New ‘My LA 311’ app promises city service made easy — does it deliver?

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L.A.'s new My L.A. 311 app. It allows you to report problems like graffiti and abandoned furniture, find municipal services like libraries, pay your Department of Water and Power bill, and catch up on news alerts released.
L.A.’s new My L.A. 311 app. It allows you to report problems like graffiti and abandoned furniture, find municipal services like libraries, pay your Department of Water and Power bill, and catch up on news alerts released. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)

Have you ever grumbled about a couch dumped on the sidewalk, made a mental note to call the city and then forgot by the time you got home?

The new “My LA 311” mobile application just might help. The city of Los Angeles launched the app last month, and it’s supposed to let residents report graffiti, abandoned furniture, potholes, broken street lights and fallen trees with their iPhone and Androids. Snap a photo or type the address and details (pull your car over first!), then hit send.

You can also find local parks, libraries, police stations, and Neighborhood Councils on the app.

So, how well does it work? KCRW Producer Saul Gonzalez took it for a test drive.

Saul used it to report report graffiti near MacArthur park. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)

He reported a couch dumped on the sidewalk last week and it was gone by today. He took a photo of graffiti near MacArthur Park and got an automated response saying his report was received.  He sent off a photo of a cracked sidewalk last week and – no surprise – it’s still there. The city of L.A. has a $1.5 billion backlog on sidewalk repairs, so don’t expect a fast response on that one.

And that’s going to be the crucial test of L.A.’s attempt to provide customer service by app.

“Just because you have an app created for a specific function, if the city can’t afford to do that thing, whatever that thing is – paint over graffiti, filling the potholes – then what good is it?” Saul asked. “That’s an important issue that’s going to have to be addressed in a city like Los Angeles where resources are stretched thin. If you have lots more people out there reporting lots more things, and if the city can’t respond, that could create its own problem.”

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Saul says it’s easy to report a problem, but will the problem actually be fixed?

You can hear the full conversation with Saul and hear from municipal app developers on tonight’s Which Way, L.A.?