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EDITORIAL UP TO CODE AUDIT RAISES QUESTIONS BUT OFFERS FEW ANSWERS ON SAFETY OF L.A. BUILDINGS.

ONCE again, Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick has done what she does best -- put out a devastating audit detailing the many failings of some part of city government. This time, her target is the Department of Building and Safety and its embattled general manager, Andrew Adelman.

The evidence Chick's auditors have accumulated -- countless examples of projects left uninspected and violations going unpunished -- appears damning But appearances can be deceiving.

Before anyone uses Chick's report to condemn Building and Safety or Adelman, it's worth asking two important questions that the audit doesn't address:

Are Angelenos actually any less safe because of the problems documented?

Is there any evidence of lives lost, injuries caused or opportunities destroyed because of the supposed horrors Chick has unearthed?

By raising these questions, we don't mean to downplay the importance of making sure that Building and Safety actually does the job it's supposed to do -- inspect buildings and enforce city codes designed to keep us safe.

If the failures Chick catalogs reveal real public dangers, and not just technical or bureaucratic shortcomings, then the issue demands immediate attention at the highest levels of city government.

But that's a big if.

Bear in mind that if the department were absolutely fastidious about dotting every ``i'' and crossing every ``t,'' it would still be easy for Chick's auditors to crank out a scathing report. They could have a field day blasting the bureaucracy for being too slow, too unyielding, and for making Los Angeles an impossible place to do business.

In fact, this used to be exactly the complaint many had with Building and Safety. That's why, during the height of the San Fernando Valley secession movement, Mayor James Hahn ordered the department to start placing a greater emphasis on customer service than on bureaucratic rigidity.

Since then, the department has been honored both locally and nationally for becoming more efficient and sensitive to the needs of the people it serves.

Now Chick worries that the department's ``priority is customer service over public safety, and that is just plain wrong.''

She may be right. But customer service and public safety shouldn't be an either/or proposition. Somewhere, there is a reasonable balance to be struck. Chick fairly questions whether the department has gone too far in the direction of customer service, but she hasn't provided clear evidence that the failure to enforce tough regulations has caused harm.

Making that determination, then, necessarily falls on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. It's now up to him to get to the bottom of what's wrong -- or right -- at the Department of Building and Safety.

And it's his responsibility alone to make sure that the city bureaucracy is serving, and not endangering, L.A.'s residents.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 12, 2006
Words:453
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