The $25,000 Question

How much does it cost to design a website for one city council district in Los Angeles? According to the Larchmont Chronicle: $25,000.

Tom LaBonge stands for a lot of great things when it comes to L.A., and it appears his office wanted to have a site that was more user-friendly with flashy interactive maps. Maps that show people in District 4 where they already live. Surely, these poor citizens would be lost without their handy map of Griffith Park from TomLaBonge.com.

Created with $25,000 from city street funds, the site was launched Nov. 30. It provides easy access to LaBonge’s staff, city departments and provides up-to-date news and information about community projects. News is updated regularly, sometimes hourly…

Maps. News. Info. $25,000.

It’s a strange expense, when you consider that District 4 is part of Los Angeles, which has a website of its own. Each district has its own page at lacity.org. But, clicking on LaBonge is more expensive than clicking on Greuel or Garcetti.

$25,000 more expensive.

Don’t get me wrong… the site looks great. It’s easy to navigate, and there’s a lot of information about Tom’s district. But shouldn’t this be part of a re-design of the city’s entire website, with standardization of ALL of its districts? Should it really cost $25,000 just for District 4? It seems a little egotistic for the official website of a Los Angeles city council district to have a personalized domain name of an official who was ELECTED to that position. It is District 4, not District Tom.

At the very least, LAist should now have an easier time sending them an email.

18 Replies to “The $25,000 Question”

  1. Once again our tax $$ hard at work. Anyone think he’d waste, I mean spend 25k out of his own pocket?

  2. I recently emailed Tom LaBonge regarding the stupid calendar his office mails to residents every year. For the past three years there have been really obvious errors on it. One year, they had the incorrect number of days in a month (duh?). And for the past two years, they have had the incorrect dates for some of the Jewish holidays.

    Not surprisingly, no one ever responded to my email.

  3. Let it be known that a handful of people have, on their own, offered to help LaBonge and other city council members with their sites FOR FREE but have never received so much as a response.

    I wonder what, if anything, the $25k includes in addition to design. Hosting for a couple years? Maintainence? Massages?

    As for the calendar, I appreciate it, but hope it isn’t being made with city funds.

  4. I don’t want to dismiss your concerns, but hand-wringing over $25000 is ridiculous when you consider the budget of city government. Honestly, in the budget a project like this looks like a freebie.

    The “free” services Markland offered would probably end up costing the city more in terms of oversight and supervision.

  5. Sure, 25k here, 25k there, no worries. Hell, if 25k is no biggie I’ll just not pay my tax bill this year!

    Thanks RDM!

  6. RDM –

    Yes, in the grand scheme of things, 25k is not a lot when it comes to government. But when it comes to web design, that is completely ridiculous. Does the city not have its own webmaster(s) on the payroll? Shouldn’t this have been part of his/her/their deal in terms of regular salary?

    These are the things we as citizens need to call our ELECTED officials out on.

    Supposedly, we are facing some kind of “fiscal crisis.”

  7. I can tell you from knowing individuals on the interactive staff of the city of Los Angeles that they don’t have anywhere near the appropriate in-house resources to develop and maintain a site like this as part of their regular duties.

    And no offense to anybody, but $25,000 for a robust web presence is nowhere near “completely ridiculous.” I’m not saying it was a great deal or that LaBonge’s site is worth that much, but making hyperbolic proclamations about it either way without knowing ANY of the details of the agreement is just plain ignorant rabble rousing.

    Likewise, I’m not familiar with the details of people offering to help with sites for any of the council districts for free, but just because it was offered doesn’t make it viable or even a good idea. There are a lot more considerations that go into making an appropriate decision about developing your interactive presence than just the cost, especially for a governmental org.

    If you want to be up in arms about it, be up in arms that it’s been branded as Tom LaBonge’s web presence rather than CD4. That’s going to necessitate expenditure on a redesign once he’s out of office.

  8. $25,000 for a robust web presence is nowhere near “completely ridiculous.”

    I stand by my assertion that 25k is a helluva lot a for a website that serves one district of Los Angeles. Ignorance is letting the matter go and saying “Oh, well…”

    So, I put it to you, readers. If you’re in web design for a living, how much would it cost to put up a site like tomlabonge.com?

  9. Maybe this wasn’t clear, but I am in web design for a living, and the fact that you’re asking the question that you’re asking is making my point for me. It’s not even 10% as simple as “how much would it cost to put up a site like tomlabonge.com?” It depends on the timeframe, the state of their existing assets, whether or not the developer is providing hosting, how you’re addressing content management, etc., etc., etc. ad naseum.

    I’ll throw you a bone and say that if we’re talking about just the development for TomLaBonge.com, then $25,000 sounds like a bit much. But just hearing that it was “Created with $25,000 from city street funds” doesn’t give anybody nearly enough information to know what all they were paying for.

  10. 5000! makes some valid points. Since LaBonge is an elected official, the bidding process may be different than a city agency.

    But $25,000 still feels like a bit much for what is up there.

    The main function almost all of the city sites could use would be a blog, which besides hosting, should cost $0. Look at the LAFD blog, not to mention their use of Google groups, Twitter, etc. Didn’t cost a cent, and it may be the most robust site by a city agency out there.

