dips and beers with a capacity crowd made up of transit staff, advocates, politicos, consultants, and press. Most importantly, he shared some insight into his plans for the Metro and his desire to becoming an agent of change at the helm of LA County's transportation system.

Leahy has a folksy charm that disarms his audience, concealing the fact that he is a sharp strategist, a firm negotiator, and a demanding leader who sets standards and expects results. In his fifteen months at the helm of the Metro, staff have discovered quickly that he is results driven and there is a trail of ex-staffers to demonstrate the penalty for failing to respond to the call for change.

One of Leahy's first acts as CEO was to take his management staff to the ticket window at Union Station to allow them to see how hard it was to buy a monthly pass. Packed into the atrium near the One Gateway Metro HQ was a line that wrapped around itself, offering evidence of a Metro administrative disconnect from the Metro passenger experience. That line is no longer found, a small situation that occurred at Union Station, but a solution that resonated throughout the 1400 square mile service area. It also serves as the incident that allows Leahy to state "In word and deed, the Metro cares about our passengers."

Leahy continued the attack on the Metro's status quo, removing all of the artwork at Metro HQ because it all celebrated One Gateway and served as a reflection of the things that the Metro management valued. Themselves! He replaced it with pictures of bus stops, train stations, passengers, and transportation, all as a reminder to the corporate staff that they are "overhead" and that the passenger is the purpose of a transportation system.

As for the "rubber on the road" experience of the passenger, the Metro's Agent of Change acknowledges that driving a bus is simple but points out it's dealing with all of the transactions that is the hard part. Nevertheless, Leahy says he is committed to understanding the operators in order to get them to understand the passengers. To that end he has an advantage, having worked his way through college by driving a bus.

Leahy is not shy about his heritage as a bus operator and, in spite of his UCLA and USC degrees, it is his ability to insist that communication be framed in "language that a bus driver can understand" that is the essence of his call for good simple standards. In fact, as he points out, Metro's strict adherence to a management hiring standard that included college degrees that resulted in a Metro leadership that didn't know how to implement a bus bridge or conduct a relay. All that is due to change as he reinvigorates the Metro leadership with real world experience, not simply college pedigrees.

For all the talk of customer service, behavior that drives results, promoting from within, and service standards that resonate, the news that drew the loudest response from the audience was simple and yet revolutionary. Leahy revealed his plan to actually require Metro Execs to ride the bus and rail. If ever there was a "One of Us!" moment, that was it.

Art Leahy is definitely an agent of change. He moves strategically and his simple actions are designed for maximum impact. The results already demonstrate that the status quo is under attack and the future of the Metro is based on a commitment to customer service and to a transportation system. It's all Leahy talks about, that and his conflicted UCLA/USC lineage.

Art Leahy's commitment to operations is commendable and he details his commitment to connecting the Metrolink, Amtrak, Metro Bus, Metro Rail, and the Municipal operators into a regional transportation system that operates consistently and in sync. From the little details, such as the fact that the Metro polishes bus wheels but leaves trash on the bus, to larger opportunities and commitments such as the Metro Board's 30/10 plan, Leahy is focused and driven. He's also punctual, a behavioral trait that comes naturally to those who ride the train.

He also has room to grow as he embraces the Metro opportunities that lie ahead. As he addresses the Metro's commitment, he repeatedly speaks of the passenger which is only part of the Metro's contract with the public. There are two unaddressed elements that must be addressed if the Metro is to take its place as a comprehensive transportation system.

  • The first is the simple fact that the Metro's customers include everybody who contributes financially to the Metro, regardless of whether they ride the bus or the rail. Measure R will raise an estimated $40 Billion from an increase in sales tax which means that anyone who spends money in LA County has a vested interest in the performance of the Metro. Purportedly, the impact of the Metro benefits everybody, whether they are passengers or not. This distinction is an important foundation for a comprehensive transportation system.
  • Second, the Metro is one of LA County's largest developers and has 50 Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) on paper with 32 of them in play. This enormous impact on residential and commercial behavior has a tremendous impact on our communities and on the quality of life in those neighborhoods. The Metro's ability to reduce the need to travel within LA County is an opportunity that is missing from the typical transportation discussion. Yet, it is a significant impact that doesn't need its wheels polished or an operator at the wheel.
  • Third, while the Metro is busy implementing customer service standards that impact the purchase of monthly passes or a bus operator's greetings, the huge opportunity lies in the need to implement standards for the integration of Transit Oriented Development into a community. While the Metro talks of a complete transportation system, it will not be complete until it includes those who simply live in the area or operate a shop or walk the street or ride a bike. Great public space is part of a commitment to the community and a comprehensive transportation system must address the complete community.

