Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CityWatchLA - Five Signs LA is a DIY City

CityWatch, May 17, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 39

BOX SOAP - The City of LA’s self-crippling budget crisis gives new meaning to the phrase “If you want something done correctly, do it yourself.”

Consider these five examples of Do-It-Yourself management initiatives sponsored by the people of Los Angeles in response to the failings of City Hall.

1) The Inspector General for Revenue Collection, as proposed by the Commission on Revenue Efficiency (CORE), is a position that will have the authority and staff to collect the revenue owed to the City of LA.

The Byzantine structure of LA’s government has resulted in billing collection redundancies that leave individual departments responsible for collecting revenue but with little incentive or oversight. Focused on headcount and generating billing, department heads have allowed the actual collections to fall between the cracks, resulting in $541.1 million in bad debt.

When CORE released its 107-page Blueprint for Reforms of City Collections and the 67 specific recommendations including the creation of the Inspector General position, Chairman Ron Galperin pointed out "The City has no real centralized billing and collection process and systems are woefully outdated."

2) The DWP Ratepayers Advocate, as championed by neighborhood council leaders such as Jack Humphreville, President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and CityWatch columnist, and as approved by 80% of the voting public who voted for Measure I which authorizes the Office of Public Accountability and the Ratepayer Advocate, to be effective July 1, 2011.

The movement to forge a relationship with LA’s Department of Water and Power, a Proprietary Department, was motivated by the failure of the Mayor and the City Council to control the nation's largest municipal utility, owned by the people of LA but operating as if the relationship were reversed.

Responsible for delivering reliable, safe water and electricity supplies to the 4 million residents and businesses in Los Angeles, the DWP has also delivered controversy and drama that has resulted in a revolving door of General Managers and recent ballot measures that attest to the failure of City Hall to control this city asset, placing the responsibility on the people of LA.

3) The City Prosecutor is a position that would require bifurcating the City Attorney’s office, creating a position that would actually represent the people of Los Angeles. The current scenario has the City Attorney representing the City of LA as the client, while the people of LA are forced to provide their own legal representation.

The absurdity of the current one-sided legal arena was most recently demonstrated when Barry Sanders, Chair of the Rec and Parks Commission and retired Latham & Watkins Partner, appeared before the City Council in defense of his park advertising scheme.

Sanders complained that the City Attorney’s office should stop raising legal objections based on LA’s sign ordinance to the Parks Foundation sale of advertising in city parks and should instead be looking for ways to legalize it as “Government Speech” on behalf of the Commission.

Sanders singlehandedly made the case for the creation of a City Prosecutor for the City of LA.

4) Community leaders have long held that as long as the citizen oversight of the city’s departments comes from people appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council, the people of LA are not represented and there is no real accountability.

LA’s Commissions range in effectiveness and power, some meeting for mere moments on an irregular basis to approve consent agendas while others meet regularly and exert significant influence over city policy and operations.

Joe Barrett of Sunland Tujunga made it a campaign issue in the most recent elections that the people of LA should have a seat on each Commission that is filled by the neighborhood councils.

This would require a Charter amendment and a campaign to get a neighborhood council sponsored initiative on the 2013 ballot must start immediately.

5) Task Forces consisting of both city staffers and community leaders have stepped up to fill the void left behind as the city has bogged down in the budget crisis, demonstrating an effectiveness and agility that has raised the bar.

Under Chief Beck’s leadership, cyclists and the LAPD formed the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force and now work together on policy and programming, resulting in an educational program that is ahead of the state standard.

DONE’s GM, BongHwan Kim, points to the work of the Elections Task Force and the By-Laws Task Force as examples of community members partnering with city staff to move quickly and to maximize results.

Kim has long advocated for neighborhood councils to go beyond simple “median strip beautification” projects and to use each action as an opportunity to fulfill the City Charter mandate “To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.”

The East Hollywood Neighborhood Council took a simple constituent complaint about blight and formed the Route 66 Task Force, committed to engaging the people of the community and the city departments in a campaign to reconnect Santa Monica Boulevard with its Route 66 legacy.

PlanCheckNC has picked up the slack with City Planning, the Budget Advocates have made great recommendations on the Budget, and the LA Bike Working Group took the Bike Plan where the LADOT and its consultants were afraid to ride. Through it all, LA’s Task Forces are demonstrating that the future of LA lies in partnerships.

At this past Saturday’s GM Roundtable, Amir Sedadi of LADOT and Ron Olive of Bureau of Street Services both indicated that the most effective way for neighborhood councils to work with the departments on the delivery of city services is to engage the community, establish priorities, and communicate clearly on behalf of the neighborhood.

The people of Los Angeles have an opportunity, to get lost in the budget drama and the debates over “budget dust” or to seize this opportunity of crisis and to use the energy to fight for systemic change.

Now is the time for the people of LA to work together to bring the offices of the Inspector General, the Ratepayers Advocate, and the City Prosecutor to life, complemented by an initiative to create a “People’s Seat” on each City Commission and supported by Task Forces that address the ongoing power vacuum in Los Angeles.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

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