Safety, Response, Openness - Budget Advocates Offer Lots of Advice for LADOT

BUDGET ADVOCATES-The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates of are not only charged with advising the Mayor’s office on the budget but also with making recommendations to improve city services. BAs Valaida Gory, Ivette Alé, Jon Liberman, Glen Bailey, and Estuardo Ruano met with transportation staff Monique Earl, Assistant General Manager, and Angela Berumen, Chief Management Analyst to give the following recommendations to the department: 

  • Keeping parking citation and meter revenue within the neighborhoods per neighborhood council boundaries. To even investment in underserved areas, the BAs suggest all neighborhoods/council districts with above average revenue should be assessed a 5% tax to be allocated toward affordable housing. 
  • Parking revenue should not be absorbed into the General Fund. 
  • DOT should address transit security, especially pertaining to women and girls. Lack of safety on public transportation impacts revenue, as women are less likely to use public transportation, reducing revenue and participation in the local economy, potentially reducing household income due to missed educational and employment opportunities. In addition, lack of security causes people to utilize cars, taxis, rideshare services instead of biking, walking, or taking public transportation, contributing to traffic and pollution. According to UCLA urban planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, gender is the single most significant factor explaining transit-based fear and anxiety. 

Implementing the following recommendations could help alleviate gender-based transportation insecurity and its adverse economic impacts: 

  1. Increase transit personnel. 
  1. Install lighting that extends from bus and train stops to the surrounding streets, so people feel safe walking home once they’re off the bus. 
  1. Implement women’s safety audits, where women walk with transportation planners to pinpoint areas where they felt unsafe. These kinds of safety audits in other cities have strengthened relationships among communities, reduced crime levels and increased women’s use of public space. 
  1. Train transit personnel on how to identify sexual harassment and how to address it onboard. 
  1. Expand the ranks of female transportation operators, security officers, and transport planners. 
  1. Make it more convenient for passengers to report harassment and assault to transit authorities. 
  1. To optimize the use of available funds and target resources cost-effectively, the department should focus its attention on the areas or bus stops that are hotspots for gender-based crime.

 

  • In neighborhoods surrounding stadiums and other large, frequently trafficked public and private spaces, the following recommendations should be implemented to reduce the negative impact of increased traffic to those areas:

 

  1. DOT should hold informational sessions on permitting options and procedures to reduce parking congestion and the illegal sales of public street parking. 
  1. The City should allow churches and other private spaces to legally sell parking spaces during events. 
  1. In coordination with MTA, during high-trafficked events, public transit should be incentivized through reduced fares and increasing shuttling from farther parking facilities. 

DISCUSSION 

The Department of Transportation (DOT) provided an overview of their 2017-2018 Adopted Budget. The total budget is $320,364,216 with $158,499,980 being the Department’s Operating budget and $161,864,236 reflecting related and indirect costs. Revenue from the General Fund is 60% of their operating budget with parking fines being the largest source of revenue. The remainder of the DOT budget is sustained by way of special funds, and allocations from propositions and measures that make up the balance of their revenue source. 

At this time, DOT feels they can accommodate any underfunding and overtime gaps with special event reimbursements, special set asides, and transfers of funds. It was described as a complex process but one that enables the DOT to stay in the black. 

Los Angeles DOT’s Strategic Plan has been revised for 2017-2018 and some of the goals and strategies include the following: 

Goal 1:  A Safe and Healthy City 

  • To develop a transportation culture of health and safety 
  • To design safe streets for all 
  • To pursue new policies to strengthen safety

Note: Vision Zero and Great Streets are addressed in benchmarks under this goal. 

Goal 2:  A Livable and Sustainable City 

  • To manage transportation demands 
  • To expand the network of bus services and dedicated bus facilities 
  • To increase the availability and efficiency of parking 
  • To expand the bicycle network 
  • To strengthen DOT’s role in LA Comprehensive Homelessness Strategy 

Goal 3:  An Innovative Department 

  • Recruit and train the next generation of talent to LADOT 
  • Modernize facilities, technology and tools to improve the efficiency of LADOT staff 

Goal 4:  A Responsive and Transparent Department 

  • Implement process improvements to speed project delivery 
  • Improve external communication 
  • Focus on the customer 

Most of the recommendations made by last year’s committee were addressed by DOT. The recommendation to maintain revenue from parking citations in the respective neighborhoods and keep funds generated from meters in the respective areas has not been addressed. DOT indicated that all parking revenue goes to the General Fund and diverting funds would create a shortfall for the General Fund. The Mayor and City Council ultimately decide on the use of those funds. The request for communication staff was denied in the 2017-2018 budget but DOT is in the process of re-organizing this function and will request additional resources in the 2018-2019 budget. 

DOT has a succession plan in place that they feel is working adequately to backfield positions created by retirees. 

Successes include the additional $13million allocated for Vision Zero and the addition of five new staff to the traffic division that should provide another tier to help monitor and increase accountability. The Great Streets Project is being implemented as part of a collaboration with the Mayor’s Office. Also, the movement of the ATSAC program to the 11th floor of the California Transportation Building will enhance infrastructure and upgrade technology. However, the move and analysis of all upgrades to ATSAC will not be completed until 2019. 

Challenges for the DOT include the need of additional staff to address the service needs of residents, especially relating to parking issues. Their goal is to increase staff back to levels before the huge deficit. They feel this is the best way to increase their efficiency. Note: The Special Parking Revenue Fund (SPRF) is swept every year. It would take an ordinance change to make any type of modification to the current policy and procedure. 

One of the ways for BAs to help DOT would be to advocate for more staff in the traffic division to address issues such as abandoned vehicles. DOT plans to have more traffic officers available. BAs could also support the use of Transportation Technology. 

A specific percentage of how much of budget is spent on homelessness was not given but it was indicated that the costs will be absorbed in the current budget. 

The following Neighborhood Concerns were presented: 

  • Poor response time in removing abandoned vehicles and overall bad experiences when contacting call centers to voice complaints. DOT’s response was getting the additional traffic officers would make an impact in improving such service. Also, the supervisor for the complaint department would be contacted and made aware of our concerns with staff interacting appropriately with callers. 
  • Residential streets greatly impacted with traffic and parking issues in areas surrounding event venues throughout the city. DOT stated permit parking is again available and each neighborhood could petition to get permit parking to help alleviate the problem. It was also mentioned that funds for speed bumps are available and can be utilized as needed. 
  • Funding for expansion of bike lanes in Northridge area. The suggestion made was to contact the local CD Office and ask that Councilperson about use of discretionary funds for such a project. In addition, Angela said if someone sent her a specific request via an email, she would talk to that district office about ways to secure funding for specific needs. 
  • Private school in West LA on Pico Blvd. needs a crosswalk installed. The suggestion was made that if grant funding is being used, to substitute another crosswalk already ready to be installed and put the private school’s crosswalk in first because of the safety and security issue for children. 

It was clarified that MTA and DOT are two separate departments that collaborate but one does not have oversight over the other. 

Most of the BA questions and concerns were addressed by the staff. It appears the department is moving forward successfully with their strategic plan and able to operate within the current budget. Hopefully they will receive the additional staff requested to enhance services even more.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a CityWatch columnist. This is part of an ongoing series on the work of the 2017-2018 Budget Advocate Committee.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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