Apparently, a plague of institutional ignorance is sweeping though the city's troubled bureaucracies. Recent cases in point:
Metro didn't know it needed to be in compliance with federal civil rights regulations. The Federal Transit Administration's recent audit of Metro found persistent failures to meet civil rights and environmental justice standards required for federally funded programs. In response, Metro released a plan of corrective measures and promised to be in compliance with federal regulations within a year.
Although most of the FTA's complaints are procedural, the FTA also found that Metro had failed to give all transit users equal consideration when cutting bus service and in scheduling the buses that remained following service reductions.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the audit concluded that the "Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority failed to fully research the effect on riders and communities when eliminating bus lines, adding service or changing fares." And Damien Newton (at LA Streetsblog) made this point even more explicit, "In plain English, Metro didn't sufficiently prove that its service changes, cuts and improvements, were a business necessity after determining that they had a systematic negative impact on minority and disadvantaged communities."
Along with a compliance plan, Metro abruptly suspended another round of bus service cuts, announced the hiring of a Civil Rights Compliance officer, and began a campaign of preemptive spin control.
The mayor didn't know that the Housing Authority was corrupt. In March, KCET's SoCal Connected revealed a pattern of waste and possible fraud at the city's Housing Authority. That investigative report was followed by others that showed even more misuse of public funds. And earlier this month, SoCal Connected disclosed the details of the the $1.2 million deal that finally hustled Rudy Montiel from his half-million-a-year post as CEO of the Housing Authority.
Although reports of problems in the Housing Authority under Montiel's leadership go back at least three years - and the severance package for Montiel would have required multiple layers of approval - the mayor's office initially claimed ignorance of the deal and the extent of the agency's dysfunction.
So did District Attorney Steve Cooley, who quickly ordered an investigation. So did Council Member Dennis Zine, the head of the city council's audit committee (and who wants to be city controller). So did Council Member Tony Cárdenas, the head of the housing committee (and who wants to go to Congress). Both were shocked to find the Housing Authority in chaos. As was Controller Wendy Greuel (who wants to be mayor), who quickly promised her own investigation.
And as the Times reported today (12/14), a suddenly aroused city council wants to overhaul the Housing Authority's management structure.
Controller Greuel also didn't know about corrupt practices in other city agencies. But now that she's read about them in the Times, she's looking for help to guard against them. "There are allegations of illegal activities and misappropriation of City resources occurring in the Department of Building and Safety, the Department of Transportation, and theft at the City's Animal Shelters," she wrote in a letter to Councilmember Zine earlier this year. "We must guard the City against this type of abuse, particularly if the abuses are systemic."
As Jill Stewart in the LA Weekly noted, that "if" takes institutional ignorance too far.
D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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