Archive for July, 2013

Ron Galperin’s statements in his interview with the Jewish Journal is nothing short of encouraging.

According to the article, he wants to introduce the city’s bureaucracy to “big data.” That’s not the name of some character from The Sopranos.

Multi-billion dollar corporations could not survive without systems capable of crunching countless transactions while slicing and dicing them into meaningful information. Analysts and investors would be lost without timely reports that suggest trends in individual companies or entire industries.

Yet, the City of Los Angeles manages its finances from hand to mouth. Why else do deficit projections and cash flow forecasts jump around by hundreds of millions of dollars in a few short weeks? Why does it take the City Controller’s Office almost a year to publish audited financial statements?

It hasn’t helped that we have lacked a true controller since computer systems became the standard for financial reporting and analysis.

It goes beyond just having a system in place. The main system must be integrated with other information modules in a way that allows data to flow to and from with little or no time-consuming manual intervention. Manual transfers of data can also lead to higher error rates or lost detail.

The users of the systems are critical, too. Managers and staff charged with the responsibility of reconciling and reporting have to be savvy when it comes to extracting information and using it to guide them.

The Controller also must insist on regular variance reporting from the general managers. Variance reports compare actual performance against budgets or other metrics. They are the key to making timely adjustments in operations.

I hope Mayor Garcetti considers the financial acumen of the general managers when he makes them interview for their jobs. That would make Galperin’s job a little easier – and he has a huge challenge in front of him.

Selecting new systems, enhancing existing ones, developing processes that support the timely flow and exchange of information in an environment that still operates in the Mid-20th Century will require the vast portion of his department’s time.

But Ron has enough wonkiness in him – and the personality and professionalism to complement it – to make it happen.

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No catchy theme memorialized by Bobby Darin to this farce of a play.

While The Threepenny Opera featured characters who were corrupt or depraved, the Six Dollar Opera is an inflation-adjusted contemporary version featuring incompetent bureaucrats at Los Angeles City Hall.

The story began on March 20th. My wife and I attended a presentation by Food and Water Watch about the tunnels proposed to transport the California Delta water to Los Angeles. This plan could cost over $23 billion and adversely impact our already rising water bills here in Los Angeles.

To say the least, it is pertinent to the city and, therefore, the neighborhood councils.

As board members of Neighborhood Council Valley Village, we decided it would be worthwhile to attend. The venue was at CSUN and was free……except for the parking.

We did not realize until we arrived that parking would cost $6.00. We charged it on our personal credit card.

As Treasurer, I submitted an approved demand warrant to DONE for reimbursement. The expenditure was also reported to the entire board as part of my monthly public financial presentation. The report was unanimously approved.

A slam dunk to get reimbursed for $6? Think again.

We supplied the receipt and information about the presentation. We learned some weeks later that a redacted copy of our credit card statement would be required.

No problem.

Then weeks went by. Nothing.

Finally, in early May, I received a voice mail that it was going to be rejected, but that message was rescinded within a day. It would be paid soon.

My wife and I traveled to New Orleans for a few days soon after that news. While in the Big Easy I received a call from a heretofore unknown person at DONE that the reimbursement was going to be rejected. Feeling frustrated, I asked questions as to why such a reasonable request would be rejected.

The DONE caller said the decision was based on a “motion.”

I wasn’t sure if anyone at City Hall had ever seen me dance and didn’t like my moves, so I asked just what did that mean.

She repeated, “It’s a motion!”

I realized I was up against an alien being from Remulac and asked her to elaborate.

According to her, the city passed a motion a couple of years ago that parking fees were unreimbursable.

I asked what employees did when they were on business and had to pay parking. She claimed that all parking fees had to be pre-approved.

So, I asked, if an employee was on business and had to pay an unexpected parking fee, he or she was out of luck? She could not answer that and was not even willing to look into it.

