Thursday, September 30, 2010

CityWatchLA - It's Not the Heat, It's the Disconnect!

CityWatch, Oct 1, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 78


This past Monday, the temperature in Los Angeles hit a record 113 degrees, prompting a press release from the City of LA's Emergency Management Department (EMD) directing the public to cooling stations set up in locations such as LA's Libraries. The next day, the EMD issued another press release, this time acknowledging their recent discovery that LA's libraries are now closed on Mondays.

There are a few elements of this scenario that demonstrate LA's lack of emergency preparedness and emergency responsiveness.

1) Emergencies don't work 9-5, Monday through Friday. The heat wave didn't sneak up on LA, in fact at 8 am on Saturday morning the participants at the LAPD's Community Policing Advisory Board (C-PAB) Summit were sweltering. Unable to find relief in the beautiful but unshaded open space of LAPD headquarters they found refuge in the new Deaton Hall where the limitations of the AC system were discovered.

The theme of the C-PAB Summit was emergency preparedness and featured Caltech's Dr. Lucy Jones and EMD's James Featherstone. In a wicked display of irony, the top brass of the EMD and the LAPD discussed emergency preparedness on Saturday and then went home, waiting until Monday to let the public know "It's hot, head for the libraries!" If only we were better connected and had the right information at the right time.

2) Emergencies involve everybody. Utilities collapse, streets buckle, the LAPD gets stretched thin, the Fire Department must contend with medical emergencies and heightened fire risks, priorities shift and the last people to know are the ones who need help the most.

This simple heat wave illustrates that the importance of our libraries, our parks, our schools, our open space, our neighborhood councils, our senior centers, and our public space.

Regardless of the emergency, all of the assets of LA are part of the emergency response system, from open space for staging areas to protected space for animals, to libraries and community centers for cooling stations or evacuation shelters, nothing is to be taken for granted. If only we were better connected and had a plan for the right facilities at the right time.

3) Emergencies are local, very local. In a real emergency people won't be downloading PDF's from EMD, they won't be shopping for supplies or rethinking the recent interdepartmental competition over emergency preparedness funding. They'll be yelling, using a whistle, listening to a radio and taking care of themselves, their families and their neighbors.

A real emergency doesn't respect bureaucracy and it hasn't been trained by the personnel department in time management, loss-prevention, or the hierarchy of municipal decision-making. To wait for City Hall to recognize an emergency is to court disaster. If only we were better connected and were prepared to take responsibility for our own lives.

Last year's Station Fire demonstrated the deficiencies in our current emergency preparedness system when it was unclear which department or authority was in charge. Inter-agency squabbling over responsibility left locals navigating the back roads in order to do what needed to be done, save lives and save property.

Two years ago, a series of bushfires in Victoria, Australia took the lives of 173 people. "Black Saturday" resulted in an inquiry that called into question the simple nature of authority and the process for communicating an evacuation alert. It got hot, it got windy, the fires started, people trusted a hesitant fire authority and lives were lost.

Fifteen years ago, a heat wave struck Chicago and 739 Chicagoans lost their live due to the heat. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) sent an investigator to Chicago to study the incident and the researcher reported "It's the heat!" He was wrong. It was hot all over but the deaths came in clusters, demonstrating the impact of social structure, access and mobility, isolation and connectivity.

Quite simply, it's not the nature of the emergency that puts Angelenos at risk, it's our ability to prevent or minimize the impact and it's our ability to respond and survive that makes all the difference.

1) The City of LA needs to integrate its emergency preparedness and emergency response strategies and accept that they must be in the DNA of every department. Chicago demonstrated that simple land use decisions had an impact on the survival rates in a heat wave, demonstrating that even the CRA is having an impact on LA's inability to weather the storm.

From the DWP to the Street Services to the Libraries to Rec & Parks to the LAPD to the LAFD, every department in Los Angeles plays a role but the fact that they are disconnected means that we'll be playing "Who's on first?" in the next emergency.

