A review of Los Angeles’ emergency preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that Mayor Eric Garcetti and his team excluded city departments when making decisions, resulting in an “uncoordinated and inefficient” operation.
The draft report, which was reviewed by The Times, praises the city’s emergency services, who worked outside a facility in the center while much of the city remained closed.
And Garcetti “acted quickly and decisively on many fronts, often with innovative initiatives to help protect the city and its people,” the report found.
But the lack of transparency from Garcetti’s office helped boost two simultaneous and parallel emergency operations – one led by the mayor and one led by the head of the city’s Emergency Management Department, or EMD, the report found.
The 216-page draft report from CPARS Consulting provides an insider’s view of the mayor’s office during the health crisis.
Researchers reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed more than 150 staff and representatives of partner organizations, according to the draft report.
EMD spokeswoman Jessica Kellogg said the report, first reviewed by city staff last fall, was a “leaked early draft” and that an updated version will be ready by mid-year. She also said it contains errors and misrepresentations, but declined to mention the errors.
“While some comments may reflect personal opinions of a few of those interviewed, they do not reflect an accurate statement and understanding of the reality of emergency preparedness while we were in the midst of a complex global crisis,” Kellogg said.
Asked about the report, Jeff Gorell, a former deputy mayor under Garcetti, said the mayor’s “swift, decisive action at the beginning of the pandemic saved lives.” He also pointed to the city’s test and vaccination programs, adding that “we did not hesitate to cut through the bureaucracy.”
“As we reflect on the experiences we have learned, I think we should all look back with humility and pride on the way the EMD and all of our departments have come together to lead LA through this crisis,” Gorell said.
Nick Lowe, President and CEO of CPARS Consulting, said the report is undergoing an audit process that includes the collection of more data. His company “stands by the integrity of each iteration of the report at the time they were prepared,” he said.
The draft report covered the start of the pandemic until April 2021 and focused only on the city’s emergency management system, which includes “the structures in place to support and enable field operations, programs and service.”
While the EMD was tasked with leading the pandemic response, Garcetti also took a leading role, which was within his rights but not anticipated by the EMD.
“When the mayor and his office took on that role for the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergency operation was not surprisingly uncoordinated and ineffective,” the report found.
“One could not have expected the staff of the mayor’s office to understand how to integrate into the city’s emergency preparedness, as they had never been exposed to that role; “Especially when those who are experienced in the city’s emergency operations did not anticipate that possibility before the pandemic or reacted properly to it when it unfolded,” the report found.
Senior officials from the city’s emergency team and the mayor’s office told investigators that while the pandemic continued, “they never had a formal discussion about who was in charge and what it meant to be the lead agency.”
The mayor’s office also took the lead in disseminating public information instead of relying on the group, which included representatives from the police and fire department.
Garcetti regularly held nightly TV briefings about the pandemic, where he often announced a new policy or program. But some city departments were left in the dark about the announcements, which made it difficult for e.g. 311 operators to forward information to callers about tenants’ emergency assistance or outdoor dining programs.
More bureaucracy and confusion was added when Garcetti’s office hired Boston Consulting Groupan external consultant, to help guide the city’s response, the report found.
In general, there was “low morale, a perceived lack of trust (by the mayor in them), rumors and misinformation” at the city’s emergency response organization, the report says. Garcetti also did not thank staff at the EMD or visit the emergency operations center with sufficient frequency, researchers found.
In contrast, Police Chief Michel Moore gave inspirational speeches on the floor of the emergency operations center, which boosted morale, according to the report.
Staff from the mayor’s office told the researchers that they “saw the EMD as bound by process and bureaucracy, slow to respond and lacking creative solutions.” Staff at the EMD, for example, were slow to disseminate notes from a meeting, mayoral staff said.
Garcetti named his chief innovation officer as a key public health adviser, according to the report. The mayor’s office staff told researchers they thought of the mayor’s office as “the de facto health department for the city of Los Angeles.”
While the mayor’s office staff felt that by “being determined and quick they reduced the burden” on other agencies, some emergency personnel interpreted it as a desire to take the credit, and “the lack of transparency exposed the mayor’s office to some criticism and speculation..”
The report was budgeted at $ 156,000 and the contract is now being amended, Kellogg said.