The Transit Coalition meets monthly on the last Tuesday of each month at Philippe's the Original. In addition to Art Leahy, recent guests include John Fenton of the Metrolink and Bruce Shelborne of Metro.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

CityWatchLA - A Silent Cry for Help in Hollywood

CityWatch, Aug 17, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 65

From the White House
to City Hall, the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was commemorated with speeches that fell on deaf ears in Hollywood as taxi cab operators refused to transport deaf tourists and a security guard choked a deaf shoplifting suspect for failing to comply with verbal instructions.

We've come a long way but we have a long way to go.

Media coverage of the 20th anniversary celebrations paled in comparison to the viral impact of a graphic video of an incident that involved two security guards from the Forever 21 store at Hollywood & Highland and two deaf brothers. As one security guard wrestles one brother into a head lock, another security guard blocks the second brother who appears to be indicating that they can't hear. Spectators can be heard exclaiming "You're choking him!" and "He's turning purple!" and "He can't breath!" while the second brother continues to signal and circle, kneeling at one point in a futile attempt to communicate with the security guards.

The incident was picked up in the LA Weekly, the Huffington Post, ABC, KTLA, Blogging.LA, and the Deaf TV Channel while the YouTube video has received over a half million views.

The details are disputed by all sides but have resulted in the indefinite suspension of the security guard from Forever 21, the arrest of the deaf shoplifting suspect, and claims of innocence from the deaf brother of the suspect. Hollywood & Highland Center Management accepts no responsibility for the incident but says "We do not condone the apparent use of excessive force." Forever 21, in a statement from the Marketing Dept., acknowledges "the security guard used excessive force, which is against our store policy."

Hollywood & Highland has at least six layers of enforcement authority on the property, starting with the local security guards, the Business Improvement District security (Andrews International), and the Los Angeles Police Department. In addition, the presence of the Metro Red Line Station within the complex results Metro Fare Inspectors, Metro Police, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Now would be a good time for somebody to determine who is in charge and for that organization to produce a policy on communication between law enforcement and those who can't hear. This would also be a good time for the LAPD and the LASD to clarify any limitations on the law enforcement authority of the many organizations that employ security forces, from local stores to the BID to the Metro.

Hollywood's second shameful incident took place at Hollywood & Vermont's Triangle Park taxi stand. Enci and I were walking past the park when I noticed three women attempting to communicate with the operator of the lead taxi, gesturing unsuccessfully to a piece of paper and finally giving up and huddling together. Then I noticed that they were signing to each other.

It turns out that they were deaf tourists and their car had been towed from Hollywood to a Metro inaccessible tow yard in Atwater Village that closed within the hour. While Enci dusted the cobwebs off her ASL, I put out the call for help and within minutes Alfredo Hernandez of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council arrived and transported our guests to the tow yard where he negotiated for the release of their car. Moments later Bechir Blagui of Hollywood United Neighborhood Council responded and I was reminded again that I live in the community of heroes.

The City of Los Angeles, through the LADOT, licenses and regulates approximately 2300 taxis so that passengers in taxis bearing the Seal of Los Angeles can expect to ride in an insured vehicle, inspected regularly by the LADOT and operated by a trained professional. In fact, the LADOT website even has a Taxi Rider's Bill of Rights although the only mention of disabilities is with regard to wheelchairs and service animals. No mention is made of the significant percentage of our community who are deaf or hearing impaired.

American Sign Language is the third most common language in the United States, surpassed only by English and Spanish. It's estimated that the deaf and hard of hearing population in the Los Angeles area exceeds one million people.

LA's character demands that we embrace and support people of all abilities and challenges, demonstrating our commitment to the Americans with Disabilities Act at every opportunity. From the training and certification of security guards to law enforcement to the licensing of taxi cab operators to the operation of mass transit, it is our responsibility to remove obstacles and barriers so that everybody may enjoy access and mobility.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"We move people!" says John E. Fenton, Metrolink's new CEO

Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist
John E. Fenton, Metrolink's new CEO, joined the Transit Coalition at its monthly meeting and offered up his philosophy on transportation, business, public benefit, and customer service. "Everything we do, we do for people. If we forget the human element, we will fail!"

