When Angelenos call City Hall for help, they have some basic expectations. They should be able to talk to a live person. They should be told how long, roughly, it will take to address the problem. And they should know that their requests will be handled with the same care and concern, whether they live on the Westside or Eastside, in the San Fernando Valley or South L.A.
FOR THE RECORD:
A Dec. 24 editorial on how long it takes City Hall to respond to citizen complaints said that eight new inspectors were being hired to serve eastern L.A. In fact, four new inspectors will serve the Eastside; the remaining four will work in other parts of the city.
But a Times analysis of code enforcement complaints found that, in fact, the service they get depends heavily on where they live. In eastern Los Angeles, nearly a quarter of the complaints about illegal construction, trash and debris, zoning violations and similar code violations languished for at least three months without a response. On the Westside, only 12% of complaints went that long without a response, and in South L.A. only 5.5% did, according to the analysis of complaints filed from January 2011 to July 2014. City inspectors were also slower in Central L.A., failing to respond to 18% of complaints within 90 days.
Last year, the citywide median wait for an inspector's response was eight days — meeting the city's pre-recession, pre-staff-cuts promise to investigate most complaints within seven business days. However, callers from eastern parts of the city still waited 26 days, according to the analysis.
That is unacceptable. Although it's true that the Department of Building and Safety's budget was slashed during the recession — the number of code enforcement staffers fell to 50 from 125 from 2006 to 2013 — it's unfathomable that department officials didn't notice or didn't address the huge service differences among communities earlier. Data showing the backlog of unresolved complaints was on Mayor Eric Garcetti's open data website earlier this year. Do city departments even analyze their own data? The mayor and the City Council budgeted for eight new inspectors to serve eastern L.A., starting in January.
The Times' analysis showed that the geographic disparities did not align consistently with income or poverty levels. The only explanation officials offered for the inequalities was that some areas were more understaffed.
Service disparities are not only unfair, but they also can make residents feel shortchanged, cynical and alienated from City Hall. The San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession votes in 2002 were spurred, in part, by communities that felt they weren't getting a fair share of city services. It took a multimillion-dollar campaign and divisive election, but city officials ultimately pledged to ensure that government services were available to the people of Los Angeles equally. Garcetti and the City Council should never forget that promise.