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Show Me The Money

October 23, 2013

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Today, City Controller Ron Galperin launched the city’s open data website, Control Panel L.A.  The Socrata Data Portal is a massive clearinghouse of data on municipal collections and expenditures. Access to how and where the City spends our tax dollars has never been this easy.

Facts and figures from the $4,042,179,848.17  used to pay the 45,979 city employees, to the $107,742.39 difference in salary expenditures between Council District 1 and Council District 14 (*cough, cough, Godoy… cough…*) to the $101,543,248.49 it will take to pay 261 of the lowest-paid Deputy Attorneys in the City Attorney’s office. See where City’s Revenue comes from and ponder whether or not, the $17,429,757.95 that the LA Zoo collected in FY2012 is worth the trouble keeping it as part of the Department of Recreation and Parks. The public can now look at the City’s checkbook and see every expenditure made. 99,264 expenditures totaling $1,343,538,931.39 for Fiscal Year 2013 are listed. Expenditures such as $300 to Highland Park artist, Sonia Romero, or $330 to pay the Highland Park Animal Hospital for spaying and neutering, or $6000 for parking at Joe’s Auto Park in DTLA, or $7,477,472.85 for postage, or $39.20 paid by the Controller’s office on December 20, 2012 for document shredding by American Shredding Inc.

Look at audits, payroll, expenditures, revenue and if that’s not enough, there is pie! Yes, yummy yummy pie charts!  Users have the ability to filter and tweak the data, code it, chart it, and download it. Creating a free Socrata account allows the user to save their assembled data, discuss, and share it.

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While the website illustrates a lot of things about what city government does, it raises a lot of questions as well. At this initial phase, the data, while voluminous, is not very elaborate, with just the most basic descriptions of the expenditures with the amounts and the departments that used them. Many things are marked as private. Many payees have vague and mysterious names that one fears typing into Google. (Forget it Jake…)

The lists show that the city relies on a plethora of non-profit organizations around the city. LP’s, LLC’s, and 501c’s of every type get money from the City. For reasons unknown, we write a lot of checks to other cities. Vernon, San Bernardino, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Glendale, Riverside, Pasadena, Bell, Pico Rivera, San Dimas, South Pasadena and many others received money from the City of Los Angeles in FY2013.

At $153 Million, the Mayor has the 5th largest share of the city’s budget to use at his discretion. The City spends $16,279,050.73 on maintenance and repair, and $153,745,717.56 on liability claims. Last year we (The Citizens of Los Angeles) spent $147,000 for firework shows, and $98,488.75 on clowns.  $2,240,458.35 was spent on graffiti abatement in Northeast Los Angeles alone.  Roman Catholic Archbishop, José Gomez was paid $159,000 by the City. A City of Los Angeles tugboat operator in LA Harbor makes $49,503.87 more than the Mayor’s $232,425.72 annual salary.

Like ingredients, the data is only as good as the cook that uses them. But in this case, it is like the city has opened a Whole Foods Market, whereas before we had just a 7 Eleven to work with. The website is great.  Ron Galperin, should be commended for getting this done just 115 days into his administration. A milestone for the city and Galperin, the first person from a neighborhood council to be elected to a city-wide office.

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