2) The City of LA needs to connect with the public now and there is no better mechanism for that outreach than the neighborhood councils. It was locals that went over the fences in the aftermath of the Chatsworth Train crash to take food to emergency service providers who worked around the clock to save lives. It was locals who used the back routes to evacuate the animals in the Station Fire while the "authorities" set up roadblocks that hindered an emergency response.

From Community Policing to CERT to Communications, the network must be in place now, not after an emergency has arrived, and the strategy for success must start with supporting the public, not interfering.

3) The City of LA needs to clearly communicate now the chain of command so that the people of LA never, ever again stand in the middle of an emergency and watch the Red Cross argue with CERT over funding or watch the LAPD argue with the County over jurisdiction. Those moments might be dramatic and entertaining on the big screen but they are the seeds of disaster when they take place on the streets of LA.

The record-setting heat of last week may have passed but in its wake is a reminder that we must be prepared, we must take responsibility, and we must get connected. As always, it's up to us.

(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.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CityWatchLA - LA's Budget - The Plot Thickens

CityWatch, Sept 28, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 77

In theory, LA's City Charter gives shape to the structure of the city … but in practice, it is LA's City Budget that defines the city, feeding the elements that are to flourish and starving those that are to wither. For all of the talk and press conferences and wringing of hands, it is the City Budget that establishes the priorities of the city, brings its character to life, and establishes its journey into the future. The Mayor and City Council typically present LA's budget saga to the people of LA as an "either/or" proposition, one that pits public safety against libraries or street repair against access to parks. Those that fall for the false paradigm are left to grapple with the City Hall imposed burden of guilt that comes from wanting it all, a safe and healthy city that is committed to delivering city services worthy of a Great City.

Critics of City Hall also embrace the "either/or" proposition, urging the City to either initiate pension bloodletting immediately or enter into bankruptcy proceedings. From the Huffington Post to Los Angeles Magazine, well-articulated arguments have been made for moving from discussions of budget priorities and simply engaging in triage.

Somewhere in between the two overly simplistic ends of the spectrum lie a multitude of complicated options and opportunities, so many that the landscape can be overwhelming and discouraging. At the same time, it has been argued that life can be reduced to several basic plots.

Comedy: Some might call the budget crisis a comedy of errors by a court of jesters, others might dismiss the behavior of the participants as a farce, but if the City of LA doesn't successfully confront the budget crisis, the audience will go down with the performers. If the public successfully engages the budget crisis and prevails, then we can look back and have a laugh at the journey, otherwise, LA will be the bad joke that took the spotlight from Bell.

Tragedy: Neighborhood Councils were created with a City Charter mandate to advise the Mayor and City Council on budget priorities. The Mayor and his staff began work on the 2011/2012 budget months ago, leaving the public in a secondary position. It would be tragic if Neighborhood Councils settled for a spectator role instead of firmly communicating the priorities and solutions that come from the community.

Voyage and Return: The people of LA have ventured into a landscape that is filled with homelessness, foreclosures, unemployment, and failing infrastructure. There's a fork in the road and the choice is simple, more of the same with increasing intensity or the return to paradise. It's a choice, one that the people of LA must take, and it starts with the immediate budget process.

The Quest: The City of LA is under siege and City Hall insiders have long warned that the current crisis is deeper than the public is being told, that it is going to change the City of LA forever. The die is cast, the journey is underway, libraries are being closed, staff are disappearing, quality of life commitments are a thing of the past. The people of LA are faced with an opportunity to demonstrate "People are at their best when things are worst."

Overcoming the Monster: The enemy is at the gate and it threatens the entire community. The only "either/or" proposal on the table is to slay the beast or be destroyed. The City of LA will not survive if it continues to argue "assistance for the aging vs. arts for the children" or any of the other "budget dust" debates that consume the attention of the City Council. The people of Los Angeles must work together and put the focus on a budget that works.

