Updated after the jump: Final pothole fill-count exceeds Garcetti and Huizar's wildest dreams! Originally posted Jan. 7.
three two short months left before ballot time, L.A. City Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Eric Garcetti are latching onto an issue we can all get excited about: these goddamn potholes.
Come on, what could be worse than potholes? They make the morning commute into a wooden rollercoaster ride, never not spilling scalding coffee all over our laps and no doubt killing our shocks for life.
Huizar and Garcetti, as usual, understand our pain. So they're demanding that City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana pour more money into the Bureau of Street Services in this dark, rutty time — because “we owe it to the people of Los Angeles to fill potholes, resurface streets and remove fallen trees year-round,” in the words of Huizar.
Here's the spiffy Web page that the Street Services worker union has devoted to the cause. It reads:
“Budget cuts and furloughs in the Street Services Bureau have led to increased emergency response times and a reduction of basic services. On Jan. 5, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana announced additional furloughs that could mean hundreds of miles of roads go unpaved.”
In attendance at this morning's “Keep L.A. Strong” announcement, backing up Huizar and the city workers, was Council President Garcetti — surely resting a little easier than his associate, as his odd-numbered district seat is safe until the next election.
He has, however, stood equally firm on eradicating the wasteland of pesky road pimples that now lie before us. At the end of December — another sign he's following Antonio Villaraigosa all the way to the throne — Garcetti inherited the mayor's schtick as King of the Potholes, posing for photo ops in his neon working-man's vest and serving as official spokesman for “Operation Pothole.” He told the LA Daily News this morning about its dashing success so far:
“We've had a great response,” Garcetti said. “We went to the neighborhood councils and got lists [of potholes] from them. I've been hearing on Facebook and Twitter. I think we'll be able to do the 10,000.”
Garcetti spent nearly six hours with a pothole crew to get a first-hand insight into the project.
“What's amazing is how fast these guys are able to work,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti boasted today that the first major leg of the Operation will go down this weekend: 50 crews will save the city's streets from their post-rainpocalypse state of disaster by Sunday, filling up to 15,000 holes.
But don't be fooled by the numbers. Los Angeles is the second biggest city in America, and we'd be willing to bet that a good 80 percent of our surface area is straight-up street. L.A. consistently scores in the Top 2 for worst roads in America, with 63 percent of roadways in “poor condition,” according to the Washington, D.C. non-profit TRIP.
Bill Robertson, director of the Bureau of Street Services, says that after the first big rain last year, Operation Pothole lasted for two weekends, instead of just the one weekend it will run this year.
“In 2010, we did over 350,000 potholes,” he says. “This year, it will be about 250,000.” He attributes the shrinkage to loss in personnel through the Early Retirement Incentive Program and furloughs, adding: “We've lost 351 authorized positions.”
At the press conference this morning, Huizar came out in protest of those cuts. The motion, in his own words:
“… asks the CAO to study exempting Bureau of Street Service workers who are specially funded from furloughs, meaning those whose salaries are paid using outside sources and not from our General Fund. I'm also asking the CAO to identify additional special funds in order to expand cleaning up our streets and roadways and allow City workers to do the job we hired them to do.”
Ironically, Huizar is in the middle of a politi-blog shitstorm set off by his unwillingness to disclose the spending history of a fund he oversees called CLARTS. It's a $1 million-per-year piggy bank designated to offset the downsides of the giant, foul-smelling Central Los Angeles Recycling & Transfer Station dump located in his district.
Citywatchers are accusing him of pumping hundreds of thousands of those dollars into projects that don't directly benefit the community. Many line items on the CLARTS report, which everyone finally located, say “Transfer to Council” or “Transfer to General City Purposes.”
None of the charges are blatantly dishonorable, but a few really can't be argued into the category of physical neighborhood improvement to offset the garbage dump (Casa0101? Really?), and almost all transfers to the city's general fund can't be tracked much further than intent to go toward District 14 community amenities in the City Clerk records.
All the technical allocations are there in city paperwork, but the final hands into which the millions have fallen over the last couple years is completely unclear. The whole thing is vastly worsened by Huizar's inability to handle the criticism and his shady evasions of local press.
Anyway, it's ironic that Huizar is begging the City Administrative Office for pothole and street-repair money when, by our calculations, the CLARTS fund appears to have tons of money left over. Huizar's put the cash toward Street Services, Public Works and CalTrans before, so why not now? And if it's not supposed to go toward road work in the first place, he's got a heap more explaining to do.
According to Tracie Morales, union spokeswoman for the Street Services workers, Huizar's motion today will “direct the Administrative Office to how we can allocate special funding in order to be able to provide crucial street services.”
Robertson, head of Street Services, says there are plenty of funds — just not enough employees on city contract to utilize them. However, he rules out the hiring of outside workers as an option.
“How do you do a contract with potholes?” he says. “It's something you just can't do. It needs to be managed in-house because it fluctuates so much.”
L.A. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana — the guy Huizar hopes will bolster the Street Services worker pool — is unavailable to talk at the moment, but we'll keep you updated as per his response.
Meanwhile, Operation Pothole is still in full swing. To be honest, complaining about L.A.'s pothole wasteland and getting air on the really juicy ones have always been some of our favorite ways to pass the winter months. However, Garcetti's user-friendly Operation leaves us little choice but to shut our whiny traps and report the devils to 311.
“What's really disturbing is people will hit a pothole for weeks and not call it in,” says Robertson. “Just pick up the phone.”
Update: Those potholes couldn't have known what was comin' to them. Councilman Jose Huizar made the big announcement this morning: Street Services filled 16,100 potholes last weekend.
Of course, even a snazzy number like that isn't enough for these perfectionists. Huizar uses to opportunity to tell ABC7,
“We used to fill potholes within 48 hours. Now, we do it probably within two to three weeks,” said Huizar. “Why is that? Because we put some of our street workers on furloughs. They take less days off and less potholes are getting filled.”
In the article, he cites a $630 million pot of federal stimulus money that the L.A. City Council “received to create jobs” as a possible source for paying more Street Services personnel. And how 'bout that CLARTS fund, eh?