A persistent issue in the lead-up to the Venice Beach BID has been the question of the City parcels included in the proposed boundaries. Since City parcels are always voted in favor of BID formation (although why this is is an open question), BID proponents are eager to gerrymander in as many as possible. This is a well-known tactic in the BID consultant playbook. Yesterday, however, after the Council’s shameful and probably illegal approval of the Venice Beach BID, CD11 Councilmember Mike Bonin was quoted in Yo! Venice claiming not only that there was no gerrymandering, but that there could not have been gerrymandering:
The Venice BID boundaries were determined based on the same rules as every other BID, which excludes any residentially-zoned land (but includes commercially-zoned, industrially-zoned and government/public facilities-zoned parcels). The BID proponents decided to include all of the property that is eligible for assessment west of Abbot Kinney (which already has a Merchant’s Association that functions similarly to a BID). This is consistent with state and local law.
This statement is disingenuous at best. Sure, an engineer’s report is required, and there has to be a justification of why the boundaries are set where they’re set, but the “rules” that Bonin seems to be claiming ensure fairness only say which properties can’t be included. They don’t say anything about where the boundaries have to go. So the decision to include a strip of Venice Blvd, notably bereft of businesses of any kind, into the BID is allowed under state law and can be justified easily enough in the report since it’s not residential, but it’s hard to see any purpose for this other than to increase the City presence in the BID, which is certainly gerrymandering. 1 Finally, note that Bonin seems to be intentionally conflating the idea that the boundaries were “determined” by state law with the idea that they’re “consistent with state” law. If boundaries are determined there’s no choice. There are many choices among things that are consistent with the law.
Bonin’s denial that the City had any choice in these matters is standard procedure. His staff has been denying it all along. However, I recently obtained copies of some cryptic emails between Bonin staffers Debbie Dyner Harris and Laura McLennan which seem to show that Dyner Harris had the power to include or exclude City parcels and also had more control over the assessments to be levied on those parcels than is consistent with CD11’s categorical denials. All of these were sent by Debbie Dyner Harris to Laura McLennan. They’re dated August 22, 2016:2
This is a good bit less than I’d told you before. Before, City and state added up to $629,030.17.
Here it seems like Dyner Harris has fiddled with some parameters to lower the assessments on the City parcels. If the process were as rule-based and as independent of CD11 as Bonin makes it out to be, how is it possible for her to do this? The tin-foil-hat reading of this is that Dyner Harris was adjusting the values so that the City would have to pay as little as possible while still being able to clinch the pro-BID vote. This would be consistent with the fact that the initial balloting came in at just over 50%.
This is as low as we can get City without removing parcels from the BID.
But Mike Bonin said above that there was no choice in the inclusion or exclusion of parcels. He claimed that this was determined by state law. He’s wrong, of course, but the fact that Dyner Harris is discussing the removal of parcels suggests that his staff not only knows that what he said is wrong, but that they’re actively involved in deciding which parcels are included. This suggests that their repeated assertions that they weren’t involved in the BID formation process were disingenuous at best.
Or reworking the entire budget, which would lower assessments on all private parcels.
This suggests that not only were CD11 staff involved in creating the BID proposal, at least to the extent of deciding which City parcels would be included and which excluded, but that they were doing so with the goal of minimizing City assessments without changing the assessments to be paid by private property owners.
All of this is a long, long way from Bonin’s public assertion yesterday that there was no choice involved in the inclusion of City parcels. It appears that not only was his staff intimately involved in deciding which City parcels would be included, but that they also somehow had a say in the amount that those parcels would be assessed. The evidence is not dispositive, but it’s highly suggestive. I am working to obtain more detailed information on these matters, so stay tuned!
- Also, the rationale for inclusion given in the engineer’s report is entirely circular:
The southern boundary generally coincides with the centerline of South Venice Beach Boulevard and is determined by zoning and land uses where properties located to the south of the southern District boundary are zoned solely residential with residential land uses while those north of the southern boundary are primarily government owned parcels zoned with some commercial parcels. The government owned parcels include a Los Angeles Public Library parcel, which is included in the proposed District because, in addition to the Library, it also contains a large open space area (pocket park and pedestrian/jogging/biking/skateboarding path) along Venice Boulevard, which is one of the primary gateways to Ocean Front Walk and Venice Beach.
In other words, the middle of Venice Boulevard is included because it’s government owned.
- Although it’s not completely clear that that’s when they were sent, for various reasons. I’m working on clearing this up and also on getting some context for them.