He acknowledged that the bulk of his rail experience consists of moving freight and included stints with the Canadian National Railway, the Kansas City Southern Railway, and the Santa Fe Railway. But he took time to point out that his professional commitment to the safe and effective operation of a rail system was developed during his first rail job when he worked for a government agency servicing munitions depots hauling bombs around. "I'm committed to safety!"

Through it all, he says his commitment to safety has always been the foundation of operating style and the key to his success, claiming that his focus on the management of risk and probability yields benefits that transcend a simple reduction in "incidents" and results in an increase in employee morale, customer satisfaction, operational accountability, and systemic performance. "It impacts every aspect of the operation and it is the substance of my leadership commitment."

Fenton has been on the job for just six weeks and yet the impact of his arrival has had a positive impact on the Metrolink's operations, starting with his message to Metrolink insiders "Schedules, capital improvements, track maintenance, running the railroad, it's all important because we're moving people. The people are the ultimate responsibility.

He spoke of a recent conference call he had with his operations team in which he left his audience sitting for three minutes with nothing but dead air. He did it to make a point, that a delay that left people wondering "What's going on?" is completely unacceptable and that he expected Metrolink's passengers to be informed and treated with respect, not just with schedules and performances but with information and guidance.

Fenton's philosophy for systemic change was home-spun at times, "Yeck, I move boxcars more efficiently than this. These are people! Let's get moving!" It was good old fashioned common sense, "Why are 'Passenger needs assistance!' calls a surprise?" It grew wonky and the room perked up! "Systemic improvements come when you manage the details and understand what is causing your performance issues."

"I manage by exception, I'm always going to manage the bottom quartile in every case. You manage performance by moving the bottom. Drill into the data, ask why, get the top causes of failures and you'll find that the root causes analysis will direct you to the work that needs to be done." Every topic he addressed came with a demonstration that he was able to grab hold of both the strategy and the data, connecting them so that each and every decision and action were combined to maximize effectiveness.

Fenton's laid down his strategic priorities for Capital Improvement as safety, line capacity, operating efficiency, renewal rates. Shared tracks, capacity constraints, power plants, 30-10, HSR, ties per mile, he presented a business case to a room full of experts reliable and predictable experience to the customer that results in a "Wow, I want to ride that again!"

The Transit Coalition's audience can be a tough crowd, typically filled with transit professionals, engineers, planners, activists and consultants. Fenton was able to address their concerns and desires for a robust transportation vision as well as a sensitivity to the details of the inner workings of a rail system and especially a commitment to the passenger's experience. He hit the marks and went further, laying down an commitment to connectivity that included a strategy for synergy with other transportation systems and an acute sensitivity to the fact that passengers need to arrive at the station and then depart the station, that transition is part of the Metrolink experience.

Fenton jumped into his role at Metrolink feetfirst and one of his first executive orders was simple and yet revolutionary. He implemented a shut-down policy that forbids idling locomotives and that resulted in a savings of 93 thousand gallons of fuel in the first three weeks of the new policy. This commitment to financial responsibility, to environmental responsibility, to systemic efficiency and to good old fashioned common sense bodes well for the Metrolink, its passengers and the community as a whole.

The Transit Coalition meets monthly on the fourth Tuesday at Philippes the Original and Fenton was the latest in series of transportation leaders to join the TC in discussing the future of transportation. Prior speakers have included OCTA's Will Kempton, the Metro's Art Leahy, and the Metro's Bruce Shelburne. June's Transit Coalition meeting will feature round two with the Metro's CEO, Art Leahy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

CityWatchLA - Streets are for People!

CityWatch, Aug 13, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 64

Great cities are notable for their commitment to built, natural, and social environments. While other cities embrace open space, public space, and green space as zippers that bring people together, Los Angeles continues to position the curbside metered parking space as a battle ground that alienates individuals and divides communities. At the same time, curbside metered parking spaces are one of the best real estate deals in town. Great locations, excellent view, short term rentals.

On Friday, September 17, artists, community members, neighborhood councils and visionaries will step up to the curb, put a quarter in the meter, and proceed to transform a small bit of street into a park, sparking a dialogue on our urban landscape, along with the allocation and management of public space.