Rebirth: Assuming that both "either/or" paradigms have some truth in them, now is the time for the people of Los Angeles to embrace the challenge and demonstrate all that is Great about LA. The most creative and innovative people live in Los Angeles and the current budget crisis is an opportunity to establish LA as the Capital of Rebirth. For that to happen, the public has to step up quickly and assume the starring role in a great story!

Rags to Riches: Neighborhood Councils have spent a decade bobbing in the political waters, dismissed in good times and on the chopping block in bad times. Now is the opportunity for the public to step to the center of the stage and to reveal that the ordinary is actually quite extraordinary. Implausible? History demonstrates over and over again that it is not only plausible, it is probable. This is the time for the people of Los Angeles to excel.

The Mayor and City Hall have been criticized for "kicking the budget problems down the road" and simply postponing the inevitable. If this scenario is to change, it will be because the people of Los Angeles step up and demand a starring role in the next chapter of the LA story.

(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.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

CityWatchLA - Disappointed LADOT GM Leaves City for County

CityWatch, Sept 24, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 76

Rita Robinson, General Manager of LA's Department of Transportation, has tendered her resignation and is headed for a position with the County of Los Angeles, according to City Hall and LADOT insiders.

Ms. Robinson has served the City of LA for more than three decades, proving to be the consummate City Hall insider and a sharp navigator of departmental rough waters. Reports indicate that she will be joining Bill Fujioka, Chief Executive Officer of the County of LA, her old boss from the CAO's office at City Hall.

Neighborhood Council leaders will remember Rita Robinson as the LADOT General Manager who invested significant time developing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the NC's only to have it collapse at the finish line as the impact of the city's budget crisis set in and staffing commitments were in flux.

Robinson also was the first city official to warn neighborhood councils that the City’s budget picture was dire. She told them the current crisis was deeper than they were being told and would “change the City forever.” She encouraged them to grab a seat at the City Hall budget table and help rework the City into their vision. Otherwise, she said, “you will have to take what they give you … and no one at City Hall know what they’re doing.”

Her disappointment is reflected in her comments to the Times: “There have been times that I have been discouraged, that we have had every opportunity to make great gains, and for whatever reason, we just don’t quite get there,”

Robinson's department has been in the hot seat of late, including most recently when Councilmember Smith took umbrage with the manner in which the LADOT reengineered a local street, pushing hard to complete the work in spite of local pushback. The announcement of Robinson's retirement comes on the same day as Smith's motion requiring Neighborhood Council review on all new Department of Transportation (LADOT) traffic features before installing them.

The LADOT has also taken hits for its poor performance on Safe Routes to School grants, on its ineffective Call for Projects process, and on its failure to perform with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. The most recent City Controller audit of LA's performance with (ARRA) funds revealed that the LADOT was awarded $40.8 million but only created or retained 9 jobs, far short of the anticipated and intended benefit.

Robinson has served the City of Los Angeles in a number of capacities, including stints with the Office of the City Administrative Officer, the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Community Development Department. She helmed the Department of Transportation twice and received acclaim for her recent tour of duty at the Department of Sanitation.

General Managers within the City of LA occupy their positions at the pleasure of the Mayor and Robinson was reported to be a loyal Mayoral appointee, representing him on the Metro's Board of Directors where she chairs the Operations Committee.

Robinson's resignation comes at a time when the Mayor is investing a significant amount of his political capital in transportation issues, from supporting active transportation and the City's first CicLAvia to pushing for federal support for the 30/10 plan.

The resignation also comes as the LADOT's assets are being discussed as "fire sale" options to balance the budget and departmental consolidation is being positioned as an option for reducing bureaucratic redundancy and inefficiency.

