Word on the Street: Rita Robinson Leaving LADOT

Rita Robinson, at her appointment to the Metro Board.  Photo: Eric Richardson/Flickr
Rita Robinson, at her appointment to the Metro Board. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericrichardson/3388030618/##Eric Richardson/Flickr##

Rumors are floating around City Hall that Rita Robinson will be stepping down as General Manager of the LADOT to take a high-level position with L.A. County.  While nobody who discussed the rumor with me wanted their name attached to this story, I can say that the sources are high enough up in the city bureaucracy to be credible.

However, since LADOT wouldn’t or couldn’t confirm this staffing change, let’s save the reviews of Robinson’s performance until we get the official word.  In the meantime, it’s never to early to start talking about who could be a credible replacement/

The first person to answer the call was Joe Linton, the co-founder of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, who rather than suggesting an individual person suggested people “along the lines of,” Fred Dock, the head of Pasadena DOT and supporter of Complete Streets planning, Gil Peñalosa, of Bogotá, Colombia – champion of Ciclovía, and Timothy Papandreou, a former Metro staffer who now works at San Francisco MTA.  If LADOT is looking to hire from within, they should look to some of their younger engineers who understand multi-modal planning such as Pauline Chan or Jay Kim.

Linton also pointed out that Robinson sits on the Metro Board as a Mayoral Appointee and Villaraigosa is going to have to replace her.  Given his advocacy for many of Villaraigosa’s projects; Linton suggested that Denny Zane would be a suitable replacement.

The next call was to the LACBC who declined to get into specifics, but did encourage the mayor to look for someone that shares his values on green transportation, especially his new found commitment to bicycling.

After that was a call to L.A. Walks Founder and Chair of the City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee who stated simply, “Janette Sadik-Khan or her clone.”  Murphy noted that the NYCDOT Commissioner and Livable Streets Rock Star has local ties as a graduate of Occidental College and that now “is time to bring her home.”

The last person to answer the call was the 2009 Livable Streets Person of the Year Stephen Box, who sent the following statement:

As Ms. Robinson departs and in light of the City of LA’s budget crisis, this is a reasonable time to evaluate the future of the LADOT and to look for any benefits to be found from consolidating the LADOT into City Planning, Public Works, the LAPD and the Department of Finance. The City of LA’s budget crisis demands that the people of LA look for every opportunity to reduce redundancies and increase efficiencies, all while improving the delivery of City Services and balancing the budget.

He added over the phone, “Long Beach doesn’t have a DOT, and they’re way ahead of where we are.”

This isn’t the first time Box has discussed dissolving LADOT to save the city money and make it rum more efficiently.  He’s written about it before at City Watch and has met with the Mayor’s Office and members of the Neighborhood Council Budget Committee.

We’ll have much more on this story after we get the official word from the Mayor’s Office, LADOT or Robinson herself.  In the meantime, leave your suggestions for her future in the comments section.

  • As for me, I would love to see some of the “new blood” at NYCDOT take over in L.A. and make our city a really Livable Place. There’s plenty of top tier talent there besides JSK.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/01/16/meet-the-new-dot-again/

  • I hope I didn’t get Pauline Chan or Jay Kim in trouble!

  • Damien, should I be keeping my eyes pealed for some Khanistas? Maybe we can trade NY some Shoupistas?

  • Jock

    This has been confirmed over in LADOT.land in the Caltrans building, noonish, LA County job, leaving within 1-2 mths.

    Stick girl, her asian female asst spent a long time on her cell phone in the elevator lobby on the 10th floor, the only place you get privacy and reception, 10ish this AM.

    It will be an in-house promo, John Fisher most likely. No point in doing a nation wide search given Mayoy Failure is lame duck and who would want to take the job anyways? Fisher will keep the Titanic on course.

    Good riddance to reduce, reuse and resuse Rita Robinson!

  • Now is the time for a concerted effort to lobby the Mayor’s Office for a livable-streets-friendly appointee. Facebook, twitter, and group rides should be ablaze with calls for a specific appointee. Mayor Villaraigosa has an opportunity to make progressive transportation policy his legacy. He will be out of office, and forgotten, year before the subway opens. A progressive appointee with the vision and capabilities of NYC’s Janette Sadik-Khan would help make transportation policy reform and traffic reduction a defining aspect of his legacy. The progressive transportation community should help him realize this and make his choice obvious.

