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Your GPW Editor-on-Occasion is Petra Fried in the City.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

First General Manager the Mayor should retain - Jon Kirk Mukri

This past April, author Bob Gelfand stirred a few people up with his somewhat confusing rant on CityWatch LAWho Should the New Mayor Fire First?  In it, he states that the first person the new mayor should fire is Recreation and Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri.
I couldn't disagree more with the author.

The first General Manager the Mayor should absolutely retain is Jon Kirk Mukri.

General Manager Mukri works very well with an extremely passionate and diverse parks community. He's made the Mayor and every City councilmember look really really good over the years with key projects in their districts, and other cities look to his department as a national leader. This in spite of the crippling budget cuts and chargebacks the City Council has levied unfairly on the department. Yes, some of the parks are a mess, but the department hasn't been allowed to keep enough employees or hire to keep up with demand.

The biggest reason to retain Mukri?  The man truly cares about the kids in this city.

I know a little bit about how the Dept of Recreation and Parks works, having been a parks advocate and an operations volunteer with the department for the past decade. I know I am not the only one who found the Gelfand's content a bit nutty. Most people I spoke with read it and went... "what?? huh?"

In actuality, the author's main complaint about Mukri specifically seemed to be that Mukri didn't know who the author was. That isn't exactly a heinous crime.

"Condom Tree" at Harbor Regional Park
The vast majority of the complaint sketched out in Gelfand's article lies squarely on the performance of Assistant GM over Operations, Kevin Regan. That particular administrator is someone with whom much of the community has difficulty. He isn't doing a good job -- witness Gelfand's description of the perpetual operations mess in Harbor Regional Park  -- and the employees he oversees are allegedly abused by this person unless they've been promoted to be one of his "spies". The only thing Regan is supposedly good at is sucking up to politicians.

Keeping Regan in that position in a department that is as public service-oriented as Recreation and Parks is the only thing I can really ding Mukri on.

Regardless of Mukri's performance to date, the rumor mill has been in full swing since it began to look like Garcetti could win the election. "Those in the know" have been saying that Mayor Garcetti will be exacting revenge on Recreation and Parks' general manager  because Mukri's significant other, Claire Bartels, was Wendy Gruel's chief of staff for ages.

I believe that Mayor Garcetti is above such nonsense. Garcetti was raised in a political family where politics is what you do outside the home and couples may have different political ideals when they are at work. Mukri did not campaign for Garcetti's opponent, so why would there be retaliation on an excellent manager? If Garcetti is indeed calling the shots, I can't see this kind of nonsense controlling his decision.

So how do the employees feel?  When then-mayoral candidate Garcetti announced that if elected he would make all of the City's general managers reapply for their jobs, I started taking an informal poll of Recreation and Parks employees I know who have been in the department for a long time. The question:
"Of all the General Managers the Dept (of Recreation and Parks) has had in the last two decades, which one could have managed to keep the department intact given the $155 million taken from the Dept budget over last 5 years?"
The answer could have been one of these four:  
  • Jackie Tatum (1993)
  • Ellie Oppenheim (2000)
  • Manuel Mollinedo (2003)
  • Jon Kirk Mukri (2004)
or none of them at all. All of these general managers were chosen by previous mayors to run the department and could be considered a reasonable example of someone now-Mayor Garcetti might choose. Some of the four were very popular with their employees.

Everyone I asked did spend time thinking about their answers, but ultimately it has been unanimous so far:

Jon Kirk Mukri, 8 - 0

Mukri became GM not very long after I began caring for Amir's Garden following Amir's passing in 2003. He was coming off of experience in straightening out the General Services Department - a true 'managers' department, with very little direct public interaction. Given the mess he corrected there, it was clear this guy was a very good manager in the literal sense of the word.

That said, the Department of Recreation and Parks is a very different beast from General Services. Public interaction at every turn is mandatory.