This is the 4th annual Park[ing] Day LA, an event that is part of a worldwide celebration spanning 6 continents, 21 countries, 140 cities and 700 parks. Last year Los Angeles hosted four dozen parks, two bike rides, one film screening and a lot of inspired imaginations. Park[ing] Day LA 2010 promises to keep the tradition and raise the standard, offering different expressions of the idea that streets should be an opportunity for connectivity, not division.

Park[ing] Day originated in San Francisco in 2005 when the artists from Rebar transformed a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in an area of San Francisco that the city had designated as lacking public open space. Since then, the concept has been remixed and adapted, resulting in parks that range from the traditional green space/park bench to mobile parks that are moved throughout the city by cyclists. Park[ing] Day events have included urban farms, ecology demonstrations, political seminars, poetry, art installations and even a wedding ceremony.

Through it all, the simple message is "Streets are for People!"

This year, plans are underway for Park[ing] Day LA clusters, some that come with a commitment to creating community and some that come with a commitment to develop specific land into a permanent park. Themes range from Shakespeare Everywhere to Free Speech Zone to Dog Park[ing]. Some folks like to build parks, some like to visit, and some cluster of parks provide people an opportunity for walking and riding tours of the wide variety of themes, messages, and expressions of Park[ing] Day LA. There are already great parks grow[ing] in Downtown, in Silver Lake, Echo Park, East Hollywood and Westwood.


If you’d like to participate in Park[ing] Day LA but are unsure as to where to start, how to build a park, how to frame your message or how to engage your community, come by East Hollywood on Saturday, September 4 for a Park[ing] Day LA workshop.

At 9 in the morning, the Greensters, LA’s first pedal powered transpo team, will be delivering Park[ing] Day LA materials to Santa Monica Boulevard.

From 10am to 2pm, join the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, local community activists, the Greensters, an Urban Forester and people who simply want to engage the leadership of Los Angeles in a robust discussion on LA’s public space.

Park[ing] Day LA Workshop
Saturday, September 4 from 10am until 2pm
4590 Santa Monica Blvd. LA, CA 90029
Between Madison and Westmoreland, south side of the street.
Two blocks east of the Santa Monica & Vermont Red Line Station.

Contact Info: info@ParkingDayLA.com for more information. Join Park[ing] Day LA on Facebook, on Twitter, on MySpace and on YouTube.

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CityWatchLA - Food for Thought on LA’s Food Truck Controversy

CityWatch, Aug 10, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 63

LA City Council's Transportation Committee is poised to approve two motions that will direct nine City Departments and "all affected" Council Districts to make recommendations on the restriction of catering trucks. This will set in motion a series of unintended consequences, all while continuing the City Council tradition of attacking symptoms while ignoring systemic failures.

On the one hand, the Transportation Committee is to be commended for its desire to bring a minimum of 24 representatives to the table in an effort to act in concert and to address congestion and parking issues.

On the other hand, if that many people are going to be working together, it seems that the topic should be the larger systemic issue of managing our parking assets, not just reacting to the crisis du jour.

Over the last couple of years, the City Council has grappled with a series of issues that has included taxi cab parking, parking meter rates, parking meter hours, delivery vehicles, permit parking, parking variances and more. Yet the drama over on-street parking continues.

All of which demonstrates that the most contested real estate in Los Angeles is the curbside metered parking space, a simple land use management tool that has the capacity to fracture even the most tightknit of communities.

It also demonstrates a need to collect real data and to pursue win-win solutions that benefit the community and improve the quality of life for everybody. Most importantly, it offers us an opportunity to look at our streets and to make sure that they work for everybody.

There are approximately 4000 licensed catering trucks operating in LA County, but it is the recent popularity of the 200 "Specialty" trucks that has stirred controversy as they become more visible, more competitive, and more successful.

Some are independent, some are mobile expressions of traditional restaurants and some are operated by restaurateurs who develop a menu and build a clientele on the journey to a brick and mortar location.

From the State to the County to LAMC, the Food Truck industry is regulated and operators must adhere to Health Department standards and inspections, they must store their vehicles in a Commissary overnight, and they must be emptied and cleaned on a daily basis.

There are abundant regulations in place for this industry, just like all the others. To suggest that more regulation and restriction in support of "the intent of those parking meter spaces" is a solution to congestion and conflict is folly.

