Bill Boyarsky
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Galperin's big data infiltrates City Hall

Thumbnail image for bill-300.jpgOne of the more interesting stories in Los Angeles city hall is unfolding in the office of Controller Ron Galperin.

Galperin, a lawyer and an ex-journalist, is determined to use computers to analyze the massive amounts of data in City Hall. It’s called Big Data analysis and is common with sports teams, retail marketers, political campaigns, the National Security Agency and cutting edge political and sports analysts like Nate Silver.

Thursday, Galperin got started. He did it by stepping into the biggest controversy now raging around city hall, the pay and benefits given to Department of Water and Power employees.

He put online a database comparing the salaries of DWP workers to the generally lower pay given to other city workers.

The Galperin team had to dig through a DWP salary system that listed at least 616 pay codes used by the department to boost salaries over base pay, including money for overtime, hazardous work, meals, and bonuses for working in inclement weather, working with cement and operating special equipment.

Even without this supplemental pay, Galperin found that DWP employees generally earn 20.8 percent more in base pay than other city workers. The controller’s detailed analysis unearthed such details as: DWP tree surgeons are paid 30 per cent more than those in the Bureau of Street Services; DWP custodians get 26 percent more than those cleaning up in city hall; DWP garage attendants receive 20 percent more than those in other city garages. There’s much more, available at

Galperin wanted to create a database that compares salaries side by side. But the city’s technological infrastructure was so backward that he had to use a free outside website that is more user friendly,

I’m not saying that people are going to immediately rush to their computers and pour through the database. Furthermore, the political power of the DWP employee union pitted against that of Mayor Eric Garcetti, rather than data will probably determine the outcome of the Water and Power salary and benefits fight.

But Galperin’s initial effort shows what can be done in the future if the city had one big, easily accessible city database. The data could be a powerful weapon in the hands of insurgent bloggers and protesting citizens organizing with social media. However, it’s been my experience that politicians and city officials don’t want you to have it.

How does your local park fare in obtaining city funding compared with parks in other parts of the city? Same with street and sidewalk repairs. With one database you could quickly find out about traffic counts, police deployment, public salaries and levels of employment, number of complaints to the DWP and how they are handled? That’s just a quick sample.

All this information is available somewhere in city hall and its outlying offices. If Galperin can fight his way through city hall resistance and put it together, we’ll all be winners.

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