CityWatch, June 5, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 45
RETHINKING LA - Los Angeles will take its place as a Great City when
it shifts from a complaint-driven system to a standards-driven
structure, putting the people of LA first and positioning respect as the
foundation for developing powerful relationships between the public and
those in public service.
This simplistic statement amounts to a proverbial fork in the
pothole-laden road for Los Angeles, one where the city can continue to
instruct the public to call 311 to report potholes or one where the city
develops a standard for its streets and then sets out to bring the
streets up to standard.
In more general terms, it would free the public from being
responsible for spending inordinate amounts of time requesting the most
basic of city services and allow the public to actually partner with
City Hall, working together to improve the quality of life in the
1) Open the front doors of City Hall to the public.
Reward those who take the Metro to the Civic Center station and then
walk to City Hall, put out the welcome mat, turn the courtyard into
great public space, and send a message to the public that City Hall is
their home. City Hall is a beautiful building but asking the public to
use the back door is simply unacceptable.
For all of the money
being spent on the 12-acre Grant Park that is being built to the west
of City Hall, it still connects to doors that are closed to the public.
2) Position a concierge at each entrance and greet the public, offering
real information and real answers. Tone down the oppressive security
gauntlet, get rid of the stickers, lose the irrelevant sign-in sheet and
dispense with all of the unnecessary labor. It's City Hall.
The most significant violence in recent history to occur on city
property was committed by city employees so the inconsistent security
standard simply positions the public as 2nd class while the staff are
1st class. Open the doors, treat the public with respect, put customer
service first and hire those concierges!
3) Listen to the
public, not simply as a demonstration of endurance, but as an
opportunity to take notes, to engage, to incorporate public comment into
the active-solution process. Public comment is not simply a Brown Act
obligation, it is the essence of the relationship, it is the minimum
standard and any real leader will transcend minimum and look for
Engage the public, ask for input, make feedback an
integral element of moving forward. Anybody who takes a half day of
their time to travel to City Hall should be thanked for caring enough to
participate, rewarded for the investment of time and enlisted as a
partner in making LA a Great City, not simply dismissed as 2 minutes of
4) Instill an "Every door is the right door" policy so
that the public never ever has to navigate the Department of "No"
journey that fatigues the hardiest and consumes inordinate amounts of
energy and time.
From the Mayor to the intern, treat every
request as an opportunity to be of service. Find the answer, find the
department, find the solution but never, ever send the public away with
an admonition that they asked the wrong person or the wrong question or
the wrong department. City Hall exists to remove obstacles.
often convinced that there are those in power who think that it would
be a lot easier to run the City of Los Angeles if it wasn't for all of
This attitude seems to originate in City Hall and
then waft through some of the departments and offices, resulting in
staff who seem to think that transportation would be a lot easier to
manage if it wasn't for all of the traffic, that social services would
be easier to handle if it wasn't for all of the needy people, that
emergencies would be easier to address if they would just take place
between Monday and Friday.
It's simple to suggest that the City
of Los Angeles could take a lesson from Disneyland or Nordstroms or
Trader Joe's or Southwest Airlines or Rackspace, companies that put a
focus on customer service in good times and then double down when things
get rough. But the immediate response tends to be "That's different,
we're in the public service sector!"
Fair enough but one of the
most successful change agents has been busy at work in Los Angeles over
the last couple of years and the City of LA let him get away.
The Metrolink’s CEO, John Fenton, just took a job in Florida after
spending two years turning Metrolink around. He arrived in the wake of
the deadly 2008 train crash that took the lives of 25 passengers. He
transformed a demoralized organization into a tight team that focused on
treating passengers like guests, not cargo.
Fenton took a
train system that spans 500 miles and services 6 counties, hobbled with
budget constraints and bad press, and the world took notice.
While others were courting John Fenton, the City of LA debated the hold music on 311 and the background music on Channel 35.
The City of Los Angeles exports talent, from our schools, from our
companies, from our public works partners, and from our municipal ranks.
When John Fenton arrived in town he declared "Everything we do, we
do for people. If we forget the human element, we will fail!"
We let Fenton get away but his words belong in City Hall. City Hall
exists to serve the people of LA and if Los Angeles is to become a City
that Works, it will be because the people of Los Angeles come first.
High atop City Hall in the Tom Bradley room, the words of Thomas
Jefferson are inscribed on the wall. "That government is the strongest
of which every man feels a part.” I propose that the Mayor and the City
Council have a basic mandate and that is to make sure that every man and
woman feels a part of the City of Los Angeles.