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Wendy or Nick? How They Would Help Fix Parking if Elected

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On the upcoming March 3rd ballot, we will be voting for city councilmembers, the mayor, the city attorney and city controller candidates. The latter is one of the most unusual, but extremely important for government. The controller, who often has to take a pit bull stance, audits departments, and not just for their financial accounting but on their efficiency and productivity. Basically, are they serving the people in a timely, professional and efficient way while not going in the red?

Two main candidates are facing off for the job, which will begin on July 1st: 2nd District Councilwoman Wendy Greuel (Campaign Website | Facebook) and former LADWP President Nick Patsaouras (Campaign Website | Facebook). Both of them have transit experience. Greuel is the current City Council Transportation Committee Chair and before DWP, Patsaouras was the former President of RTD, the agency that eventually turned into Metro.

With the new parking rates such a hot topic, we asked them separately in a three part question, how they would approach the infamous Department of Transportation in regards to this issue. At the core of the recent debacle was that the City Council approved new parking rates and extended enforceable hours at meters in a very short period of time which is a cause for concern in many neighborhoods. For example, in the NoHo Arts District, later-night posted hours with a time limit of two hours does not work when you have an area that's promoted to be a destination for more than two hours (dinner, then a theatre show, then maybe a drink after). Here's what they had to say to our questions:

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Wendy, as Transportation chair, what have you done or are you going to do to address this issue?

Anytime you embark upon an important change - and that's what we have done with the city's parking technology - there will be some kinks that need to be worked out. We're currently working with DOT and the affected communities to ensure that this important change does not adversely impact any business in Los Angeles. The DOT also acknowledges that appropriate notification was not provided to neighborhoods and they need to do a better job of reaching out to all affected parties as they modernize our parking meters across the city.

Nick, if you were the City Council Tranportation chair, what would you do to address this issue.

I would do what I've done for the last 30 years, Commissioner on the So. Calif Transit District (SCRTD) and LAMTA and more recently as President of LADWP. I would dig into the books and see where the money is being spent, I'd look at the contracts and see if we are getting what we pay for. I'd look for lost revenue, I'd look for efficiencies and increased productivity. I'd look at our priorities, our goals and how we are going to achieve them.

The problem in government is it's always business as usual. You have to shake up the system and get people thinking and working to achieve what's important, not just going through the motions. DOT is one of those departments that has stifled the creativity of the staff and has failed to listen to the community.

The Council established this policy of increased parking rates and extended times without involving the public and without an extensive outreach to the affected areas. A monumental failure that is adversely affecting businesses at the worst economic times in a generation It needs a major overhaul but change for the sake of change is pointless. We need some real expertise to come in and look at the problems of traffic and transit and operations and start a process that starts solving problems.

As City Controller, what are you going to do to address the quickly, but poorly, thought-out plans that often are developed and implemented without much community participation or study?Nick: The office of City Controller has tremendous power to change the dynamics. It's not enough to audit the books and simply account for the money and make sure nobody's stealing. Laura Chick has made the office far more important than it ever was before by conducting performance audits and risk assessments that get at larger problems. I will build on that.

We need to examine the departments that have the least impact on our quality of life and see if they are even worth the money we are spending. And we need to look at those that do, like planning, transportation, building and safety. We need to talk to the staff, in confidence if necessary, and confront the obstacles in their way. And most of all we need to help set the agenda for Neighborhood Councils as the government agencies closest to the people to provide outreach to their communities and input to the departments on the specific issues that people in their neighborhoods know more about than anyone else.

City Hall is disconnected from the neighborhoods. It makes political and policy decisions without that knowledge so people are unhappy with the results. The Controller has the unique power of being able to redefine the question, to challenge the political assumptions and suggest new ways of doing business.

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Wendy: Neighborhood empowerment will be an important priority for me as City Controller. We need to ensure that the public is given adequate public notice on major policy changes, implentation plans and that the community is an integral part of the process from beginning to end. We need to engage the public to discuss ways we can be more efficient and improve the delivery of services, and I intend to hold Town Hall meetings across the City to encourage this participation. Controller audits will be available on the web, and I will encourage participation by residents of Los Angeles regarding the findings as well as next steps we need to take to implement audit recommendations. In this way, the Controller can play a key role in holding City departments accountable to the residents and communities of Los Angeles.

As a Councilmember, I have worked closely with my neighborhood councils, chambers of commerce, homeowners associations, neighborhood watch groups and others to develop concrete solutions to neighborhood problems. We also need to collaborate with local planning agencies to ensure that all community stakeholders have a voice in the future of their neighborhoods.

As City Controller, what kind of audits would you like to do to the Department of Transportation?Wendy: The City Department of Transportation has had many challenges over the past several years and it will be one of the first deparrments I will audit, in order to determine how we can be more efficient and to ensure we are using taxpayer dollars wisely. In addition, I will look at how effective the City is in reducing traffic.

For example, are we coordinating our light synchronization with the implementation of LED lights and left hand turn signals? Are we fully utilizing all of the traffic mitigation funds and are the traffic counts accurate to reflect changing traffic patterns? Lastly, are we providing adequate information and service to our residents on how they can use public transportation? I will also look to the public for their thoughts and ideas as part of our overall strategic plan on transportation for the region.

Nick: As Controller, the Department of Transportation will be a key target of my efforts. Traffic is bad everywhere. It's worst on the Westside. There's no coordination with planning and other agencies. Before we start a performance audit, I would want to bring together experts with different points of view to help define what DOT would look like if it was focused on solving problems. We'd develop a model and then examine what the department is doing in comparison to the model.

I'm certain from my experience that we have too much staff doing tasks that are relatively unimportant and not enough tackling the critical issues. The problem isn't a shortage of talent. It's the system that bogs people down. As Controller, I think I would be in a unique position to gather the kind of information needed to create the political will to make changes. It will inevitably require some investment in technology and staff. But DOT is so important to the quality of our lives that we need to take money from areas of low value and put it there. That's my job as I see it. To identify those areas and offer ways to put the limited resources to work efficiently and productively, where they would make a difference. That requires a lot of change in the Controller's Office as well.

Perhaps the most important task is to see if we have the skills and mentality needed to help us modernize city government, connect it to the local communities and provide service more efficiently and effectively.

Thank you both for your time.

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