The problem with the proposed motions is simple; they fail to seize this as an opportunity to address the many conflicts that are part of the larger curbside parking issue.

They also set in motion restrictions that will have unintended consequences while missing the opportunity to work affirmatively to facilitate and support our communities, our businesses and our economy. For example:

1) One of the largest economic generators in the City of Los Angeles is the movement of goods, resulting in thousands of trucks moving through the region at all hours. Yet, there is no place to park an 18 Wheeler in LA.

The sight of trucks parked on Hollywood Boulevard stirs no response from the LADOT or the LAPD or the Council Office, after all, the operators need their sleep and they contribute to the economy.

The fact that some trucks stay for days on arterials throughout the city demonstrates a systemic failure to accommodate an integral element of our economy and a systemic failure to enforce existing prohibitions.

2) One of the most significant solutions to traffic congestion is a mass transit system that works, resulting in buses that need to park on layover throughout the city. Yet, where does one park a bus?

The sight of buses parked in the red on Hollywood Boulevard stirs no response from the Metro or the City of LA, demonstrating a systemic failure to accommodate a transportation solution.

It also demonstrates contempt for the local community as some neighborhoods are turned into industrial zone layover yards.

3) One of the simplest solutions to limited parking opportunities for business and restaurants is valet parking, resulting in less vehicles parked on the street and enhanced convenience for patrons. Yet, where do these vehicles all go?

The city has long fumbled the parking data base that would create a system of accountability, but with no oversight, the abuses are rampant.

From variances offered to multiple businesses, all claiming the same exclusive use of a parking lot, to valets that use metered (disabled) parking and neighborhood streets to park vehicles, to commandeered curbside parking for storage, the abuses are rampant and the failure to regulate is systemic.

4) One of the most common transportation system enhancements in a large city is a taxi cab system that works, resulting in two scenarios; taxi cabs that sit idle in taxi zones while waiting for fares or taxis that cruise the neighborhood looking for fares.

In either case, the city regulates and accommodates, accepting the fact that dedicated curbside parking space is essential if the taxis are to be visible.

This commitment to the viability of the taxi industry is unmatched with a commitment for regulation and enforcement, resulting in trashed taxi zones and neighborhood concentrations of idle taxis. The regulations are in place, the enforcement is missing.

5) One of the simplest ways to encourage the success of a commercial zone is to examine the needs of a community and then to accommodate and support the many elements.

Mortuaries typically have very specific needs for short term parking and staging, needs that the LAPD and the LADOT and City Planning accept.

Tour Buses need to be visible and accessible to the tourists who come from all over the world and the City of LA provides curbside parking in the most popular of commercial zones, supporting Tourism and enhancing the experience of LA's guests.

Local merchants depend on convenient shipping and FedEx and UPS enjoy curbside parking, even during rush hour, as they pickup and deliver from merchants throughout LA's commercial zones.

The commitment to supporting the many elements of a vibrant commercial zone are there, they are just inconsistent.

There's no doubt that our streets are congested or that the conflict between user groups is an important opportunity to come together as a community.

Parking has become such a hot topic that UCLA's Dr. Shoup wrote a 600 page book on the topic and it not only became a best-seller, he literally became a Parking Rock Star and went on tour.

City's such as Pasadena have developed innovations that have revitalized their communities, resulting in a park-once valet system that serves the entire commercial zone.

The City of LA is surrounded by experts such as Shoup, Mott Smith, and Ryan Snyder, all of whom have engaged in community specific parking solutions that benefit all and maximize efficiency and revenue. Ignoring the experts, the City continues to fumble, failing to account for its parking meters, for its off-street parking assets, for taxi and valet oversight, and for a comprehensive plan for parking oversized vehicles that are a part of LA's transportation infrastructure.

LA's Transportation Committee is at a fork in the road, it can proceed with a directive to restrict Food Trucks from commercial zones or it can pursue the larger systemic issue and embrace a solution that is good for everybody.

The opportunity here is for the City of LA to move from a complaint driven system to a standards driven system.