First time I ran into the gentleman face to face was at an Arts Parks Committee meeting at City Hall in 2004. Every City employee in the room was dutifully spewing the praises of the impending Consolidation and creation of the now-defunct Office of Public Safety. Most of us parks advocates in the room were there to pull the Park Ranger Division out of that consolidation and keep them in our parks where they rightfully belong.

The spewing was thick in there and the whole meeting was pretty ugly - loaded with obscene revisionist history which is something the City specializes in. As the meeting ended, Mukri came over to us parks advocates in the audience and said something that was one of the pro-Consolidation bullshit bullet-point guarantees designed to assuage the fears of the unwashed masses. None of of those guarantees ever later materialized, by the way. Pretty sure I responded with something like "Stop insulting our intelligence!" Because, in all honesty, the entire plan created by Wendy Greuel and James Hahn stunk to high hell. 

That was how new RAP GM Mukri was publicly introduced to "the community" he would have to work with for the next decade. And you know what? The man never insulted our intelligence again. He's been a pretty straight shooter to both politicians and the community alike, even when we vehemently disagreed with him.

So here we are in 2013, and Mukri has had to reapply for his job along with the 30-some odd other City general managers. That process is kind of insulting, really. It's one thing to carefully evaluate current managers, but another to treat them like political and managerial neophytes.

That said, would you recommend that Jon Kirk Muki keep his job?

I absolutely would.

Which GM should be fired first?

Gelfand asked for input on this in his CityWatch piece. I never saw him report out on the feedback, but a great candidate to get the axe first is Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnett. Many reasons why, and LA Weekly details a lot of them, but that's a subject for a different article.

Griffith Park construction projects update

From Lynn Brown, Equine Advisory Committee board member:
For the ongoing pipe laying project that had closed the west bound Zoo Drive, and left only one lane open eastbound on the weekend, is now completed. Zoo Drive is open for traffic, but only briefly.  A new section of pipe is to be laid on the north side of Zoo Drive, running along the road and near the equestrian trail by the freeway.  However, the digging will mostly take place in front of the Recreation and Parks Service Yard and alongside the Spinello Construction lay-down area.  The equestrian trail that passes behind it should not be impacted.  Also, Zoo Drive will be impacted with road closures again.  Rattlesnake trail will be open throughout the construction.
There will be a complete shutdown of water available to Griffith Park tentatively scheduled for the week of October 21st through the 25th.  This shutdown of water will be done to connect and weld the pipes that will carry water to the City of Los Angeles, and also to Griffith Park.
To prepare for this shutdown, all the water storage tanks in the Park will be filled to capacity.  Various businesses in the Park i.e. the Zoo, the Live Steamers, Travel Town and the Los Angeles Equestrian Center have developed contingency plans to deal with the water situation.  Basic water services should be covered, however, Griffith Park businesses will be watering lawns during this time.
The horse water tanks will be kept full by having a water truck bring water to each site to fill the tanks manually.  This shutdown of water is to be completed and the water turned back on within 72 hours, if all goes well.  Concerns were raised about the possibility of fires in the Park during the shutdown.  It was suggest that the work be delayed until early November, however, as of now, the start date is October 21st.
If all goes well, no one will notice the shutdown and there will be adequate water for all during this period.
As anyone who has ridden by the Headwork’s project knows, the construction of a giant water tank to hold the Silverlake Reservoir is in full gear. So far, it has gone smoothly, with minimum problems with equestrians getting their horses past the activity and noise.  However, soon there will be a very dangerous construction project within a few feet of the trail. First, a retaining wall will be built. Then, there will be trenching for a big ditch to lay pipe along a short stretch between the two tunnels, Tunnel 7 and 8.
New Danger signs will be posted at the entrance to both Tunnels, and flyers will be given to the major barns.  This portion of the Headworks Construction will be close up, with loud noises from cranes, huge backhoes and loads of rebar and metal plates being moved into place. DWP understands that this is a major inconvenience for the equestrian public.  They have worked hard to minimize any problems for the trail.
It is unavoidably dangerous, and impossible to mitigate.  The construction people have agreed to place the main part of the cranes/backhoes off the direct proximity of the trail, when possible.  They also agreed to pause in the work while equestrians pass by, if possible, if they see you. The work is expected to take a month to complete.
The trail between the two tunnels will remain open, with signage directing people with nervous horses to go to Tunnel 6 to access the Park trails from there.  It will be up to the public to decide if their horses can deal with all this noise and challenge.
The good news is that the Construction people say that this is absolutely the worst part of this project, and once it’s over, they will be moving back off the trail to quieter activity.  Construction is expected to last until the end of 2014.
DWP and the City of Los Angeles are under a Federal mandate brought by the terrorism attacks on 9/11.  All potable water now must be completely covered to protect our drinking water sources.  A second huge tank will be constructed to store another lake over by Forest Lawn Cemetery in the future, but will be so far away as to not interfere with the trail use between the two tunnels.

