Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: Neighborhood councils provide access to City Hall

Want to know the best part of being the mayor of Los Angeles? The chance to spend time in our neighborhoods — listening to, and learning from, the people who are counting on me to make our city a better place to live, work and raise a family.

Few of our institutions are better equipped to provide that feedback than our 96 neighborhood councils. They are the civic backbone of this city. They give a voice to you and your neighbors, and help us ensure that services are being delivered effectively and equitably across L.A.

I visited the South L.A. Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (SLAANC) last month hoping to hear new ideas and concerns, answer some questions, share information about our successes, and detail my strategies to take on challenges like homelessness and reforming the Department of Water and Power.

We discussed a number of issues — from how Crenshaw-LAX light rail construction is affecting local businesses, to what the city can do about street vending, and why we need more jobs for young people.

Some of the most impactful conversations of the evening were about how the city’s commitment to open data can empower neighborhood councils — and all Angelenos —to take a more active role in how L.A. is run.

When I became mayor, I said that we would release city numbers about virtually everything — DWP call wait times, jobs created, miles of sidewalk repaired, pace of graffiti cleanup — publicly online. My idea was that sharing this information would help Angelenos hold us accountable for the progress their communities deserve, and give people at City Hall new tools to do their jobs better and faster.

That’s why we created dashboard.lamayor.org, which lets you see, side-by-side, the goals I’ve set for the city and our progress toward meeting them.

Some people warned me that putting all this data would expose my administration to risk and scrutiny, because it would help journalists and others highlight where we were falling short.But that was my point.

For democracy to work well in the 21st century, it must meet the demands of the digital age. When mayors and middle schoolers can access the same information, everyone can play a part in building a better L.A.

The open data is working just as I envisioned. Last summer, for example, the Los Angeles Times used it to show that it was taking much longer for the city to pick up illegally dumped items in South Los Angeles compared to places like Sherman Oaks.

We didn’t get defensive. Instead, I ordered the Bureau of Sanitation to clear the backlog right away — and it did. Today, an abandoned mattress in the Crenshaw District gets picked up in the same amount of time as a bulky item in Bel Air. That’s the power of this kind of information: anyone can see it, interpret it, and use it to tell us what we need to do better,

On the night I visited the SLAANC meeting, I also showcased a new tool called the GeoHub (geohub.lacity.org). It helps everyone — including firefighters, sanitation workers, and utility workers — better understand L.A.’s neighborhoods.

It does this by collecting, and connecting, data from lots of different city departments and housing them in a single place. There, anyone can use it — including app developers who want to create new tools that demystify how our city works.

Here’s an example of a practical use: A firefighter with an iPad or mobile device is called to respond to an emergency like an earthquake. Thanks to GeoHub, he or she can pull up more than just the 911 data for that call.

First responders could quickly gather a lot of important facts — like building inspection status, the location of the nearest fire hydrants, sewer lines and streetlights — in order to make critical, real-time decisions based on solid data.

When civic engagement meets technology, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish. And those endless possibilities are why I am so focused on partnering with SLAANC, and all of our neighborhood councils, to make L.A. work better for all Angelenos — in every community.

If you are not already involved with your local neighborhood council, I encourage you to consider it now. There are new opportunities to participate in the coming weeks: South L.A. neighborhood council elections are being held June 11 and June 18. You can find out more at http://www.ecwandc.org/news/slaanc.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs the first Thursday of every month in The Wave.