It’s not easy to figure out Mayor Eric Garcetti’s grand plan for Los Angeles, or even if he has one. His state of the city speech Thursday didn’t help. It was filled with short-range ideas such as no water and power rate increases this year and a construction speedup of the 405 Freeway carpool lanes on the Westside.
Where was the vision? "It starts with modern technology,” the mayor said, and then sort of left us hanging.
I had figured Garcetti, who fancies himself a citizen of the tech world, might mention technology in his speech. So I decided beforehand to look at the two web sites he plans to use to explain his administration and its goals. I talked to the man in charge of putting them together, Rick Cole, deputy mayor for budget and innovation.
I had been scheduled for a 15-minute telephone interview. But we talked for 45 minutes, Cole living up to his reputation as a real policy wonk, something I had realized several years ago when I interviewed him on planning issues. At that time, he was Ventura city manager and a well-known expert on such matters. He has also been mayor of Pasadena and city manager of Asuza.
One of Garcetti’s sites, lamayor.org/performance is designed to track the performance of city departments in picking up garbage, running parks, putting out fires, fixing streets and sidewalks.
The other web site, lamayor.org/openbudget, offers a graphically interesting summary of the mayor’s proposed city budget.
“You can compare what we are doing now to what we spent in the past,” Cole said.
Together, Cole told me, they will give a picture of what city government is spending in every area, compared to spending in the past, and whether the departments are meeting the goals set by the major. “You should be able to figure out what our policies are compared to previous years,” Cole said. More details on salaries, payments to contractors and other specific information is available on Controller Ron Galperin’s web site, controllerdata.lacity.org, an operation separate from Garcetti’s.
So far, the mayoral web sites fall short of Garcetti’s hopes. I know the sites are in an early stage and that creating a web site is expensive, a problem for a city facing a $242 million projected budget deficit. But since Garcetti is touting the sites, they deserve examination.
The most important site is lamayor.org/performance. It should where we can measure whether Garcetti is keeping the pledge he made in his state of the city speech: “We’ll saturate your street with services.” It is still in the beta or test mode. Cole said it would graduate to usable status May 31. At present it’s not much help. For example, the site reports that pothole repairs have increased by 54,000 in the past year. To be meaningful, a web site would permit the consumer to break down repairs by city council district, zip code or even street. This would answer the longtime complaint of poor area residents that affluent areas get better street repair service.
The Garcetti budget web site is better, but still short of details. Take the police department portion of his budget. It’s easy to see priorities. A big one is crime prevention. Patrol, a major component of crime prevention, has had its budget increased from $626 million in the 2011-2012 fiscal year to $665 million in 2012-2013. Specialized crime suppression and investigation has increased from $205 million to $239 million in that period. The total allocation to the police department has gone up from $1.16 billion in 2011-2012 to $1.25 billion in 2012-2013.
But people want to know more. What’s the spending for policing in Van Nuys? How does affluent West Los Angeles compare with poorer South Los Angeles? The same goes for parks, garbage collection and all the other city services.
An even bigger question is this: Will Garcetti allow the public to have complete access to the data in city departments? Data isn’t much use unless you do something with it. Most people won’t care about the budget. When I worked at the Times, I struggled with editors who didn’t care—and they were supposed to be civic minded.
But tech-smart activists care and they would know how to dig through the data, beyond what is on the web sites. Among them would be neighborhood council people, community group members, homeowner organizations, civil rights and tenant groups, tax reduction activists, business people and many others, including academic researchers. All the data should be open to them when they fight city hall.
Making that happen would be a real accomplishment for the mayor.I