LA Times: The city of L.A. didn't have an accurate count of how much property it owned — until now

Posted on October 27, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

By Alice Walton and Ben Poston

The city of Los Angeles now knows how many parking lots, parks, orange groves — even how much of Palmdale — it owns. 

It’s the city’s most comprehensive listing in at least a decade. Officials hope the database is a first step toward identifying land that could be sold, leased or better utilized for things like condominiums, affordable housing complexes, parks, swimming pools or libraries.

In reviewing property information from General Services, Controller Ron Galperin said his office found it to be “incomplete, inadequate, outdated, and in some cases incorrect.”

“It’s a call to action for the city to really undertake an organized, strategic, professional, centralized approach to its real estate assets,” Galperin said. 

The city previously had an asset management system but it failed in 2005 and the company behind the software was unable to repair it. Since then, General Services has relied on various, and often outdated, Excel spreadsheets, city records show.

“It’s crazy for a city the size of Maywood, or for any city not to know what it has,” said Lowell Goodman, spokesman for the controller’s office. “That’s vital.”

The controller called on city leaders to appoint a chief asset manager from the private sector to oversee the portfolio and market the properties to potential buyers.

Officials at General Services said they have real estate agents on staff who came from the private sector and help with leasing and property acquisitions.

Keeping track of its real estate holdings has long been a problem for the city.

In 2003, then-Controller Laura Chick found General Services lacked an overarching vision or strategy for managing city properties. A follow-up audit in 2008 noted that a citywide database of real estate holdings did not exist. A 2014 study commissioned by city leaders recommended that L.A. acquire a new property tracking system. 

General Services officials said budget cuts following the recession made creating a property database difficult.

“There has been a recognition that the city needs to do better in this area,” said Valerie Melloff, assistant general manager at General Services.

The controller’s database shows all the parks, airports and government buildings most Angelenos would recognize as city property, but it also revealed some unusual holdings.

Beginning in 1969, the city purchased vacant desert lots in Palmdale to build an airport that never came to pass. There are 121 city parcels — 17,500 acres — listed in Palmdale, the database shows.

The controller’s office also found that the city owns the Franklin Canyon Orange Grove, which is surrounded by multimillion-dollar homes.

“I don’t know why the city is in the orange-growing business, but apparently we are,” said Juan Lopez, deputy for technology and innovation at controller’s office.

The controller’s new system comes at the same time General Services is working with the mayor’s Operations Innovation Team to create a similar, $2.5-million database called Assetworks.

The system — a preliminary version of which shows that the city owns 9,900 parcels in the state — will include more detailed information that developers may need, including zoning, parking, energy usage and in some cases estimated property value, according to a report from General Services.

A preliminary version of Assetworks is expected to be publicly available in about a month. 

"The mayor’s office has been consulting with industry leaders on strategies to best utilize the city’s real estate portfolio, and will issue a proposal this fiscal year. We appreciate the controller's current interest in this matter,” said Connie Llanos, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office. 

To build the new database — called PropertyPanel.LA — staff from the controller’s office cross-referenced records from General Services with L.A. county assessor data. An interactive map posted on the controller’s website enables users to search for properties and save results. The database cost $20,000 to build, Galperin said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council are working on a plan to turn a dozen city-owned sites into housing that would benefit the homeless.

So far, those locations include parking lots in Lincoln Heights, a former animal shelter on the Westside and unused fire stations in Westchester and San Pedro. The new database could help identify additional sites for housing, the controller said. 

 

Click here to read this article on the LA Times website. 


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