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

CityWatchLA - Port of LA: A Lesson in Contradictions

CityWatch, Aug 6, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 62

To look at the Port of Los Angeles from deep inside is to gaze upon the character of the City of Los Angeles. I say this not because I've been reading Nietzsche, but because I just returned from a tour of the Port, one where I experienced profound contrasts in scale, behavior, and purpose. Theoretical discussions of shipping, transportation, the environment and the economy went from theoretical to tangible and all iActive Imaget took was a three hour boat tour.

I've long participated in advocacy work that involves reviews of bridges such as the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge, of environmental issues related to trucking on the 710, of development issues and the impact on surrounding communities and of the economic impact of LA's commitment to moving America's goods.

Those conversations inevitably include references to the Port of Los Angeles and its connection to the city, the region, and the nation.

But for all the expert testimony, mountains of technical documents and PowerPoint presentations, nothing communicates the nature and the size of the Port of Los Angeles like standing in the shadow of a Container Ship that stretches out of sight, or sailing under the Vincent Thomas Bridge and looking up at a procession of trucks moving like ants, or watching a never, ever ending train loaded with shipping containers move across the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge.

My wife and I toured the Port with a team from Caltrans that included engineers responsible for everything from environmental review, design, bridges, highways, access, funding, and regional connectivity.

We've long worked with Caltrans and it was from within this wide variety of perspectives that the term "economies of scale" took on a new meaning. But most of all, we encountered some simple contrasts that was quite revealing about the Port as well as the City of Los Angeles.

1) From our vantage point aboard the Port of LA's Angelina II, we looked to one side and watched a huge ship unloading brand new automobiles imported from overseas. The cars were shiny, the ship was beautiful, the operation of unloading was seamless.

To the other side of the channel, mountains of shredded scrap metal, salvaged from discarded automobiles, was prodded and pushed by a couple of bulldozers, part of an operation that sorts and shreds waste material and ships it back overseas so that it can be recycled and repurposed and sold to us again, perhaps as the shiny vehicles on the other side of the channel.

The majority of the shipping containers that leave the Port of LA leave empty, but of those that hold a cargo, apparently the balance of trade consists of brand new product arriving and scrap material being returned. The contrast between what we get and what we give was daunting.

2) Container Ships are huge diesel burning power generators and even sitting motionless in the Port they need power.

To see a mega-sized extension cord hanging from a large ship is an interesting contrast in technologies and environmental commitments. Unfortunately, not all ships are enabled for Port Electric and it is an optional program, one that the Port funds in an effort to make it attractive.

The contrast between the Port's commitment to improving the Port's environmental impact and the Port's reluctance to raising the standards for the shipping partners leaves some innovations light on systemic implementation.

3) The Port has a surreal quality to it, incredible amounts of activity but at such a huge scale that it's hard to see the humans in all of the motion. They must be there, in little cabins on cranes or raising and lowering the bridge or operating the train, but they're hard to see.

So much takes places with such an emphasis on automation that from a distance, it appears that the ships are picked clean by machines. There is something awe-inspiring to watch something work so seamlessly.

Simple or complex, a well-designed system that works is a thing of beauty. Such is the Port of LA.

But once off the ships, the containers go two directions, on a train or through LA. The contrast between the high-tech unloading and the low-tech transport is what leaves much of LA feeling under siege. Freeways filled with trucks that move containers one at a time, around the clock, has an environmental and land use impact that can't be ignored.

4) An operation the size of the Port of LA must require a diplomatic corps of its own, such is the need to synchronize the many authorities, powers, agencies, and departments who have influence over everything from national security, the economy, the ocean, cross-country shipping and local neighborhood land use.

The relationships that must work in order for the Port of LA to move so smoothly is an invisible thing of beauty.

But by contrast, a simple proposal to implement a container fee to offset environmental impact expenses was stymied for fear of losing business to Oakland and Seattle.

The fact that LA is held back because of a lack of synchronicity with west coast partners in shipping is an obstacle that must be overcome.

To pretend to understand all of the complexities of the Port of Los Angeles after a simple boat tour is simplistic, but the value of framing the discussion from within the Port is priceless.

Perhaps all discussions and debates should start with a walk, a bike ride, or a boat tour. It's worth a try!

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

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

CityWatchLA - Mayor Hits Ground, Misses Opportunity

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's bike crash has generated press around the country, prompting well wishes from around the globe, but somehow failing to elicit the most basic of the appropriate post-crash behavior from the highest ranking member of LA's cycling community.