Mayor Villaraigosa's office has been hosting retirement parties with increasing regularity of late, saying goodbye to Chief Deputy Mayor Jay Carson, City Planning's Gail Goldberg, CRA's Cecilia Estolano, and others who reportedly hindered the Mayor's push for focus and relevance in the face of the city's budget crisis.

(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.)

CityWatchLA - CicLAvia: Putting People Back On the Streets

CityWatch, Sept 24, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 76

LA's CicLAvia is scheduled for Sunday, October 10, 2010 (aka 10/10/10) at 10 am and will result in 7.5 miles (it should have been 10!) of LA's streets opened to people and closed to motor vehicles, all in an effort to create vibrant public space for pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, and community members who long for the days when streets were for people.

LA's CicLAvia (a Southland twist on the Columbian Ciclovia) has been in the works for almost two years, requiring the coordination of City Council offices, City Departments, the Mayor's office and an army of volunteers. Long under wraps, the announcement was finally made this past week on the steps of City Hall.

"CicLAvia started over thirty years in Bogota, Colombia as a response to the congestion and pollution of city streets," said Mayor Villaraigosa. "Now does that sound familiar?"

CicLAvia will begin in HelMel, an area in East Hollywood that is a popular location for street festivals, and continue to MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Little Tokyo, and through downtown to Hollenbeck Park on the Eastside. (Conversely, CicLAvia will begin in Boyle Heights on the Eastside and continue to East Hollywood!)

Restricting motor vehicle traffic is traditionally referred to as "closing a street" and that is the paradigm that is being reversed. CicLAvia is an opportunity to "open the streets" by restricting motor vehicle traffic and filling them with people, positioning the street as a "zipper" that draws people together by creating vibrant open space that anchors the neighborhood.

The original Ciclovia concept was based on the Spanish word for "bike path" and originated in Columbia with the main streets of Bogatá, Cali, and Medillín closed to motor vehicles and opened to runners, skaters, and cyclists.

Over the years the event has grown to include events staged by aerobics instructors, yoga teachers, and musicians who lead people through various performances. It is estimated that 2 million people (30% of the population) take part in activities on the 120 km of Ciclovia streets in Columbia.

Ciclovia events take place around the world, in Australia, in Canada, in New Zealand and in Mexico. They also take place in cities around the United States such as San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Miami, and Tuscon.

Los Angeles actually has some experience with an LA version of CicLAvia, having hosted a nine mile long annual History Walk ( that started in 1981 as part of LA Bicentennial celebration.

LA's History Walk (or Birthday Walk) commemorates the establishment of El Pueblo la Reina de Los Angeles by Los Pobladores, the settlers who made the trek from the San Gabriel Mission to what is now known as Olvera Street.

This year would have been the 29th annual History Walk, an event that sees the streets from San Gabriel to Los Angeles closed to motor vehicle traffic and filled with birthday celebrants, but the event was cancelled due to LA's budget crisis.

(Who knew it took so much money to let people walk the streets!)

(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.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Dismantling of Los Angeles

CityWatch, Sept 21, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 75


The City of LA stands alone amongst other large cities in its commitment to establishing "legal minimum" as the standard for performance in access, civic participation, communication and the delivery of city services.

LA Weekly's Patrick Range McDonald details LA's latest "legal minimum" performance commitment in his exhaustive review of the evisceration of LA's library system, one that sees the library budget being reduced to the City Charter minimum.

While the Mayor bemoans the obstacles that prevent him from taking control of the LAUSD and leading the charge on improving the educational landscape for the children of Los Angeles, he partners with the City Council in turning an estimated 15,000 schoolchildren away from the library every Sunday and then again every Monday.

While the Mayor claims sweeping reforms in the City’s delivery of gang reduction and promises to invest in LA's youth by addressing gang violence, he partners with the City Council in closing the neutral gang-free libraries where students have a quiet homework haven after school.

While the Mayor promises to helping lead Los Angeles out of this economic recession by training young adults and adults for the jobs of tomorrow, he partners with the City Council in closing very popular internet access that offers job-seekers an opportunity to prepare for and locate employment.

