They do com­pute:

At L.A. ‘hackathon,’ civic-minded coders put data to good use.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Soumya Kar­la­mangla soumya.kar­la­mangla@la­times.com Twit­ter: @skar­la­mangla

Peek­ing over the tops of their lap­top screens, Ray Salazar and On­jefu Efada tossed around ideas about how to help An­ge­lenos bet­ter con­nect with their govern­ment.

“They don’t know who their rep­re­sen­ta­tives are,” which makes it dif­fi­cult for them to report prob­lems, such as pol­lu­tion or bad roads, said Efada, a soft­ware de­vel­oper.

As they talked over the click­ing of key­boards, the pair con­sid­ered build­ing a smart­phone app that would have users en­ter their ad­dress to quickly de­ter­mine which elected of­fi­cials — such as coun­cil mem­bers and state leg­is­la­tors — rep­re­sent them, and how to con­tact them. The app might in­clude a tem­plate email that users could fill out and send to their rep­re­sen­ta­tive, said Salazar, an in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity an­a­lyst.

Salazar and Efada were among hun­dreds of com­puter cod­ing ex­perts who delved into data on Los An­ge­les wa­ter us­age, trans­porta­tion, health and more as L.A.’s civic “hackathon” kicked off Satur­day at the De­part­ment of Wa­ter and Power head­quar­ters down­town. Most of the coders were hunched over lap­tops, with wa­ter bot­tles and cof­fee cups within reach.

The two-day event aims to use the skills of the city’s tech­nol­ogy sec­tor to im­prove res­i­dents’ qual­ify of life, said Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti, who sees the event as part of a push to make city govern­ment more trans­par­ent.

Since he took of­fice in 2013, Garcetti has pub­lished city in­for­ma­tion on­line on top­ics such as bi­cy­cle lanes and graf­fiti cleanup, and he hired the city’s first chief data of­fi­cer.

“Are you ready to solve some of L.A.’s big­gest chal­lenges?” Garcetti asked the crowd Satur­day morn­ing. He also asked au­di­ence mem­bers to shout out their ages, and iden­ti­fied the youngest par­tic­i­pant, 14, and the old­est, 84.

Satur­day also marked the third Na­tional Day of Civic Hack­ing, which is hosted in part by the White House and en­cour­ages peo­ple to cre­ate apps and ser­vices us­ing pub­lic data. This year, Los An­ge­les’ event was the largest regis­tered.

Projects will be judged Sun­day and a to­tal of $3,500 in cash prizes will be awarded to the win­ners, said An­thony Rollins, an or­ga­nizer with Hack for LA, which co­hosts the event with city of­fi­cials.

Stand­ing and gaz­ing at her ta­ble pa­pered with di­a­grams and lists, soft­ware en­gi­neer Machiko Ya­suda and her team were work­ing on fix­ing L.A.’s peren­nial prob­lem: com­mut­ing.

The team mem­bers were plan­ning how to build an app that would dis­play the best mode of trans­porta­tion to get some­where by com­bin­ing data on the lo­ca­tion of bike lanes and bike racks, the price of park­ing, neigh­bor­hood walk­a­bil­ity, and sub­way routes and fares.

She also wanted users to be able to in­put where they were ar­riv­ing from, so they could find out if there were an op­por­tu­nity to car­pool and split park­ing costs. The app could be used for events, par­ties, of­fices and schools, she said.

A few ta­bles over, Ruby Guillen was pre­par­ing to hun­ker down with her team.

Guillen, a Los An­ge­les County chil­dren’s so­cial worker, wants to cre­ate an anti-bul­ly­ing app so kids have a way to im­me­di­ately and anony­mously report bul­ly­ing at schools.

There cur­rently isn’t enough data on bul­ly­ing, she said. But if kids be­gin no­ti­fy­ing of­fi­cials through an app, that will gen­er­ate data — and there­fore a more com­plete pic­ture — on where and when bul­ly­ing oc­curs, which will help cre­ate a more sys­tem­atic so­lu­tion to the prob­lem, she said.

“If our app saves one kid, then, guess what, we did our job,” she said.

Pho­to­graphs by Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

PAR­TIC­I­PANTS IN L.A.’s civic “hackathon” share a light mo­ment while brain­storm­ing on the first day of the two-day event, which had hun­dreds of cod­ing ex­perts build­ing apps that could im­prove res­i­dents’ lives.

L.A.’S CHIEF data of­fi­cer, Abhi Ne­mani, left, and Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Are you ready to solve some of L.A.’s big­gest chal­lenges?” Garcetti asked the crowd.

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