It wasn’t the six dollars – for that matter, I won $6.25 at the casino slots that night, so my net worth actually increased by a whole quarter! However, $6 could be meaningful to someone else.

It was just another example of the lack of respect the city has for its volunteers in the NC system. I was irritated by that to say the least.

I asked DONE GM Gracye Liu whether such a reimbursement could be formally approved by the board after the fact (keep in mind, it was part of the financial report they approved). Her reply was shocking – she would have to check with the City Attorney.

No wonder DONE cannot manage.

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Various federal and state agencies, with support from private foundations, wage an ongoing battle against the spread of invasive species in the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe.

A fairly recent strategy appears to be working. Thin rubber sheets 100 feet in length are placed over infested areas. This technique suffocates the weeds, clams and other species that have been introduced to the lake from the unclean bilges and hulls of recreational boats, along with other careless human activity.

What about native vegetation in the lake, you might ask?

There really is none. The sandy bottom is pristine in its natural state, leaving the water sparkling clear, a perfect surface to reflect the blue sky above.

Emerald Bay is virtually free from invasives today.
Emerald Bay weed control

The lake’s clarity has largely been stabilized due to persistent environmental controls – from runoff- reducing landscaping standards to boat inspections.

Local governments are also adept at responding to disasters, such as a broken sewage pipe resulting from the construction of a home near Kings Beach on the north shore in July 2005. The 120,000 gallon leak was stopped quickly and the flow corralled in short order. The adjacent beach was reopened in 11 days after two consecutive clean tests for bacteria. It was as if it never happened.

No one, either with the local governments or residents, can let their guard down. Blocking algae-forming nutrients from flowing into the lake is a non stop battle, but the local communities realize that the lake’s clarity is the most important asset to the region’s economy.

You can really appreciate the concerted effort everyone makes when you visit one of the beaches and swim in water so pure you can drink it. It is one of the few swimming experiences where you will feel absolutely clean and refreshed when you are through.

I’ll take it over LA south bay beaches any day.

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When I lived in the DC area many years ago, my wife and I would make the trip from Arlington, VA to New York many times and accepted tolls as a way of life.

I have become less tolerant of this legalized form of highway robbery with each trip to the region, but my worst disdain is reserved for the states of Maryland and Delaware.

Our Founding Fathers would have classified the two as rackets rather than states when they ratified the Constitution if they had only known what was in store for motorists in another 180 years or so later.

You pay $8 in tolls from the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel to the Delaware Memorial Bridge (I am not counting the tolls for the tunnel or bridge, because you can avoid them with viable alternate routes). The distance is about 70 miles one-way.

No road in the US is worth over a buck every 10 miles. The Delaware Memorial Turnpike and the JFK Memorial Highway are nothing special either. For that matter, the speed limits must have been set by a nanny. 60 MPH is about the legal average and there is never a shortage of ticket-happy state troopers raising revenue for their respective states. Do not expect to make any decent time on these cow paths.

George Washington crossed the Delaware River for free, but I swear, had he traversed it between New Jersey and Delaware rather than Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the state of Delaware would have nicked him $4 for every boat plus extra for the canon.

The New Jersey Turnpike is the worst at $13.85 for 113 miles, but you can easily avoid it by taking I-295. There are no good options in Maryland and Delaware and the governments of both states know it. It’s like crossing the Panama Canal – you pay the toll, or go by way of Cape Horn.

It’s not even scenic driving. I gladly pay the National Park fee of $15 for the privilege of driving the Blue Ridge Parkway through Shenandoah National Park in the high season. The JFK Highway and Delaware Turnpike are as dull as asphalt. The centralized service areas serve over-priced food and snacks. God forbid if you need to use a restroom on a holiday weekend.

Citizens from Florida to Maine should lobby their Senators and Congressmen to introduce legislation that would declare the tolls as restraint of trade.

Better yet, the residents of Maryland and Delaware should kick the good old boys that run their states out of office and replace them with folks who don’t soak motorists like local hicks in a small town filling station.

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