Through it all, a City Hall spokesperson excused the Mayoral and City Council behavior by explaining "Tough choices were made." This statement is especially important because it serves as a reminder that the decisions were, indeed, choices. Not necessarily the choices of the people but they were certainly the choices of the Mayor and the City Council.

Missing from the City Hall spokesperson's defense is an explanation of why the "Tough Choices" and "legal minimum" standards weren't applied to City Hall and the motor pool, the travel accounts, the staffing levels, and the many redundancies and inefficiencies that the public refers to as unnecessary and wasteful.

Granted, the Mayor's office offers the public the opportunity to weigh in on the budget each year, most recently with an online survey. That survey revealed public support for maintaining budget commitments to the Fire Department, to Rec and Parks and to the Public Libraries. Unfortunately, that input was quietly ignored.

The people of Los Angeles are in the midst of a quiet dismantling of a Great City, the proverbial budgetary death of a thousand cuts.

The Mayor and the City Council are in the process of establishing a new standard in "legal minimums," one that threatens to result in the failure of a Great City!

The future of Los Angeles depends on our collective actions and our ability to work together to demand the effective and efficient delivery of city services.

"The library is not a shrine for the worship of books. It is not a temple where literary incense must be burned or where one's devotion to the bound book is expressed in ritual. A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas - a place where history comes to life." ~Norman Cousins

(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.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

CityWatchLA - Transformed: Curbside Parking to Urban Parks

CityWatch, Sept 17, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 74

Today is the 4th annual celebration of Park[ing] Day LA and park-ticipants throughout the city will step up to the curb, put a quarter in the meter, and proceed to transform metered curbside parking into urban parks, just for the day.

Park[ing] Day LA is designed to stir a conversation or dialogue on public space, green space, and open space, challenging the status quo and inspiring locals to imagine a city where "Streets are for People!"

The East Hollywood Neighborhood Council will be returning to Santa Monica Boulevard and Madison where they will build a park outside the Bureau of Street Lighting facility and ask the simple question "Why not a park?" The City of Los Angeles owns a significant piece of property in the center of the park-poorest neighborhood council, yet it's wrapped with razor wire and used to store light fixtures.

The Hollywood Community Studio is building a pavement-to-plaza demonstration project at Hollywood Boulevard and Hudson, a location they claim as "Streets for Feet!" Hollywood is experiencing significant transformation and the HCS is challenging local residents to imagine reclaimed and repurposed public space.

Westwood Squared brings a Town Square to Westwood Village at Westwood and Lindbrook, a public space that encourages community activities including art, dancing, speaking, singing, music, relaxing, reading and eating. W2S is sponsored by GFA Architects, UCLA Planning students/alumni, and Westwood locals.

This year's Park[ing] Day LA is notable for the impact of social media on the crowd-sourced event. Traditional tools such as Facebook and Google have been complemented with Twitter and FourSquare so that #PDLA fans can follow the events throughout the day, from the comfort of their phones.

The parks are listed on a Google Map and they are also geo-tagged so that they will continue to exist (virtually) even after they're gone. Visitors can tag them on FourSquare, leaving tips and comments for other visitors.

There are three tours by bike scheduled for Park[ing] Day LA, leaving from the Westside, from Hollywood, and from Highland Park. Participants can find the groups by following the Twitter hashtag #PDLA and by following Park[ing] Day LA on Twitter.

From East Hollywood's Shakespeare in the Park[ing] to SoRo's Western Roundup & BBQ, from Westwood Squared to North East LA's Bocce Ball & Lemonade, from Long Beach's Organic Farmers Market and open Bookstore to Silver Lake's Poem Booth and Echo Park's Dog Park[ing], there is something for everybody, from early in the morning on the westside to late at night in Chinatown.

