City Controller demonstrates new open data portal to L.A.’s finances during event at YouTube’s Playa Vista campus
By Gary Walker
Want to know what the city pays out in overtime, or how much parking ticket money it collects?
Find the answers at Control Panel L.A., an online open data portal that uses technology to give the public direct access to the city’s financial records.
Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin demonstrated the recently launched website during a March 5 LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce event at YouTube Space Los Angeles in Playa Vista.
Controllerdata.lacity.org links to databases that contain detailed reports on city revenue and expenditures, audits, employee salaries and payments to contractors. Special reports include explanations of city spending on health care and overtime costs as well as bonus pay. Users can also submit suggestions for other ways to present the city’s financial records.
Galperin said that using the Internet to shed a light on the city’s purse strings is a response to voters’ calls for making government more accessible during his campaign for the office last year.
“We don’t believe that this data belongs to us. We believe the data belongs to everyone,” Galperin said.
While much of site’s data has already been accessible to the public for years, Control Panel L.A. is the first attempt to consolidate financial records into a single hub that taxpayers can access without filing record requests.
The site’s newest tool, an application called Checkbook LA, provides public access to spending records for each city department.
“This addition to our open data site is intended to give the public and decision makers in City Hall more insight into the City’s true payroll costs and payments to vendors,” Galperin said of the feature.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin joined Galperin onstage to praise the site as an example of ingenuity and good government.
“On July 1, something significantly changed in the DNA of Los Angeles,” said Bonin, referring to the date that he, Galperin and Mayor Eric Garcetti took office after campaigns that focused on government accountability. “We are absolutely determined to make sure that we are more transparent, as a democracy should be.”
Bonin said that when he began working at Los Angeles City Hall 20 years ago, the concept of opening the city’s financial data to the public would have been “unimaginable.”
LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce President Christina Davis said she believes Control Panel L.A. will become an important tool for organizations and the residents they represent.
“It can help us as we take policy positions on the city budget and how the city spends its money. I think for many of us it’s a very exciting time, and we’re waiting to see how [the financial data] will be used,” Davis said.
Davis expects that many members of the Westside’s burgeoning creative technology business sector will become active users of the site.
“I think the tech community is going to embrace this very quickly,” she said.
Marcia Hanscom, a Playa del Rey community activist with the Ballona Institute, attended the event and came away impressed by the website. She credited news reports such as the Los Angeles Times’ exposé on corruption in Bell as creating greater demand for access to public records.
“Yes, it’s good this info is being revealed. But it was a couple of good journalists who led the way to this happening,” she said.
But Hanscom was also disturbed by how much some city employees are earning.
According to the site, a Los Angeles fire captain augmented his $115,000 base salary with more than $240,000 in overtime pay last year, and a police officer with a salary of $65,000 received more than $428,000 in additional compensation.
“It’s good that Ron Galperin and Mike Bonin have positive attitudes about revealing the info, but how did some of these salary amounts get so out of control?” Hanscom asked. “And how can these amounts ever be changed to reflect some sort of reality?”