LADOT G.M. Search – Streetsblog’s Fab Four of Fresh Faces That Should Be Considered

“It’s hard to attract top tier candidates when there’s no guarantee of a job after the Mayor’s term is up.” “The Mayor is going to want someone with experience managing a bureaucracy, not just an ideologue.”

Since Streetsblog began pushing for a nation-wide search for the next LADOT General Manager, I’ve heard a variation on these two sentences probably a dozen times.  To try and help the Mayor make the right decision when it comes to how to pick a new General Manager, we’ve created a list of four candidates that have managed large bureaucracy and would be a game changer for LADOT’s policies.

As for the argument that there’s no reason these candidates would take the job, three of them have a personal connection to the area and the fourth is a long-time transportation expert and engineer who would love the challenge of “fixing” our city’s transportation infrastructure.

If you want to join us in calling for a national search, you can join the petition, here.

Our candidates are Transportation Programs Officer for the City of Long Beach Sumire Gant, Washington D.C. Department of Transportation Director Gabe Klein, Former Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Transportation and Chair of ASHTO Jack Lettiere, and Former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogota Gil Penalosca.

For more details on these candidates read on after the jump.

Sumire Gant
10_2_09_linton_2.jpgCharlie Gandy and Sumire Gant

Sumire Gant is the Transportation Programs Officer for the City of Long Beach Department of Transportation.  Unlike Los Angeles, the LBDOT isn’t a completely separate department, but part of the Bureau of Street Services.  Gant oversees planning, funding, and implementation for transportation projects throughout.

Or, put more simply, she’s Charlie Gandy’s boss.

Two things that advocates hear when lobbying LADOT for more bicycle facilities is that “there isn’t the money” and that “Los Angeles isn’t Long Beach.”  Well, bringing on Gant to head LADOT would address both of those points.

While she wouldn’t magically turn Los Angeles into its progressive neighbor to the south, she would bring the can-do attitude that has put Long Beach on the map for being a bicycle friendly city.  Also, Gant has a strong history of bringing in federal and state grants for exciting projects such as the green Sharrowed Lanes, the first painted Shared Lanes in the country.   She has brought in close to $20 million in the past few years for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

For more on some of the great changes happening in Long Beach, read Joe Linton’s “Long Beach’s Leap Towards Livability Series” and pretty much any Streetsblog article by Drew Reed.

Gabe Klein

A former Vice-President for ZipCar, Klein took over the reigns of the Washington, D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) in December of 2008.  With a change in Mayors coming to the District in January, Klein’s future at DDOT is in doubt, despite his reputation for supporting transit, sustainable transportation and transparency in government.

According to his bio on the DDOT website, Klein…

…focused efforts on sustainable travel practices, safe streets, and the promotion of next generation transportation alternatives for residents, commuters, and visitors to the District of Columbia. The launch of a two-year Action Agenda, a new media focused web site, and improved and increased communication and transparency of agency projects and programs, as well as capitalizing on new and innovative social networking applications, represent much of DDOT and Klein’s vision for a world class transportation department and system in the nation’s capitol.

Changing the culture at DDOT is no easy feet.  But if he could do it there, he might be able to pull off the same trick here.

Jack Lettiere


During much of my tenure at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, I had the privledge of working with, not against, the New Jersey Department of Transportation.  One of the main reasons for that was the leadership of their commissioner, a trained transportation engineer who emerged from the department’s budget office, Jack Lettiere.  During his tenure, the NJDOT slashed the amount of funds they spent on automobile capacity enhancement to 2% of their yearly budget.  The rest was spent on transit, bicycling and pedestrian projects and “Fix-It-First.”  In this New York Times article from 2005, you can actually read me praising and sticking up for the NJDOT’s annual budget.  Can anyone picture me doing that for LADOT?

But what was more impressive than just numbers was the “Future in Transportation” program, NJFIT, overseen by Gary Toth.  Toth and his team, with the blessing and support of Lettiere, actually went out to communities to help them plan and build systems that would require the least amount of new asphalt for congestion free roads.  You can listen to more of the details of the program in the video embedded above.

Take my word for it.  There was nothing as surreal in my career as going to meetings on the future of Newark’s congested Route 21 and watching the DOT and their consultants argue AGAINST widening the road to the dismay of some of the local politicians.

Gil Penalosa

While Penalosa is most often seen traveling North America giving presentations on creating better communities and cities by creating open space and providing links for cyclists and pedestrians to travel freely and safely; he is best known for his work in Bogota.  During his time as Head of the Parks Department, Bogota built over 200 parks, including the mammoth the Simón Bolívar.

Penalosa also led the charge to open streets for public use.  I would bet every Streetsblog reader is familiar with the Ciclovia; but he also saw the creation of the Summer Festival, a gigantic recreational event that attracts three million people to one hundred events programmed over ten days.

So why would Penalosa consider coming to Los Angeles for a potentially short-term job?  He’s already familiar with the challenges that our city faces.  He earned a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from UCLA’s Management School.

  • ml

    How about Gloria Jeffs?

  • Great article Damien. Hear hear! Thank you for showing the full realm of possibility out there. The best thing we advocates can do when we are being told “no” is to demolish the bureaucrat’s excuses. We don’t have to accept some second-tier senior employee at LADOT to march us into a transportation future filled with more of the same failing policies.

    I get heady when I think about what a different DOT we could have with any one of these people at the head of it.

  • Joseph E

    No, don’t steal Sumire Gant! Unless you can guarantee Charlie Gandy would take her place. Long Beach has a long way to go.

  • Seeming a name like Gil Penalosa’s on the list, and thinking of the possibilities if he were given the right tools and authority here in LA, just fills me with hope. That would be truly amazing.

    Not knocking the other great folks listed (I’m looking forward to reading the article again and learning more about each of them) but obviously with CicLAvia in such sharp focus, the vision that Penalosa brought to Bogota would be so refreshing here.

    Thanks for the forward thinking.

  • *Seeing* (not “Seeming”)

  • J

    “we’ve created a list of five candidates that have managed large bureaucracy and would be a game changer for LADOT’s policies.”

    five candidates? (Someone got axed at the last minute?)

  • I think that Damien Newton himself is the stealth 5th candidate!

    For more background on Gabe Klein, watch this streetfilm:
    http://www.streetfilms.org/dcs-dot-director-talks-transportation-freedom/
    (You know the guy gets it when he has his own streetfilm!)

    Penalosa was part of the cabinet (led by his brother Mayor Enrique Penalosa) that oversaw Bogota’s huge bus-only lane implementation – BRT – called Tranmillenia.

  • Good catch.

    Someone was axed…Someone I actually know who I happened to talk to yesterday (about something completely unrelated) who said, “not interested in moving…”

  • James B.

    Joe L. or Damien N. gets my vote.

  • Getting ready to cast my historic vote, but one thing pops up in my mind. Zipcar has come up several times in this thread, and although I truly love the concept and execution and gave them plenty of transportation cash and they were always so nice, I just felt burned when they abandoned LA. I understand that the limited cars they had were put to better use in denser cities with better educated, more affluent residents with better access to public transit. It just makes me think that the person who will do the most good as an LADOT GM is someone who has a deep personal interest in seeing a better LA come forth. Something inside that will keep the hope alive in the dark hours of conflict with the petroleum industry.

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