Park-ticipants and guests will have three opportunities to unwind after a full day of park[ing]. Silver Lake is hosting a Happy Hour reception at Sunset Triangle, the Echo Park Film Center is screening Breaking Away at Echo Lake, and Chinatown's Grandstar is hosting the official afterparty.

Park[ing] Day originated in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco based art and design collective, transformed a metered parking spot into a park-for-a-day in an effort to make a public comment on the lack of quality open space in American cities. Their goal was to reprogram the urban surface by reclaiming streets for people to rest, relax and play and their mission is to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play.

(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.)

CityWatchLA - Rosendahl Dog Motion Sparks Howls of Discontent

CityWatch, Sept 17, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 74

Councilman Bill Rosendahl has introduced a motion in City Council that would increase the animal limit per residential property in the City of Los Angeles to 5 dogs and 5 cats. This simple motion has brought out the best in people and the worst in people, giving credence to the axiom, "There are no bad pets, just bad owners!"

Supporters of the motion argue that at its simplest, the increase in the legal number of pets per household would result in an $800,000 increase in revenue for the City of Los Angeles. Of course, this number might be swiftly consumed by mediators if the ensuing battle over the motion doesn't calm down.

Opponents to the motion contend that in densely populated communities, such as Echo Park or the Downtown loft environment, an increase in the already large number of animals would contribute to a public health and public safety crisis. Anecdotal examples are offered of pet "hoarders" and pit bull breeding mills.

Lola McKnight, Director of the Shelter Animal Advocacy Fund, points out that the beneficiaries of the motion are 1) the animals in the shelters that would have more adoption options 2) homeowners with space and finances for more pets 3) animal rescue services that need more foster homes 4) animal shelters who can place more animals and free up resources.

McKnight contends that those who would not benefit from the motion include 1) breeders who would still be operating illegally 2) dog fighters who would still be operating illegally 3) animal hoarders who would still be suffering from an illness and acting illegally.

Jose Sigala, President of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council, argues that his community is "very supportive of pets for families, however, to allow five dogs and five cats per resident or even per property will create an increase in barking and fighting, and waste that may not be properly removed daily. This will cause odor and could result in epidemics of disease in a community where animals may not be regularly vaccinated and many are not licensed."

Sigala called on the City Council to reject the motion increasing the limit saying "adding more animals to our pet population when we do not have adequate control of existing pets could create unsafe conditions for the animals and our residents."

Through it all, there are some who contend that the debate over a limit of three vs. a limit of five is a distraction and that the real issue is the management of the Animal Services Department so that the people of Los Angeles can move from a complaint driven to a standards driven approach to incorporating LA's best friends into the community.

Proponents of a larger discussion point to cities such as San Diego and San Francisco, arguing that simple restrictions on the number of animals per household do little if anything to alleviate feral populations or the unnecessary euthanasia of companion animals in shelters.

James Clarke, Executive Director of the Apartment Association Greater Los Angeles, wants no part of it, pointing out "Housing providers (apartment owners) invest large amounts of money in the economy of Los Angeles and are dedicated to quality living conditions for tenants. There is very real and valid concern that allowing five dogs and five cats in all adjacent residential properties will cause even further impediments to meeting this goal and will create conditions that cannot be rectified expediently through the City process."

Brenda F. Barnette, General Manager of Animal Services, expresses optimism that the City Council and the people of LA will be able to craft model legislation that will be good for the animals and good for the people. Barnette said "At the Los Angeles Animal Care Centers we take seriously our responsibility to create a safe community for our two and our four legged citizens. Our job is protecting life and providing love. Let’s work together." (See GM Barnette’s complete letter)

Rosendahl's motion has stirred a literal hornet's nest of passionate debate, perhaps because this topic has been ignored for so long. Regardless of the outcome, Barnette's call "work together" is certainly a great place to start and a worthy accomplishment in and of itself.

