The journalists have weighed in on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s first year in office, cautiously and safely concluding his record had been acceptable but wishing it could have been better. The mayor showed no such ambivalence. “As we think about the future, let's take a moment to celebrate, not just our world champion Los Angeles Kings, but so much more,” he said in an e-mail addressed to me and, I assume, thousands of others.
The latest version of the mayoral web site, DataLA, greatly improved from its shaky first edition, is beginning to provide even modestly computer-savvy Angelenos enough information to come to their own conclusions about the mayor and the rest of city government. Combine that with Controller Ron Galperin’s web site, Control Panel, which provides city salaries and other expenditures. With these online tools, muckrakers, activists, policy wonks, academics and others are on their way to being as well informed as journalists, lobbyists, City Hall aides and other local government insiders.
I went to a section called “Back To Basics: Performance Metrics”, since the mayor has been bragging about his back to basics approach. Windows, or tiles, lead you to various city functions. To try it out, I hit building permits and came upon a map of every building permit in the city. That’s useful information for neighborhood councils, homeowner associations and snoops.
I settled on a major controversy—jobs. Is Los Angeles a job killer, as opponents of business taxes and a minimum wage claim? And is it a city divided between the influential rich and the many poor? Too often these questions are handled in the news media by quoting so-called experts on either side and on the campaign trail with either diatribes or vague speeches.
DataLA gives two measurements. The state puts Los Angeles unemployment at 8.4 percent and the UCLA Anderson forecast says it is 8.2 percent. That’s sharply down from last July when it was 14.5 percent, according to the state and 13.8 percent by Anderson’s estimates. But state unemployment has dropped to 7.6 percent. So, to some extent, L.A. is a job killer. In the future, the debate can be conducted with hard numbers. These were always available to determined searchers but now they are easily accessible.
So are figures on poverty. Another tile leads you to the fact that 62 percent of Angelenos spend 30 percent of their gross income on rent. That means their pay is small and their rent too high. It’s much worse than San Jose (54 percent) and San Francisco (45 percent). In fact, 33 percent of Los Angeles residents spend more than half of their monthly income on rent.
The site still needs work. I find the maps a bit hard to navigate, and I would like them to be clearer. But the site also provides tools for computer smart people to refine the data, to sort it by several categories. This is tremendous for activists and dissenters who want to fight city hall but are usually brushed off by officials who claim to have all the information. Political campaigners, usually out spent and out maneuvered, will be able to blast their foes with facts on social media, web sites and e-mails.
Mayor Garcetti deserves credit for setting up and improving the site, giving Los Angeles a better way to judge his first year.