NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The Controller is one of three officials elected citywide. Ron Galperin, (photo above) was elected in 2013 and again in 2017, is the 19th Controller of the City of Los Angeles.
He serves as the watchdog for taxpayers at City Hall, making sure public dollars are spent efficiently and effectively.
The Controller’s dashboard
Perhaps his most noteworthy achievement has been the creation of a dashboard which makes a wealth of City financial data available to all Angelenos. Some people may find the dashboard daunting in its complexity and it might be helped by a more user-friendly portal and/or canned reports. But drilling down makes for some very interesting reading.
How much did your Councilmember make? It’s currently $213,833 plus benefits. .
But, how about your garbage collector? And how much did the City spend to feed the animals at the zoo? How much to get the rats out of City Hall?
How much did the City collect in fines last year vs. the year before? And perhaps more to the point right now, how much revenue did Los Angeles take in last month compared to how much it expected to receive?
As with many other service-oriented City departments, the Controller’s office suffers from chronic recruitment lags due to the civil service hiring process, due to an understaffed Personnel Department, and due to losing qualified personnel to the proprietary agencies which offer better pay and benefits.
Since it is the Los Angeles stakeholders who suffer, the City must prioritize addressing these issues, and the sooner the better.
The Controller’s October 2019 report on the City’s response to the homeless crisis sheds light on the factors impacting the City’s ability to address concerns affecting many of the City’s Departments.
There is no uniform system for each City department to measure its expenditures. For example, there are no data on what percentage of Police or Fire services are being used in support of Angelenos living on the streets and in the arroyos. Or the additional costs for upkeep by Parks and Recreation due to activities by people experiencing homelessness.
The Controller’s office recommends improvements in the processes the City uses to determine the number of homeless people and encampments to ensure a more effective response to the inter-related problems created by this segment of its population.
Given this department’s own data-driven needs, it would behoove the Controller to work with other City departments to structure a user-friendly system to compile and submit data on funds spent on homelessness costs. This will encourage efficient tracking of those expenditures across all levels and allow for a more measured assessment and guide better decisions moving forward.
The audit that led to the report found that 40% of overall HHH costs come from soft costs, like consultants, attorneys, and lobbyists.
It also determined that more funds from HHH should be used on storage facilities so sidewalks don’t continue to be closets for the dispossessed and on temporary housing solutions since most of the dedicated ground-up HHH housing will not be available for five or six years.
When the City shut down in March to best mitigate the effects of COVID-19, it and LA County, which provides services for the homeless, immediately acted to prevent outbreaks in both the sheltered and unsheltered populations which were both at risk due to existing health issues and the difficulty in their maintaining social distance.
The City and County are to be commended for their success. Infections among the homeless have been far below those in nursing homes and prisons.
However, the story is not over.
With the potential for many more homeless in the aftermath of the pandemic’s economic impact, the City must prepare to handle the associated costs.
Proper planning is essential. And that is best achieved by doubling down on the Controller’s data and taking his advice.
The above is based on a meeting Budget Advocates had with the Controller and two of his senior staff members on October 25, 2020 and updated with recent events.
(Liz Amsden is a member of the Budget Advocates, an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Photo of Ron Galperin courtesy of his Flickr page. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.