  11. A simple blog site is more than what most of these guys need anyway. One could have developed the entire CD4 site using WordPress, Blogger, etc. for free.

    I still don’t understand why there isn’t a more seamless integration between the CD sites and the city itself. Why do Greuel’s and LaBonge’s sites have a completely different interface from lacity.org?

    This does not make Los Angeles a very user-friendly online environment. Not to mention the fact that it shows a complete disregard to the basic principles of branding.

    As far as the $25,000 is concerned, I will vomit the next time I hear one of our council members say the city doesn’t have the funding for additional beds in shelters.

  12. I’m all for calling out city officials on their needless expenditures, but this just doesn’t seem like one of them. City council members should have good, comprehensive, navigable, and informative websites. If you have a problem with the content or design LaBonge’s website, fine. If you think council members don’t deserve websites at all, fine too. But all you’re decrying is the cost.

    $25,000 might seem like a lot of money, but try shopping for a web designer to do the same task – $25,000 is a fair market price. If you simply think that LaBonge shouldn’t have a site because web sites are a waste of taxpayer dollars, make that argument. But if he didn’t have a website, or if his site was useless, he’d be accused of trying to baffle his constituents. (Then again, maybe just listening to Tom LaBonge baffles his constituents, but that’s for another comment.)

    You do make a good point in saying that the whole city’s website needs a redesign: It’s a disaster. It’s a maze and a lot of information that could exist (or could exist more clearly) doesn’t. It’s bad for us as constituents that information is so difficult to find there. But your post also tacitly shows why the city doesn’t have a better, more navigable, more informative website: Think of all the “City wastes $2 million on website” blog posts!

  13. Just to clear up.. I’m not questioning LaBonge’s office redesigning the site. I’m questioning spending $25,000 to redesign JUST HIS SITE.

    5000! had a great point. What happens when Tom LaBonge is no longer running CD4? Do taxpayers have to shell out another $25,000 so some other politician can have his likeness in various poses on the site’s header? Shouldn’t there be some permanence and consistency for the official online presence of Los Angeles?

    We are talking about elected officials, with term limits, who are paid by your tax dollars.

  14. If you budget for all the PR and administrative staff that feed content to the web master, then the total cost for the will be far more than $25,000. It would also be interesting to quantify traffic to his site – and compare it the other districts.

    While we’re at, why not cost out the price of his distributing pumpkin bread from the nunnery to various constituents?

  15. “If you budget for all the PR and administrative staff that feed content to the web master, then the total cost for the will be far more than $25,000.”

    Then they’re seriously doing something wrong.

    I’ve browsed the site a bit, and don’t see what warrants the cost. It looks pretty much like a templated web site, or, at the very least, a site that could have been made using a template. The most expensive part would likely be the custom map, which is kinda fun and fancy, but, again, could have easily been made in ten minutes using Google Maps.

    LaBonge already has PR people who write press releases, who should be able to create new content and post it online. This could be done FREE using WordPress.

    I think the site looks great, but as someone who is a constituent and actually a fan of LaBonge, I think that $25,000 is a bit much for the new web presence.

    I’m also bitter cause I’ve never tasted the pumpkin bread, so maybe I’m biased.

  16. A general comment, not about the labonge site:

    I used to work for a city government, and sometimes I thought that a lot of measures designed to “protect taxpayer money” ended up in a lot of waste and shoddy work. Contracts often went to the lowest bidder, even if minimum qualifications weren’t met.

    I hate kickback and graft as much as the next guy, but in all honesty it is often just the cost of doing business.

    Still, it makes me spit fire to think of the zillion dollar no-bid contracts handed out by Bush and friends.

  17. Dear b/la friends,

    I find this thread of *immeasurable* value, if not for the specifics of the site mentioned, then certainly for the greater issue of government on-line presence.

    As an agency evangelist in charge of a Fire Department’s on-line offerings by default, I struggle with no budget, team, tools or training. I am certain I am not alone among municipalities from sea to shining sea.

    That much said, I would really love to coalesce each of your minds over coffee (you can have Bailey’s in yours!) someday in 2008, as our agency is certain to be faced with difficult decisions on what to do with less (than zero?) in the months to come.

    Thanks for being the inspiration for so much of what we offer… and because someone asked, the LAFD.ORG domain is mirrored within the City family of sites at http://www.ci.la.ca.us/lafd

    …and to prove that things are at times beyond zany in government – and that we can (must!) laugh at ourselves…

    I had to fight tooth-and-nail for the LAFD.ORG (and LAFD.COM) mirror sites, as the ‘powers that were’ once insisted that people would certainly prefer to type:

    http://www.ci.la.ca.us/lafd

    …the again, Councilmember LaBonge’s site can also be reached from it’s City permalink at:

    http://lacity.org/council/cd4

    ..or as the techies once preferred as the sole entry point:

    http://www.ci.la.ca.us/council/cd4

    In closing, I hope that those with an interest will seek to offer meaningful feedback to any government website they frequent. Without the ability or funds to hire consultants or focus groups, many of us soldier on without realizing a need to enhance or reconfigure our legacy content.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

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