Rita Robinson Unplugged: Speaking Truth to Power or Excuse Making?

Earlier today in City Watch, Editor Ken Draper sings the praises of LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson for speaking to last weekend’s meeting of Neighborhood Council representatives and being bluntly honest about the state of the city’s finances while attacking the City Council.  Draper’s column is full of tough talk from Robinson, all of which can be seen on the video above.  She doesn’t mince words, claiming the City Council is in a state of "denial" and that they suffer from "Reality Deficit Disorder."

While Draper is full of praise for Robinson, I find her stance and posturing to be disturbing.  First, she was attending the meeting of Neighborhood Council’s to discuss the state of a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between LADOT and the Neighborhood Councils.  This document, as Stephen Box notes, "memorializes and codifies a relationship and the mechanism for
communicating and working together. It’s a living breathing document
with opportunities for revision and adjustment, just like any good
relationship."  Once you understand that, Robinson’s attack sounds more like excuse making for why the LADOT is unwilling to reach the same understanding with Neighborhoods that the NC’s have reached with the DWP and other agencies.

Second, the City Council is the elected body of officials that are charged with drafting the legislation that governs our city.  Rita Robinson is a career city official who has never been elected to anything and was appointed by said Council.  If LADOT staff takes its cues from its General Manager, it’s no surprise that they can’t give straight answers to simple questions at hearings and ignore directives from Committee Chairs.  We must be wasting our time talking to the City Council, it appears the real power in this city is in the hand’s of our unelected bureaucrats.

Robinson is basically saying that because of the budget cuts that have already happened and the ones coming down the road that she doesn’t want LADOT to enter into a contract with the Neighborhood Councils because she doesn’t want the LADOT to not be able to fulfill its arrangement.  Now let’s be clear, the Memorandum has to do with opening official channels for communication between the Council’s and the LADOT.  Nothing more.

So I pose the question to all of you.  You’ve read my take.  You can read Draper’s here.  You can watch the video above.  Is Robinson taking a courageous stance and warning people to be aware that cuts are coming or is she passing blame for sub-par community outreach with the Neighborhood Council’s by attacking the bogeyman of the Los Angeles City Council?

  • I’ve heard Robinson in a DOT Commissioner’s meeting say something to the effect of, “I don’t car what the council says. I tell them how it’s going to be.”

    I thought to myself, “WTF?!” while everyone either smirked or sat their stone-faced. I wish there was an audio record of that meeting (the meeting that the LADOT introduced their idiotic pedicab regulation revisions).

    The LADOT is an arrogant department when taken it comes to planning decisions. They act as though they have a mandate from God to destroy communities and local business district with car-only facilities. They will lie (really, just straight up lie to your face) about state law, local law, department policy and anything else they can think of to get you out of their way. Their staff, or so I’ve been told, act the same way to individual council offices as well, with each council office thinking, “Gee, what a bunch of hard-asses.”

    This is not to write off the efforts of the many, many, very competent and talented folks who run that dept. – but the meta-level stuff coming out of DOT often makes me want to wretch.

  • 1) Agree.
    2) Dayum, what was in your coffee?
    3) City Council ought to write an ordinance about shifty shifting.

  • I appreciate Rita’s comments and think she deserves credit for being honest and straightforward.

    It seems clear that she doesn’t think she’ll have the resources to properly implement the MOU. LADOT, and the City, is facing a serious loss of resources and personnel so it makes sense for them to hold back on committing to anything that would expend additional resources. She deserves credit for meeting with the NCs and letting them know that she felt LADOT couldn’t “deliver” on the terms of the MOU at this time.

    Plus, the MOU is not as simple as you make it out to be. The MOU asks LADOT undertake activities that require a significant investment of staff time and resources (e.g. attend NC meetings, conduct educational briefings, provide 60 days notification of actions LADOT undertakes or is aware of, etc). Clearly there is a lot more going on in the MOU than just “opening official channels.”

    LADOT has limited resources now and will clearly have less in the future. Unless the City Council gives LADOT additional resources to implement this MOU Rita is right to reject it as unfeasible.

  • Darryl, what sort of “resources” are they going to need to work with another city department and release documents that they are keeping internally? This is secretarial work!

    What is the hold up? The “we have no money” excuse is B.S. What does the City Adminitrative Office or the City Legislative Analyst have to say about this “no money” excuse?

    What she is really doing is grabbing at a convenient EXCUSE to cover for the fears of her high-level managers – who know that the gig is up once the public gets to peak behind the smog and mirrors at the LADOT. The code that authorizes that department states that they are supposed to reduce traffic – but their policies are all about increasing car trips, making them faster, and screwing everyone and everything else over. The rest of the departments’ work (meter maids, taxi commission, bus service, grant applications, traffic studies) can be handled by other entities in the city. Without their smokescreen of “internal documents, sorry can’t share policies with you” they really have nothing.

    A great example of how openness damages the DOT: once I found their published traffic count data online I wrote a blog post about the disconnect between the LADOT’s rhetoric and the reality on the roads. I am using that data to campaign (effectively) against their unstated departmental mandate to help cars and cars only.

    The only people afraid of open data and communication in civil affairs are those doing something wrong!

  • Does the DOT have a legal obligation to engage in this MOU?

    ” The Transportation Department shall, on behalf of the City:

    (1) Consolidate and carry out programs previously assigned to various City departments or bureaus which have been transferred to or consolidated in the Department; centralize authority over the planning of transportation, traffic regulation and related uses of the City’s system of streets and highways; serve as the Department primarily responsible for the development and coordination of plans to meet varied ground transportation needs; provide a primary interface with other governmental agencies on transportation matters consistent with prior approved City Council policies and procedures; study traffic and related matters including the effect of laws and regulations relating to traffic; and secure information upon such subjects and provide information to the various departments and offices of the City concerning traffic accidents, congestion, lighting, and other conditions affecting the safe and convenient use of streets and other public ways for travel;

    from: Los Angeles Administrative Code; Division 22 Departments, Bureaus And Agencies Under The Control Of The Mayor And Council; Chapter 20 Department Of Transportation

  • UbrayJ02,

    The resources they need are staff. Staff that they don’t have now, and won’t have in the future.

    Yes, this is “secretarial” work. But, again, it is simply a questions of resources. How many secretaries does LADOT have? How many will they have next year? Actually, would a secretary even be doing this type of work? Or would it be someone at the level of, say, a Traffic Engineer? In any case, how can LADOT commit to having staff come to NC meetings, if staff can’t do overtime?

    You can’t do the work if you don’t have the people– no matter how simple that work is.

    Look, if you think this MOU is so desperately needed then why don’t you help LADOT get the resources they need to execute it? The CAO is starting to work on next year’s City budget, so now is the right time to get involved and help elevate this issue. Find out from Rita what LADOT needs in terms of staffing/resources to execute this MOU; then mobilize the community and work to convince the Mayor, City Council, CAO, to give LADOT those resources.

  • Hey, great, why don’t I do her dry cleaning and dish washing too?

  • What is asked for in this MOU? Horrible stuff, like this:

    LADOT, are you going to recommend raising speed limits in our area? Please let us know, in advance, so we can keep your engineering report off the consent calendar of the City’s Transportation Committee.


Good Transportation Planning: It’s Not Magic

LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson explains the public outreach for the Pico-Olympic plan in 2008. Way back on April 14, LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson spoke in front of the City Council Transportation Committee on how the department is going to deal with the city’s budget crunch. Robinson delivered her usual passionate defense of the […]