Friday, August 16, 2013

P-22 Still Hangin' in Griffith Park

Our local mountain lion was recently caught in transit by one of the Griffith Park wildlife trail cams: 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Real solution needed for Hollywood Sign nightmare

Interesting meeting scheduled by Councilmember LaBonge on August 14th about access to viewing of the Hollywood Sign.

As the spectre of his departure from City Council grows ever near, LaBonge is frenetically pressuring Recreation and Parks, Public Works, and LADWP right now to complete a number of his boutique pet projects. One of those pet projects is to open up Griffith Park's interior roads again, ostensibly to relieve pressure on the long-suffering communities who are overwhelmed by Hollywood Sign tourist traffic.

Besides the fact that re-opening roads in the park interior is yet another damaging ingress into what remains of a fragile urban wilderness ecosystem, anyone who knows anything about traffic knows that the volume of car trips will simply expand to fill the void. It would be just a matter of weeks before this new viewing area would be highly impacted as well as the traditional viewing neighborhoods. And boy-oh-boy would it be expensive!

Another solution needs to be implemented. Something other than adding to the traffic hell in and around Griffith Park and destroying precious habitat. A solution that stops putting the transitory desires of tourists over the needs of the beings trying to live here. We'd love to hear your suggestions.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Parks management foresight saves two young lives.
It was a good day yesterday for two teenage boys in Griffith Park.

As teens all too often do, they were driving way too fast on hairpin turns at Mineral Wells and completely blew this ↑ corner and went off the road toward the picnic area, smashing into one of the posts. The car transferred all of the speed and energy it was carrying onto the first post - bending it, then it bounced off another post, flipping the car on its side and back onto the roadway.

Both boys walked away from the crash with minor injuries. The only remaining sign of the accident is a cockeyed post and a small scattering of sand to mop up some oil.

The scene of the accident doesn't look like much. A bend in the road road. Some posts, one post slightly out of step with the rest. These posts haven't been here long. Maybe 5 years, give or take. That's no time at all when talking about a park that has been a valuable place to recreate and relax for Angelenos for more than a century. clearly remember the discussion five years ago about installing the posts and gates around Mineral Wells and the Green Recycling facility. This was at the beginning of Villaraigosa's brutal "full-cost recovery" plan and the Department of Recreation and Parks was being aggressively stripped of funding by City Hall. Posts and gates like these are definitely pricy. They were an expensive project that could easily have been short-cutted or blown off completely given the financial situation.

It was actually the General Manager, Jon Mukri, who made the posts and gates happen. He came out to the site himself and walked the location, then made the decision to do the full project.

It's difficult to tell from my lame photography, but beyond the posts there is a pretty steep dropoff into the Mineral Wells picnic area. It's an area that is filled with parents and kids most weekends.

Any vehicle missing the hairpin curve and hitting that dropoff with speed would flip and roll, seriously destroying it. Anything in its path would likely be crushed.

These posts probably saved the lives of those two teenage boys along with the handful of parks users who were at the location yesterday afternoon. And anyone who criticized Mukri's decision to complete this project at the time should be grateful they were just plain-old wrong, and not dead-wrong.