  • I would like to see an LA person take her place. There are people in LA who care about livable streets. I think LA is a great place and we have some unique aspects that an Eastcoaster wouldn’t understand. I think whoever replaces Rita should be familiar with Los Angeles and preferably bred in Los Angeles or at least Southern California.

  • patrick

    I recently readm in a NYC paper, speculation that Janette Sadik-Khan was experiencing friction with her new boss. Maybe there is an opportunity here.

  • Chris L

    @browne – Just curious, which aspects of Los Angeles would an east coaster not understand?

  • Where in the County, though? Board Deputy? I could see her joining the stable at SD 2 or SD 3. Dan Rosenfeld has done a lot to shake up the bureaucracy at the County, and she would fit right in. Ray Harris, the MTA deputy at the Fourth District has stepped down, but I don’t see Robinson as the type that fits in with SD 4, and to be quite honest MTA Deputy would be step down for her – she would be Chief of Staff or Senior Deputy.

    CEO’s office? Maybe, but she would be in charge of more than transportation, maybe as a Deputy or Assistant CEO in charge of one of the branches. Regional Planning? They have a competent stable of folks, and she’s not a planner, so I don’t how she would go along there. Same with Public Works, where she is not an engineer, and legally can’t take some of the senior-level positions recently opened due to retirements. Both Planning and Public Works have relatively new directors (Bruckner and Farber, respectively), but traditionally the County never goes outside for assistant or deputy directors. This leads me to believe a “special assignment” at CEO or a direct-CEO report (i.e., the Office of Sustainability), or a high-level Board Deputy-type position, more than the garden variety field representative.

  • The dude abides

    JSK would be a great choice. We don’t need someone from LA or within DOT. We need someone with experience of getting stuff done. Browne, JSK attended Occidental collage so I am sure she is somewhat familiar with transportation issues in LA.

  • DOT is actually kind of a big-city type idea. Most cities have a Department of Public Works and Department of Planning, and they don’t generally talk to each other. Non-engineers heading up DOTs don’t get the respect of the engineers who are on staff, while the engineers that head up DOTs are tone deaf to needs of the community (and I say so as a licensed P.E.) Merging DOT with LA City Public Works, which runs construction contracts and road maintenance, is not necessarily a better idea though. You’re trading traffic engineers with garden variety civil engineers.

    I agree that it will be either Fisher or maybe Sedadi as a caretaker until a new mayor is sworn in. Promoting lower level staff three or four places down the food chain to the top is a non starter as it only encourages rancor and dissension amongst the (civil service, can’t be fired without a painful process) staff. Papendrou would be an interesting choice and would be the best one out of the ones mentioned, with experience both in setting the agenda and in managing the people that do so. The same goes for Sadik-Khan, but she has a much greater challenge of understanding the peculiar politics of the City of LA and of California law and practices.

  • @Chris L

    LA has a suburb and it’s important. LA is a 72 suburbs in search of a city as Dorothy Parker stated. The people who don’t live in the “city” are important. And LA has no center, that is important. So whoever is the head LADOT is going to have to be respectful of all our communities and be able to work with the many different agencies that block progress and can make changes.

    The people who have to drive to from West Covina to Westchester are important. I’d like to echo what Walk Eaglerock stated:

    “Somebody who can support ciclavia and simultaneously acknowledge that the number of deaths we see each month due to unsafe conditions for all users is unacceptable. Someone who acts and makes things happen so the streets are safer for everyone. Someone who allows people to choose between driving, bicycling, walking, transit”

    We need someone who gets LA County is LA County not just the “cool” sections of Metro LA city, but we also need someone who does get the Metro area (DTLA, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Koreatown…) of Los Angeles presents great opportunities, but always remembers that it is still a piece of LA not all of LA. It can’t be a person who is an advocate for any particular mode of transit, meaning no rah-rah car, bike or public transit people.

    If the idea of a person driving is something you can’t wrap your brain around you’re a bad fit for LA.
    If you think you can make everyone get on a bike, you’re a bad fit for LA.
    If you think the bus or train is the only answer, again you’re a bad fit for LA.

    On the other hand if you only can see the car, you’re a bad fit for the future of LA.

    It also can’t be any rah-rah suburban or rah-rah urban people. It can’t be a person who hates urban or hates suburban, it’s got to be a person that cares about how to get the reality of what LA is from point a to point b safely and efficiently in all of LA County.

    It has to be someone who sees the whole picture. It’s got to be someone who respects our history, understands the present, and has the tools to shape the future.