(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.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CityWatchLA - LA Transpo’s Inaction Sparks Greig Smith Overreaction

Photo by Joe Linton, LA Streetsblog
CityWatch, Sept 14, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 73

Councilman Smith's recent motion directing neighborhood councils to provide recommendations on bicycle infrastructure before its implementation is either a strategic coup de grace or a triple-scoop of unintended consequences.

The incident that provoked the ire of Smith was innocent enough, a simple Bureau of Street Services street resurfacing project and an equally simple LADOT "road diet" restriping project. Under normal conditions this activity would fall under the category of "improvements" and would be conducted with the approval and gratitude of the local residents.

But such was not the case.

Northridge West residents came home to find Wilbur Avenue resurfaced and with preliminary striping that indicated a loss of travel lanes. This prompted fears of traffic congestion, cut-through traffic, loss of crosswalks and other negative impacts. The LADOT's failure to communicate with the community left a vacuum that saw neighbors protesting on the blogs, to the council, to the press.

The LADOT's failure to act prompted Smith to overreact. (see Smith motion here in pdf)

It's commendable that Smith believes in the neighborhood councils enough to require NC recommendations for any bikeways improvements. But the motion falls short for four reasons:

1) If it was the LADOT's failure to engage the local community in roadway improvements that prompted the motion, then write it so that neighborhood councils must offer recommendations on all "improvements" including speed limit increases, loss of crosswalks, street widenings, street closures, and traffic signalization. Don't limit the NC authority to bikeways facilities, empower neighborhood councils to partner with the LADOT on all issues related to the development of Safe Streets!

2) If it was the LADOT's failure to communicate that caught Smith's attention, then demonstrate a real commitment to communication by embracing one of the two recent NC/LADOT Memorandums of Understanding that have been rejected by LADOT General Managers.

Other departments are somehow able to partner with the neighborhood councils on the delivery of city services but the LADOT has proven to be the most elusive.

3) If it was the LADOT's failure to synchronize with other departments that caused a 30 day window of hasty and ill-advised activity, perhaps the real issue is departmental redundancy and inefficiency.

The BOSS communicates resurfacing plans well in advance with other departments but there are three sections within the LADOT that have to work together to put down a simple bike lane, Operations, Geometrics, and Bikeways.

The fact that they are unable to pull it off is a cry for simplification, not an indictment of road stripes.

4) If it was the LADOT's failure to perform its duties in such a way that the local neighborhood council could simply perform its City Charter mandate to "advise on the delivery of city services" then address the behavior of the LADOT.

BUT the current motion is a small but significant step toward invoking the Federal Voting Rights Act, something the city Attorney has pointed out through the Charter revision process and even after it was approved in 1999.

Positioning the neighborhood councils as a final decision-making authority, something normally reserved for the City Council, could trigger the (un)intended consequences of NC financial disclosures, boundaries based on population, and redefined stakeholder definitions.

The opportunity to impose the illusion of LADOT transparency while redefining the NC system and limiting the implementation of the 1996 Bike Plan may appeal to some, but it is hardly an effective or meaningful action.

In fact, it is a poorly positioned over-reaction to the LADOT's failure to participate as partners with the public in the improvement of the streets of Los Angeles.

Several years ago, USC's School of Policy, Planning, and Development conducted an analysis of LA's neighborhood council system and the resulting relationships with the city departments. LADOT ranked third from the bottom on responsiveness.

Since then, not much has improved. LADOT staff currently travels to Chattanooga, Chicago, and Sacramento to address non-constituents on the wonders of LA's streets, but somehow the trip to Northridge is simply too far.

If the resolution of the Wilbur Avenue restriping brouhaha is to result in meaningful improvements to the delivery of city services, let it start with a City Council directed initiative that requires the LADOT to tear down the silos that prevent them from partnering with Public Works, City Planning, the LAPD and all of the many departments with influence over the streets of LA, including the neighborhood councils.

(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.)