The New York Times recounts the details of the Mayor's recent bike ride that ended quickly when a taxi operator pulled out in front of him and caused him to fall, resulting in a broken elbow that required surgery. It also references the Mayor's Copenhagen revelation of last year when he declared "In the area of bicycling I’ve got to do a better job and the city’s got to do a better job" and his new Huffington Post declaration “It’s time to recognize that bicycles also belong on L.A.’s streets.”

Grist refers to the incident as "a prime teachable moment to deflate the myth that collisions between military-sized vehicles and cyclists are no big deal. Instead, he reinforced the notion that public streets are for autos -- and anyone else enters at their own risk."

The Mayor has an opportunity to build on his "Biking in Los Angeles should be a natural" declaration, but it requires action, not just talk and YouTube video thanking the public for their concern. While promises of a Bike Summit play nicely to the cyclists of LA, unless the attendees are the General Managers of the many city departments who have a piece of the streets, it will simply be another opportunity to commiserate over the mean streets of LA as the audience bestows "One of us!" street cred on the Mayor.

I propose that the Mayor's real opportunity is to use the specifics of his bicycle crash on Venice Blvd. as an opportunity to improve the streets of LA for everybody and to do it by engaging in some simple and yet effective solutions.

1) Collect the data. Immediately following an incident on the streets of LA, go to LABikeMap.org and enter the data. (collision, near-miss, road conditions, harassment, etc.) No change will take place without good data and while the City of LA deliberates with Google over cloud computing, Bikeside has simply created a crowd sourcing process that allows the public to collect the data that drives the funding for improving the streets of LA for everybody.

2) Endorse the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. The right to travel safely and free of fear is supported by basic law, municipal code, and departmental policy. All that's missing is for the Mayor of Los Angeles to endorse it, communicating to the cycling community that he supports them in word and in action.

3) Implement the Backbone Bikeway Network. Now is the time for the Mayor to commit to connectivity, bringing the full City Family (LAPD, BOSS, Public Works, Planning, DWP, RAP...) together to support the implementation of the Backbone Network, supporting connectivity with Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation and Human Infrastructure that goes beyond simple paint on the street. The Mayor has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership by bringing inter-agency leadership (Caltrans, CHP, Metro, LASD, LAUSD, CRA, SCAG...) together to make the Backbone Network an integral element of the Mayor's 30-10 plan.

4) Prioritize Human Infrastructure.
Now is the time for the Mayor to set a good example by taking "Confident City Cycling Course" taught by Sustainable Streets. This is also the time to have the City Family participate in bicycle awareness training on the rights of cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles. At Chief Beck's direction, the LAPD developed an online program that sets a standard for effective communication and education. Let's use it!

5) Supervise the Professionals. LA's Department of Transportation licenses and regulates more than 2300 taxi cab operators and if pulling out in front of a cyclist and causing significant bodily injury doesn't warrant some response or trigger some call for education, what does? The motorist who pulled out into traffic and caused the Mayor to hit the ground must be held accountable for his actions, regardless of intent which is rarely an issue. Careless, inattentive, and distracted driving are the more common causes of injury but, regardless, if a Taxi Cab Operator fails to drive safely, he must be held accountable.

6) Empathize with the Public. As the City Council considers enhanced collection strategies for LAFD Ambulance services, it is imperative that the Mayor acknowledge the fact that the average Angeleno would not get emergency surgery on a weekend for an injury suffered on the streets of Los Angeles. If the Taxi Cab Operator caused the Mayor's injury, did the Taxi Cab Operator's auto insurance cover the bills? Surely the Mayor's health insurance, paid for by the public, is not covering an injury caused by a professional motorist licensed and regulated by the City of Los Angeles! The Mayor must clarify legal and financial responsibility, not simply brush it off.

These simple steps don't require scheduling a Bike Summit or gathering cyclists together to hear how tough it is on the streets of Los Angeles. They simply require the Mayor to take care of a few details and in doing so, he will get to proclaim "Los Angeles, the City with a Backbone!"

CityWatchLA - Distracting from Bigger Issues

CityWatch, Aug 3, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 61

LA's City Council is poised to approve two contracts that will allow the LA Fire Department to outsource the Emergency Medical Services Billing and Collection System (EMSS) while implementing the Fire Department Field Data Capture System (FDCS). This will allow the LAFD to manage patient history data, communicate emergency information and initiate billing data collection on scene.

