City building inspectors were sharply criticized today by a Los Angeles city councilman who described them as unfriendly employees with terrible customer service.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander’s comments came as the Budget and Finance Committee reviewed the department’s $71.7 million budget for fiscal year 2012-13. Building and Safety is frequently criticized for delaying projects and providing developers with conflicting information. It is also the subject of a federal probe.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposed budget adds 44 positions to the department.
“Our levels of service have diminished because the economy has recovered and the staffing is still at the recession levels,” said Building and Safety General Manger Bud Ovrom.
Complaints about non-hazardous building violations were investigated within three days of the initial call just four years ago. Now, non-hazardous complaints have a turnaround time of 23 business days, the committee was told. The backlog of non-complaint cases has grown from 7,400 four years ago to more than 11,000 today.
The FBI is currently investigating allegations of bribery within the Department of Building and Safety. Ovrom reported that 13 employees have either resigned or been fired in the past year.
“You’re always going to have some bad apples,” Ovrom said.
In response, 400 Building and Safety employees were given new cell phones equipped with geo-tracking systems. Those systems, however, have yet to be activated. That news drew sharp criticism from Englander, who said he frequently receives complaints about building inspectors.
“When they’re out there, they are not friendly, they don’t give any answers, they don’t return phone calls, the customer service is horrific,” Englander said.
“There were rumors – unconfirmed rumors – but rumors that everybody was aware of about the issue of kick-backs and briberies, but it wasn’t really until it came out in the media that it seemed that something was being done,” he said.
Ovrom rejected that assessment, saying every media story was about a case Building and Safety had previously identified internally.