Saturday, February 12, 2011

CityWatchLA - LA Fails to Cash the Check

CityWatch, Feb 11, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 12

The City of LA is mired in a budget crisis, one that has prompted the mayor to go on a “confidence tour” while the city council conducts triage on city assets and the people of LA brace themselves for the next round of service cuts and fee increases.

While those in control would have us believe that this is all due to the current global economic crisis, it’s not quite true. Quite simply, the City of LA has been mismanaging money through thick and thin, through feast and famine, and even when the funding comes through, LA fails to cash the check.

While city hall attempts to balance the budget on the backs of the people who live here and who operate small businesses here, the real opportunities to pay our staff, repair our infrastructure, support healthy communities and partner with our schools are missed because of simple ineptitude.

1) The City of LA competes with itself for funding. The federal and state government both have Safe Routes to School funding, dispensed on an annual basis and LA allows the Department of Transportation, Public Works, and the CRA to all submit projects that compete with each other. A more efficient solution would be to allow Public Works (a charter department) to take the lead and then to ask the hard question, “Why is there a redundancy of services by the LADOT and the CRA?”

2) The City of LA simply fails to compete for great funding. The Office of Traffic Safety provides funds that can pay for public safety personnel and overtime but LA continues to go after funding for “Watch the Road” billboards as the city council debates furloughs and layoffs.

3) The City of LA qualifies for funding and then simply fails to do the work.

• It’s been years since the city council addressed the fact that 33 of the most dangerous street crossings for schoolchildren had not received safety improvements even though the funds had been in place for years. They blamed city staff.

• It’s been years since I stood on Wilshire Blvd. with LA’s gridlock busting Mayor, Transportation Committee Chair Wendy Greuel, and LADOT GM Rita Robinson to announce the federal funding that was going to be spent on revitalizing and rebuilding Wilshire Blvd., from one end to the other. Since then, the Mayor has lost interest, Greuel is now the City Controller, Robinson retired in frustration and works for LA County, and anyone who travels on Wilshire Blvd. does so at their own risk.

• As of last week, the city council continues to debate Wilshire Blvd., finally deciding to avoid making a decision until they had seen more reports and studies. Meanwhile, LA residents pay an average of $746 per vehicle in repairs per year as the result of damages from potholes and road debris.

4) The City of LA’s failure to complete projects and then invoice the federal and state authorities disqualifies us from funding cycles. City staff engage in the “sister agency” turf war that screams of the inefficiency of having such redundancy. The LADOT has two projects still open under a Cooperative Work Agreement (fund extension) which makes the whole city ineligible for BTA state funds that pay for city projects that improve safety and convenience.

5) The City of LA qualifies for funding but can’t do the math. When the LADOT was at the Transportation Committee to discuss plans for its share of the Metro’s “local return” funds, the numbers being discussed were based on 10% of net instead of 10% of gross. I pointed out the error ($7.3 million over 5 years) and it was corrected.

LA’s City Council has an obligation to protect the city’s assets and to the deliver city services. The Great City priorities of Public Safety, Public works, Public Health, and Public Education depend on an honest, open and transparent accounting of our funds. It continues with the responsible management of our funds and it moves forward with oversight and accountability.

As for today, it’s incumbent on the city council to “cash the check” and put city staff to work repairing our streets and delivering city services.

(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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