Mon, May

The Physical Operation: What Makes Los Angeles Run

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The Department of Public Works is responsible for the design, construction, renovation, and operation of public projects ranging from bridges to wastewater treatment plants to libraries to curbside collection to graffiti removal to maintenance of streets, sidewalks, sewers, streetlights, and street trees. 

The Department has five Bureaus which handle many of the services that allow the City to function: Contract Administration, Engineering, Sanitation, Street Lighting, and Street Services. 

The Board of Public Work also has eight offices addressing different facets of its operations: Board Secretariat, Accounting, Community Beautification, Citywide Filming, Petroleum Administration, Community Forest Advisory Committee, Project Restore (to improve and protect historic buildings), and Employee Resources. 

The Board of Public Works 

The Board of Public Works governs the Department of Public Works. It is comprised of a five-member full-time executive team that is committed to delivering Projects and Programs that enhance quality of life, economic growth, public health, and the environment to all Angelenos. 

Its Bureaus employ about a quarter of the City’s civilian labor force and the expenditures under its control are probably the most visible to Angelenos through street paving, trash collection and tree trimming. 

The Board and its five Bureaus employ 5,500 people and have an aggregate budget of $1.45 billion. These funds are drawn from multiple sources including the General Fund as well as sewer and solid waste fees collected by the DWP, various Special Funds, and grants. 


Last fall the Board was considering centralizing staff to improve productivity in the areas of grants management and procurement. 

Given the complex array of funding sources, it needs to improve compliance and effective management of all its revenue streams, especially those from the Special Funds. This could be by hiring a dedicated Funds Manager or, possibly, through better utilization of existing staff. 

The Board lacks a coherent internal system to use publicly available data to enable meaningful oversight of the cost effectiveness and efficiency of Bureau and Office operations. 

Currently it shares oversight responsibility with the Mayor, the City Administrative Office, and the Controller. 

Since the Board is in a unique opportunity to provide oversight because it has full time commissioners who meet three times per week, it should consider creating a task force with the oversight organizations and the Bureaus to move towards a single integrated system. 

This would allow for more consistent oversight and improved evaluation of the Board’s and Bureaus’ operational performances in terms of cost-effectiveness and efficiency, metrics creation, and review. 

The Board continues to look into ongoing technology innovations to improve operational performance and promote cost savings. One technology example is the rollout of Accela, a purpose-built software platform for improving government efficiency. 

Risk Management 

One area where the City of Los Angeles is hemorrhaging money year after year is in settling slip and fall lawsuits brought against it due to preventable accidents caused by cracked sidewalks, and potholes, as well as claims in regards to fender-benders with Bureau equipment and related maintenance and operational faults. 

To minimize settlements for slip and fall, the Bureau of Street Services is pursuing an “anchor strategy” which focuses repair work at known liability points and a geographic radius around the site. 

A task force on risk management is addressing ways to minimize liability and judgements for these and other potential claims across the Department and, perhaps more importantly, evaluating settlement strategies. 

Since the easiest way to save the City money is to not spend it unnecessarily, aggressive risk management policies will benefit all Angelenos. 

The foregoing is based on an interview the Budget Advocates had with then Board of Public Works President Kevin James and two senior staff members on October 23, 2019.


(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.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.