LOS ANGELES, Calif.–The City Council voted unanimously to approve Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s choice to lead the embattled city Department of Transportation.

Villaraigosa nominated Jaime de la Vega, one of his top deputies, to take over the department, which was the subject of scathing audits and embarrassing headlines throughout April and May.

De la Vega was Villaraigosa’s deputy mayor for transportation for six years, charged with directing surface transportation and aviation policy. He has worked for the city on transportation issues since 1993, including as a consultant to former Mayor Richard Riordan.

LADOT was the subject of audits that found the department failed to police a “Gold Card” desk for city officials to challenge parking ticket violations and poorly managed the collection of parking ticket fines from the worst offenders in the city. Additionally, two on-duty traffic officers were caught taking part in an adult movie and letting an actress in the film perform lewd acts in an LADOT car.

Villaraigosa ordered de la Vega to work with City Controller Wendy Greuel to do a top-to-bottom management review of the department, which is on hold, pending the selection of an auditing consultant. He said he could not give an estimated date for beginning the review.

The head of the parking and traffic enforcement bureau, Jimmy Price, resigned in early June, in part due to allegations of widespread misconduct among traffic officers. Villaraigosa assigned Los Angeles police Cmdr. Michael Williams to replace Price and review the parking enforcement division’s management policies.

De la Vega, who will be paid a salary of $195,917 per year, said he is in the process of evaluating the department’s policies. Asked if has made any changes since he was appointed as the interim general manager, he said he has put more supervisors into the field to better oversee traffic enforcement officers.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who heads the Transportation Committee, wanted a commitment from de la Vega that he is committed to improving alternative modes of transportation, saying that 40 percent of all transportation trips taken are only for two miles or less.

The department will place greater “emphasis on transit, cycling and pedestrian improvements,” de la Vega said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon our mission to optimize traffic flow on city streets. There will still be cars, but we do need to transition to alternative modes to give people choices that are fast, reliable and healthy.”

Councilman Mitchell Englander said he was pleased to have a general manager who lives in the San Fernando Valley, which he said were few and far between.

Englander said LADOT has a poor history of communicating with the public, citing the controversial Wilbur Road project that enraged Valley residents. LADOT swept in “overnight” to narrow the road from two lanes to one in order to add bike lanes, he said.

“I think the communication, the culture within DOT needs to be changed to communicate with neighborhood councils, with stakeholders, with community groups, service clubs,” Englander said, “I want to hear a commitment on that.”

De la Vega pledged to address the issue, saying he hoped to also improve communication with council staffs.

By Richie Duchon | City News Service