Los Angeles: City of Angels Leads in Transforming Data into Action
By Kristin Taylor
Los Angeles City Hall has a room with a view. Visitors who make their way to the building’s public observation deck can enjoy a vast panorama of the city below, home to some 3.9 million people. Inside City Hall, the permeation of what works practices is vast; one gets the sense that, after his election, Mayor Eric Garcetti came to the observation deck, looked around, and set out to determine how to embed data in everything the City touches.
“Data shines a light on the problem and inspires targeted action,” he told What Works Cities. “It allows us to be more proactive, more efficient, and more engaging.”
That’s why one of his first moves as Mayor was to ensure that all 36 of the City’s General Managers develop key metrics of success for their departments, and then began tracking the data that would monitor progress toward their goals. Their progress is published on the Mayor’s Dashboard, where residents can see for themselves how well the City is performing — setting a new precedent for transparency in municipal service provision.
As part of his Back to Basics approach, Mayor Garcetti launched CleanStat in 2016, so that all communities, regardless of their economic status, could enjoy clean streets. CleanStat, the nation’s most comprehensive street-by-street cleanliness assessment system, provides quarterly, block-by-block assessments of the entire city to build data on and identify trends in street cleanliness.
“When I came into office, my priority was to improve the quality of life for all Angelenos, and the use of data in assessment, monitoring, and implementation helped us achieve that,” says Mayor Garcetti. “Using data allowed our street-cleaning efforts to shift away from a reactive approach, and instead, focus on a methodical and equitable way.”
With CleanStat, staff from the Bureau of Sanitation drive all of the more than 20,000 miles of the city’s public streets and alleys, assigning a cleanliness score from 1 to 3 — or from clean to not clean — to every block, once a quarter. Those scores are added to the Clean Streets Index, where department officials can keep track of performance and residents can hold the City accountable for its goal to eradicate red grids (ones with a score of 3) by 2018. Residents who want to get more directly involved can sign up for the Clean Streets LA Challenge, with the potential to secure funding for a project to make their neighborhood cleaner.
Because workers are generating service requests as they conduct assessments, the new approach is helping the department become more targeted in its response. Now, resources can be deployed to meet the specific needs of the site, and response teams can maximize efficiency. The department is also addressing between 4,000 and 6,000 service requests each quarter that wouldn’t have been called in otherwise, meaning streets are being cleaned more quickly. The results speak for themselves — just one year after its launch, the City had already reduced the number of unclean streets by 82%.
Rent Stabilization Ordinance Campaign
As in so many cities across the country, ensuring adequate access to affordable housing is a growing challenge in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, tenants living in any of the nearly 624,000 units covered by the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) have many rights that aim to keep them in their homes, including protection from excessive rent increases. But when the City’s Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) began to survey residents, staff made an alarming discovery: nearly one third of renters and nearly as many landlords were wrong about — or were not even aware of — their rights and responsibilities under the RSO.
Through Mayor Garcetti’s Innovation Team (i-team) within his Office of Budget and Innovation, the City of Los Angeles launched a multi-faceted Home for Renters campaign in 2016 to raise awareness of tenant rights through direct outreach, the creation and distribution of easy-to-understand educational guidebooks, placement of PSAs, and more. To ensure the campaign targeted the most vulnerable residents, the i-team examined an index combining data of displacement patterns with predictive analysis on where displacement was likely to occur, mainly households with incomes under $30,000 and areas with high concentrations of RSO housing units and complaints. In its first year, the campaign has reached over 20,000 people online, and more through rigorous field outreach, multilingual handbooks, and strategic ad placement on city buses and benches — all with the goal of increasing the awareness of rights and responsibilities for tenants and landlords under the RSO.
More City Data, More City Solutions
A culture of data use has led to other notable developments, including a new portal tracking all city-owned properties so that staff across departments can better maximize available real estate assets when looking to develop new public amenities. A recent call for a Chief Procurement Officer demonstrates the City’s commitment to modernize the City’s procurement process in response to new technological advancements and data-collection capabilities. Through its Data Science Federation, the City is partnering with local colleges and universities to accelerate its use of data-driven tools at the same time that it’s creating a pipeline to bring new talent into local government. And the City is using data to see what works and what doesn’t as it pilots potential solutions to such challenges as police hiring, problem intersections, and the urban heat island effect before scaling them.
The City’s focus on data also aims to increase civic engagement with residents. Los Angeles’ open data portal greets visitors with an invitation to “find the data useful for you,” while the City’s GeoHub empowers residents with quick access to mapped sets of open data related to health, safety, schools, and more. These efforts are as much about fostering transparency as they are about working to build relationships with residents centered on collaboration and problem-solving.
“When the City gives residents the information to discuss our challenges, we are opening the door for them to help us work towards the right solutions,” says Mayor Garcetti. “Los Angeles is a city that leads, and we are proud to pave the way for greater inclusion, opportunity, and equity for our residents in an era of accessible data that’s also ripe for innovation.”