Thu, Aug

Is LA Too Arrogant to Learn from Other Cities?

OUR CITY - There was a time in the not too distant past when it was impossible to get the Los Angeles Police Department to consider how any other police departments did their work.

It was a reflection of LAPD’s arrogant attitude, disguised as professional pride, that it alone invented policing and nobody did it better.

Then came the Rodney King tragedies and a few other sobering incidents.

As Los Angeles is facing fiscal problems of epic proportions, there appears to be little desire by city officials to learn from the successful experiences in other cities.

Facing a $775 million hole in its $10 billion budget, Toronto hired super-consultants KPMG to review its core services and make recommendations.

Good consultants have the advantage of knowing best practices from around the world.

As you might have expected, the KPMG reports triggered vibrant public discussions and immediate pushback from special interest groups, most notably city employee unions.

KPMG suggested that the city consider letting private contractors run the zoo, its theaters, and its parking lots.  The consultants pointed out that these are not core services.

Whether or not the off-street lots continue to be run by the city, the consultants recommended that drivers be able to pay using cell phones, which I’ve never heard anyone mention in Los Angeles.

One stunning recommendation was that the city stop licensing pets.  Although $600,000 in fees flow into the city treasury each year, KPMG felt that the blizzard of paperwork and the hassle of chasing down scofflaw pet owners (only 30% of owned dogs and 10% of owned cats are licensed) just isn’t worth it.

The idea of city departments sharing support services, such as payroll and human resources, is one that Los Angeles has only considered for its smaller departments.

It may seem like common sense to Angelenos, but KPMG started another furious discussion when it recommended merging the paramedics and firefighters.  

And to ensure that everyone wearing a uniform had something to complain about, it also recommended the use of single-officer patrols and ending the requirement that uniformed officers be at all construction sites where traffic or pedestrian hazards might exist.

To avoid what appears to be further reductions in library hours, the consultants tossed out the possibility of turning over library operations to the private sector.

One firm, Library Systems and Services, runs the libraries in 16 municipalities, including Riverside County.  Surveys indicate that users don’t notice a difference, except for operating hours.

Interestingly, the city is considering a proposal that would contract with community groups to maintain their local parks.

This idea was discussed when the Los Angeles neighborhood council system was being designed.  

Neighborhood councils, perhaps through a nonprofit entity of councils that was formed years ago, could at least do clean-up work.  

The big picture recommendation from KPMG, and it would apply equally to Los Angeles, is the need to stop living from year-to-year, adopt multi-year budgeting, and create a clear long-term plan for job creation, controlled spending, and economic vitality.

The mistake made by Los Angeles and most other cities is that dynamic and cutting-edge ideas just come flying out of left field, thereby causing knee-jerk reactions by influential forces around the city.

Instead, city officials need to take seriously the charter-required role given to neighborhood councils to monitor city services and make budget recommendations, and work with them throughout the year, especially in shaping proposals that could be game-changers.

But those discussions can’t be limited to a few city officials and a small cabal of self-appointed neighborhood council leaders.  The interaction must be expanded using Internet tools to engage the broadest cross-section of neighborhood council members.

That’s the way partners get things done.

(Greg Nelson participated in the birth and development of the LA Neighborhood Council system and served as the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. He also served as Chief of Staff for former City Councilman Joel Wachs. Nelson now provides news and issues analysis to CityWatch. He can be reached at:    [email protected] .)  -cw

Tags: LAPD, Los Angeles Police Department, Toronto, Los Angeles, KPMG, libraries, animal services, Angelenos, paramedics, firefighters, budget, city budget, neighborhood councils, Rodney King

Vol 9 Issue 61
Pub: Aug 2, 2011