Los Angeles

How and why Los Angeles deployed open source and agile

Last week at DrupalCon, representatives from the city of Los Angeles, CivicActions and Acquia shared their development and project management process to begin migrating and consolidating websites across 40 agencies to a single instance using Acquia Cloud Site Factory.

The teams shared how they moved to the open source content management system Drupal, created a responsive web design theme, developed key features and integrated other services such as video and data.

The first sites included in the consolidation plan are lacity.org and lacityview.org.

The presentation also includes a retrospective on goals achieved, areas of improvement and lessons learned. The city’s LA team adopted agile development practices and, based on the success of the project, has been asked to train other agencies.

Project management and development tools used include SMACSS, Slack, Basecamp, GitHub, Google Hangouts and Jira.


What if mayors ruled the world?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (Photo: Eric Garcetti)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (Photo: Eric Garcetti)

Freakonomics Radio has a great episode on the dynamics of mayors and their ability (compared to governors and presidents) to directly and immediately impact the lives of citizens, primarily because they deal with tactical issues with relatively less political obstacles.

The segment, “If Mayors Ruled the World,” features mayors Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles), Toni Harp (New Haven), Richard Berry (Albuquerque) and Marty Walsh (Boston), and riffs off a new book by the same name, “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities” by Benjamin Barber.

One interesting anecdote is that a significant number of mayors start out as legislators, and very few (only three) have gone on to become presidents, the theory being that the mindset for a successful national political campaign takes bigger-picture vision, whereas being the executive of a city is entails mostly operations, tactical thinking and execution.

Related excerpt:

DUBNER: You’d think that the traits make someone successful as a mayor would be incredibly valuable, however, at a state or federal level. Being an executive getting things done, understanding that you are going to tick off certain constituencies in order to serve the greater good. And yet, it seems like when we look at this moment in time at least in the U.S. at state and federal governance we see on one hand people who love to shout at their enemies across the aisle, but it’s not like they are shouting in service of great accomplishment, are they? It seems like if you had to measure what’s getting done on a daily basis I’d think that most mayors are getting a whole lot more done than most governors and federal officials, yeah?

SMITH: Yeah, but this is probably another reason why mayors, particularly in New York City, haven’t gone on to higher office historically, is that the conditions that allow them to be autocratic here don’t exist at the national level. It is very much more at the national level about building some, you hope, sense of compromise. You know you’ve got to work with the Senate and the House in a way that doesn’t exist at the local level. And so to Obama’s frustration, obviously, he’d like to operate more like a mayor, more sort of unilaterally. And so maybe that’s the quality that does not transfer very well.


Instead of butting heads, citizens and government can start mixing minds


MindMixer is working with the San Francisco, Los Angeles and other local communities to help crowdsource ideas for civic improvement. CEO and Co-Founder Nick Bowden discusses his venture and the value of government-citizen collaboration.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

A simple web and mobile platform that generates a broader audience and creates effective and measurable citizen participation.

What problem does MindMixer solve for government?

Cities struggle to engage a cross section of the community on a variety of topics at a reasonable cost. MindMixer solves that problem by providing a robust engagement platform that allows citizens to participate on topics where they have an interest.

What’s the story behind starting MindMixer?

MindMixer launched in March of 2011 as an answer to the long-standing problem of decreasing citizen involvement in local decision-making. Nick Bowden and Nathan Preheim founded the company as former urban planners frustrated with consistently low turnout at public meetings.

What are its key features?

MindMixer believes strongly that idea submission is only one aspect of the participation process. In addition to basic crowdsourcing functionality, MindMixer also offers prioritization tools, interactive budgeting tools, map-based inputs, and online surveys. Additionally, MindMixer employs a unique community-based reward system. Participants earn points for quality participation and can in turn “cash” those points in for civic rewards.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

MindMixer offers a range of affordable pricing options from $3,000 – $25,000 for a 12 month period. Pricing is largely dependent on the size of the municipality.

How can those interested connect with you?

LA beta tests first website redesign in 14 years that looks just like the one done 14 years ago


Government Technology reports that Los Angeles is beta testing a new website, the first major redesign in 14 years, but a cursory review of the homepage leaves me wondering why the city spent $100,000 on a usability expert to get essentially the same site it’s had since 1998.

Nearly every element of the current site is retained on the new one in either the same location or slightly re-arranged. Arguably, elements of the current version are much more helpful, such as direct links to connect with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

One noted “major change” is a dynamic sidebar, updated every seven days, that generates information based on the city’s call center activity. According to GT, LA’s web services manager says, “If for example, there are high winds and then are a lot of calls about trees that are down, we might see that as one of the top requested services.”

In a real-time world, seven days is too late. The winds have come and gone and so should this redesign.

Overview of similarities to the current website and beta version:

  • Same 3-column layout
  • Same logo location
  • Same search location
  • Same navigation design treatment (and close to same taxonomy)
  • Same “highlights” box and location
  • Same mayor box (moved from left to right sidebar)
  • Same council box (moved from left to right sidebar)
  • Same neighborhood resources box and location
  • Same 311 box and vertical location (and font!)
  • Same quick links dropdown boxes
  • Same adopt a pet box and location

And that’s just the homepage.

LA needs to start from scratch, follow New York City’s approach to engaging the city’s designer and developer communities and deliver a website made for citizens living in 2012. Taxpayers deserve better.

Click images to expand visual comparison with noted similarities:


Simplified alternative perspective:


Gov 2.0 goes Hollywood

(Disclaimer: I’m on the Planning Committee for this event.)

Gov 2.0 LA, an ‘un-conference’ on social media and government, will be held Feb. 5-7. Registration is free to all attendees.

Sponsors include Microsoft, You2Gov, Rock Creek Strategic Marketing, Internet E-Business, O’Reilly Media, SeeClickFix and BLANKSPACES.


  • When: February 5–7, 2010
  • Where: 5405 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
  • Register (Free)
  • Sponsor info

Session themes:

  • Language & Gov 2.0
  • Women in Technology
  • Road Blocks & Barrier Breakers
  • State & Local
  • The Policy Pickle
  • Community Care
  • Gov2Gov
  • Happy Campers

For more information, follow @Gov20LA_ on Twitter.