The Los Angeles City Council confirmed Pasadena Transportation Director Laura Rubio-Cornejo on Tuesday, Sept. 19, as the new general manager of the L.A. Department of Transportation.
Without discussion, the council voted 12-0 to appoint Rubio-Cornejo, who was nominated by Mayor Karen Bass on Aug. 29. Council members Heather Hutt, Curren Price and Katy Yaroslavsky were absent during the vote.
“I look forward to working with General Manager Rubio-Cornejo to continue to improve our transportation system here in Los Angeles while working to prepare our city for major upcoming events that will draw visitors from around the world,” Bass said in a statement after the council vote.
“She will be a champion for critical safety improvements and will help the department focus on real solutions for historically disadvantaged neighborhoods while delivering a high-level of customer service Angelenos.”
In response to her appointment, Rubio-Cornejo said she was honored and ready to work in “close collaboration with the community to deliver transportation services to Angelenos.”
Rubio-Cornejo will be taking over the position from Connie Llanos, who served as interim general manager of DOT the past 14 months. Rubio-Cornejo is set to begin on Sept. 25.
Bass said Llanos has provided “steady and thorough leadership for this department,” adding, “Her service to the people of this city has bettered Los Angeles for millions of Angelenos every day.”
The first Latina to serve in the role, Llanos made equity and inclusion top priorities by advancing active and public transportation projects, helping to improve streets after and creating the department’s first joint English and Spanish glossary of transportation terms for Angelenos, according to the mayor’s office.
The council’s five-member Transportation Committee convened earlier Tuesday morning in a special meeting to consider Rubio-Cornejo’s appointment.
The committee voted 4-0 in support of Rubio-Cornejo’s appointment, and held a lengthy discussion about how she plans to lead the department. Yaroslavsky, who sits on the committee, was absent during the vote.
“I ended up in transportation because I had a real interest in improving communities and working in disadvantaged communities, particularly communities of color,” Rubio-Cornejo told the committee.
Hutt, who chairs the committee, asked Rubio-Cornejo how she felt about the idea of “scaling up” because she is coming from Pasadena, a smaller city compared to L.A.
Rubio-Cornejo said she was responsible for overseeing the planning and environmental clearance of rail corridor projects throughout L.A. County when she worked for Metro. She said she learned to understand each community and work closely with local elected officials and community-based organizations to bring forward projects.
“My role is really to set that vision, provide the guidelines and support to allow my staff to carry out their work,” she said. “My role is to be there to help them achieve that work, whether it’s removing obstacles, making them aware of certain challenges they might not be privy to, but also to provide them the support and resources they need.”
Councilwoman Traci Park mentioned how DOT has a significant number of vacancies, particularly among traffic-enforcement officers.
“On the Westside, we see the consequences of that every day, especially in our parking challenged neighborhoods,” Park said, who represents the 11th District.
Rubio-Cornejo said addressing vacancies starts with understanding the obstacles to filling those positions. As general manager, she added, she would be responsible for meeting the transportation needs of the community while being responsive to the direction of the mayor and council.
“But it’s also to make sure that employees and staff have the resources and that they feel valued and feel protected,” Rubio-Cornejo said.
Park asked for her perspective on community engagement, as it relates to moving projects forward. Community engagement is essential for “acceptance of a project,” Rubio-Cornejo said.
She noted that having a community engagement program should be something every project has, even projects that have completed the planning process.
“We have to go back out and remind the community of the history of the project, why that project is needed and also what construction will look like because construction can be uncomfortable and inconvenient,” Rubio-Cornejo said.
Rubio-Cornejo emphasized a need to address safety for commuters and pedestrians, as well as transportation employees.
“Streets should be safe for an 8-year-old, it should be safe for an 80-year-old, and if I don’t feel comfortable sending my children out, then how can I expect everyone else to do the same?” Rubio-Cornejo said. “My vision is about improving safety and access.”