    An outsider who moves to LA to do this job isn’t going to get LA, it takes 5 years if you’re open minded to get LA it takes 10 for the average person.

    I’m open, but a person who is too NY centric isn’t going to work out here. They would do some cool one time projects, eventually piss everyone off and then move to Paris or something…then write a book about how everyone in LA doesn’t get it.

    Browne

  • MU

    JSK seems like a pipe dream at best. But she has lived in LA and I don’t see how she’d be too “NY centric”. The biggest liability a person from outside LA may have is that there is a learning curve to understanding how local politics work, where the real power centers are, etc.

    I think Joe is right. Picking someone from several steps down the DOT ladder would create too much friction within the department to be a safe pick for the mayor. To me that means we are either going to get Fisher or someone from outside DOT. I think it’s time for a fast “Anyone but Fisher” campaign.

  • Realwoman

    All this discussion is interesting…but the Mayor appoints, the Council confirms, folks.

  • Real Woman,

    We know. We tried to get a motion that appointment of the new LADOT General Manager be done by consensus on the Streetsblog comments forum, but Smith bottled it in committee.

  • Okay, okay, I’ve got a recommendation for new head of the LADOT. (In addition to seconding the Tim Papandreou nod)

    Four years ago, Andrew Vesselinovitch was the Bicycle Program Director for the City of New York, a position he found frustrating because of the failure of the City to engage in the business of supporting cyclists. His resignation, and his letter detailing the failure of his department to support his efforts, is reported by some as serving as the catalyst that stirred significant change in NYC.

    Does Los Angeles need someone who can commit to the outcome and the numbers? Then Andrew might be the guy!

    http://soapboxla.blogspot.com/2010/01/lessons-from-new-york.html

  • MU

    @Ichabod – Well did you really think that the city council was going to hand this over to Streetsblog readers? That’s funny, but it’s a stunt not a strategy. Real Woman is correct, but politicians do respond to public pressure. I’m not saying there is sufficient time or public interest to actually make an issue out of this. A little public push back isn’t going to make the Mayor change his mind if he really likes Fisher for personal or departmental reasons, but if he’s looking for an excuse to name someone else, public pressure can provide him cover. etc. etc.

  • It looks like I’d have to change the throw-a-way joke anyway. Looks like Smith deserves a little credit.

  • I reserve the right to organize a protest ride if the choice is a conspicuously bad one.

    The things is, with Villaraigosa in his lame duck term and really trying to stake his legacy on transportation, he’s got every reason do go big and bold for transit, bike, and ped on this appointment. Someone who can compliment a 30/10 type vision and implement the 5% set aside.

  • MU

    @carter – consider your right reserved :)
    But seriously, complaining after a decision is made has about zero chance of changing anything. But some targeted messages to the mayor before he makes a decision at least has a theoretical chance of changing things.

    I’ve heard several knowledgeable people say that though they didn’t like Rita Robinson, Fisher stepping into her job was a worst case scenario. There’s probably an institutional assumption that this is Fisher’s job since he’s been waiting around for it. But perhaps there is a chance to capitalize on the Mayor’s new found interest in transport as an important issue.

  • I agree with browne, someone from the area. The civic culture here is complicated and Mayor AV’s tenure is winding down–not the tme to have someone learn the ropes on the job.

    There are also a lot of priorities other than what we care about that comes into play–stakeholders such as developers, neighborhood associations, etc.

    Condolences to whoever takes the job. Reminds me of the words Marshall Dillon intoned in the opening of the radio version of Gunsmoke “It’s a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful . . . and a little lonely.”

  • Chris L

    So the question is, is there someone that’s local enough to know how to navigate LA’s politics and bureaucracy to get stuff done, but who also understands that LADOT is broken and significantly needs to change the way they do things now if we’re going to get anywhere?

  • la rider

    I just had to jump in and say!!!

    “Yay, the witch is dead!!!”

    Hopefully we get the good witch in return.

    – Wizard of Oz

  • How about Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker?

  • Tonywestsider

    Damien, you just mentioned most of my friends as likely candidates for the job. I’m so lucky to be in the midst of their good company. Tim will rock LA’s world. He (and I as well) have been around the block and back dealing with LA issues for years pushing a progressive agenda. JSK would also be interesting. She did live in LA and was never exclusively a New Yorker. She was our budget and policy administrator here at the Federal Transit Administration.

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