The anticipated approval of these contracts will mark the end of a journey that began eight years ago, addressing the issue of uncollected debts that was highlighted by the City Controller and the City Council during the recent budget debates.

While the $10 million contract with Scanhealth for a digital data transfer system promises to improve the delivery of services using digital data transfer, it is the contract with Advanced Data Processing Inc. that is positioned as an opportunity to improve billing collections and contribute to the City's General Fund.

In the 2009 fiscal year, the LAFD billed $151 million for emergency medical services but collected only $58 million. The outsourcing of the billing and the increase in ambulance fees are both positioned by the Mayor and the Controller as important steps that will allow the LA to deliver on the LAFD's mission while efficiently recovering the costs of the service. In addition, the proposal is designed to protect the City from exposure to Federal, State and HIPAA liability.

While there is some controversy over these proposals … unions want city workers trained to do the work and there is the charge that it constitutes double billing, once when the taxpayers fund the LAFD and again when they pay for the services as rendered … but by the end of Tuesday, it's expected that the contracts will be approved, the vendors will go to work on implementation, and the LAFD will continue providing world class service to the people of Los Angeles.

As for the Mayor and the City Council, now is the time for them to initiate a larger discussion on the issues that have been overshadowed by the current emphasis on increasing the LAFD's General Fund contribution through an improved data and billing collection process.

1) The Los Angeles Fire Department's PIO, Brian Humphreys refers to the LAFD as "The tip of the spear for an ailing health care system, providing primary medical care to a sizable portion of LA's population."

Statistically, it seems simple, increase the collection rate and increase contribution to the General Fund. But another way to approach this is to ask "Who is calling the LAFD and why are they going to the LAFD for primary health care?"

People with no money or with no connection to medical services are hardly in a position to respond to a more efficient billing process. They're symptoms of a larger broken system.

2) The Los Angeles Fire Department is a Social Services agency in communities such as Hollywood, addressing the mental, substance abuse, social, and medical needs of the homeless population.

One of Hollywood's LAFD Captains estimated that as much as 40% of their resources was dedicated to the task. An increase in the efficiency of the billing process will not address the fact that the LAFD has become the de facto caretaker of LA's invisible population.

3) The Los Angeles Fire Department spends an inordinate amount of time responding to traffic collisions, responding to approximately 100 per day and taking responsibility for emergency medical services as well as transportation of victims.

By contrast, the County Fire Department also responds but then relies on private ambulances to transport victims.

Increasing the efficiency of the billing process doesn't address the fact that the service itself might be better privatized in the case of traffic collisions and that unlicensed and/or uninsured motorists are not likely to respond to a more efficient billing process.

The City Council's pursuit of efficiencies in data management and in billing collections are commendable but these motions fail to address the larger issue of causality and of responsibility.

Whether it's the poor without health insurance or the means to pay for an ambulance, motorists or passengers without auto insurance, or indigent without MediCal/Medicare coverage, the fact remains that the City is quickly ending a conversation that should be taking place with the County, the State, and the Federal providers of medical services and support.

The Los Angeles Fire Department is a world class organization and offers everything from emergency medical care to the supervision of movie set pyrotechnic stunts.

The LAFD is also a leader in the training of community members for emergency preparedness in the Community Emergency Response Teams and Urban Search & Rescue Teams, an investment for the times that the LAFD needs support.

This ongoing work has resulted in a citywide full service Life Safety Network, a system that has proven its value during incidents such as the Griffith Park fire, the Station fire, and the Metrolink Train crash.

The first opportunity here is to move beyond simple data and billing collection and to fully support the LAFD by looking for systemic solutions that address homelessness, traffic collisions, and patients who lack medical services and support, all of whom currently rely on the LAFD for high quality and unconditional medical services and transport.

While the idea of reducing homelessness, traffic collisions and poverty may seem unrealistic, the opportunity for City Family efficiencies in the delivery of services is certainly worth exploring, not ignoring.

The second opportunity here is for the Mayor and the City Council to look beyond the LAFD as a simple General Fund contributor and to rally the city departments who are responsible for traffic safety on the streets, for social services, for connecting Angelenos with the County, State and Fed medical services, and for Emergency Preparedness and to work together to make sure that Los Angeles is pursuing maximum outside funding for the great work that the LAFD does.

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