When Mayor Eric Garcetti was interviewing department heads—deciding which ones would be dumped or retained—he noticed how they reacted when he talked about introducing new technology to stodgy old city hall.
He said he could tell who “resisted data and those who didn’t.” That, he said, “was one of the strongest measures” he used to determine “whether they would have the skills,” he thought were needed for his new administration.
Some, he said, were enthusiastic. Others seemed to think that it was just another idea from an inexperienced new mayor and could soon be forgotten.
I was interviewing him on the phone about how city government could increase use of Internet-based technology, taking advantage of computers’ great ability to engage in tasks as varied as sorting through masses of data to using a mobile phone app to fetch a cab.
Garcetti, the new mayor who had been a veteran city councilman, and Controller Ron Galperin, a newcomer to city hall, have put up information-producing web sites. Garcetti has a web site reporting on the performance of various departments while Galperin’s aims to disclose salaries and spending.
The sites are works in progress. I find them difficult to navigate, with limited information. But, as Washington has learned with Obamacare, it’s best to go slow when building a web site. “We got it going through my own staff,” Garcetti said. “We’re just getting our feet wet.”
For Angelenos, the most visible form of technology-driven service is the new alternative cab. You can now summon a cab through an app on your mobile phone. Taxi Magic gets cabs from traditional cab companies as does a similar operation, Flywheel. SideCar. Lyft, Zimride and Uber have vehicles usually driven by car owners.
City cab regulators, long close to traditional cab companies, fought the idea. But Garcetti was a strong advocate, and the plan was narrowly backed by the city council.
“Times are changing,” Garcetti said. “Many young people don’t own a car.” Protected bike lanes, ride sharing, working at home and mass transit will grow, along with alternative cabs, he said. “We won’t be double decking or widening our freeways anymore.” Technology, he said, “will be a huge part of the transition.”
Writing about city hall has always seemed an exercise in recording slightly different versions of the same thing year after year. Data hounds Garcetti and Controller Galperin are determined to change this, and it is one of the most interesting developments in Los Angeles city government in many years.