CityWatch, May 31, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 43
RETHINKING LA - LA’s City Council took another step toward complete irrelevance during the recent budget hearings as it moved from a discussion of city pagers to a robust consideration of the hold music on the city’s 311 phone system.
Faced with a $6.9 billion budget, a half billion dollar shortfall, and impending cuts to city services, LA’s City Council abdicated responsibility and instead continued to engage in a discussion of antiquated communications technology.
In the wilds, this is known as the displacement activity of a cornered animal. At City Hall, it’s simply the Peter Principle coming to life in the Theatre of the Absurd.
To discuss the hold music on the 311 system demonstrates two significant disconnects from reality.
First, the hold music would be somewhat irrelevant if hold times were reasonable. But they’re not. The staff has been cut and the calls for help have escalated.
Reductions in city services, the collapse of a city, and an increase in calls for help as the public realizes that they’re last in line are the symptoms of eviscerated departments and the downward spiral of a city in crisis.
Second, the ongoing discussion of pagers and hold music in City Council Chambers demonstrates a complete disconnect from innovative communication strategies and technologies.
The City of LA is the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world and yet its online presence is painfully provincial and disjointed, lacking any sense of center or internal strategy for navigation.
Planning has a “frame” design that prevents visitors from bookmarking or sharing links with others. During the revision of the Housing Element, staff overcame the limitations of the website by simply building their own temporary site for the Housing Element campaign.
LADOT has also employed the “workaround” solution but in their case, they allowed the consultant to build the website, resulting in a Bike Plan site that now belongs to a vendor that is no longer on the job. Oops!
A visit to the Mayor’s website offers a search feature but “Vision for Connectivity” fails to yield any results. For that matter, simply searching for “Vision” only turns up references to gang reduction, Performance Management, and an old, dusty commitment to turn LA into the cleanest and greenest big city in America.
This is one of those moments when everything becomes clear.
There’s no vision for connectivity at City Hall.
To be sure, each City Councilmember has his/her own strategy for connecting with the public and they range from pagers and rotary phones to the web, typically serving as filters rather that open and transparent opportunities for the public to connect.
For all of the talk of social media, there’s no way to find the folks at City Hall unless you already know them.
@MobilityMaven will send you lots of advice on avoiding the 405 in July, but only if you’re already connected.
@Villaraigosa will send you lots of messages announcing the great work being done in schools, parks, libraries, theatres, cultural centers, and churches, but again, only if you’re already connected.
If you’d like to follow the twitter accounts of the Emergency Management Department or the many Deputy Mayors, it’s an insider game, not for the common folk. In fact, simply calling them by phone or visiting them in person is not for the hoi polloi, it’s for those already connected.
The City of Los Angeles is in need of a Communications Czar, someone who can...well...connect the disparate departments and staffers and electeds under one digital roof that allows the people of LA to understand how the City works, what it consists of, and who does what.
The league of Women Voters of Los Angeles put out a great book entitled “Los Angeles: Structure of a City Government” and it serves as a road map that opens the doors of City Hall to the public.
LA’s website could do the same thing, connecting the public with their city and empowering civic engagement, and it all starts with a simple strategy for the Internet that commits to open and transparent connectivity.
The fact that LA’s City Hall is a cell phone dead zone and requests for wi-fi access simply prompt snickers demonstrates how far LA has to go if it expects to take its place as a Great City.
In the meantime, rumors that “Nearer My God To Thee” will be played as the hold music on LA’s 311 system are unconfirmed.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)