This morning, CD13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell introduced a resolution seeking to impose restrictions on parking oversized vehicles in a semi-industrialized sliver of the Hollywood Media District BID located roughly between Cole Avenue and Vine Street west to east and Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue north to south. There is a never-ending flow of these seemingly innocuous items in the agendas of our esteemed Council, but I just happen to know an awful lot about the backstory to this one, which is anything but innocuous, actually, and is the subject of today’s post.
The Media District BID is particularly attractive to people living in RVs because it’s industrialized, so no night-time neighbors to annoy, and it’s close to the center of Hollywood. Especially on Lillian Way and its cross streets, Romaine, Willoughby, and Waring, there has been a thriving but quiet community of RV-dwellers for years on end. But the Media District BID hates it. They just can’t deal with it. For instance, see this email chain from March 2015 where Hollywood cop Julie Nony discusses how to get rid of them with erstwhile Media District BID director Steven Whiddon and a bunch of overprivileged proprietors who don’t understand the concept of public space. But, probably not surprisingly, Steven Whiddon was unable to orchestrate any lasting action.
So enter Lisa Schechter, employed by erstwhile CD4 rep Tom LaBonge until June 30, 2015. Sometime between then and October 2015 she was hired by the Media District to replace the departed but unlamented Whiddon. Very soon after that, in fact on November 5, 2015, Schechter and current Media District Board President Laurie Goldman met with O’Farrell’s Hollywood Field Deputy, Daniel Halden. Dan was kind enough to supply me with a copy of his notes from that meeting, wherein (on the second page) one can read the portentous words: “Oversized vehicles Resolution — MAP.” There’s no question that this meeting between Halden, Goldman, and Schechter, is the genesis of the resolution introduced this morning by Mitch O’Farrell.
And this would be nothing more than yet another story of the access of the propertied classes to City Council and the appallingly disproportionate influence they wield when it comes to getting their whims enacted into law at the expense of ordinary human beings. It would be nothing more than a story about how Mitch O’Farrell, despite the fact that he claims that he “has built a solid reputation of improving the quality of life for constituents in the 13th Council District,” doesn’t seem to understand that homeless people are his constituents as well as zillionaires. It would be nothing more than that if it weren’t for the interesting fact that Lisa Schechter’s pushing this resolution was very likely a criminal violation of the Los Angeles Municipal Code.
Of course, this takes some explanation, and the details are intricate, but the story will repay your attention if you’re interested in the dialectical interplay between the shadowy techniques used by the power elite of this City to get City Hall to do their will and the ethics laws that try to reign in their unholy power. This instance has to do with LAMC 49.5.13.C, which is popularly known as the “Revolving Door Ordinance”:
C. The following time-based restrictions on lobbying activities apply to former City officials.
1. For one year after leaving City service, a City official shall not receive compensation to attempt to influence, either personally or through an agent, City action on any matter pending before any agency on behalf of a person other than an agency if, during the 24 months preceding the official’s departure from City service, the official held any of the following positions: elected City officer; Board of Public Works Commissioner; General Manager; Chief Administrative Officer; Mayor’s Chief of Staff; Deputy Mayor; Mayoral Aide VII; Mayoral Aide VIII; Executive Assistant City Attorney; Chief Assistant City Attorney; Senior Assistant City Attorney; City Attorney Exempt Employee; Chief Deputy Controller; Administrative Deputy Controller; Principal Deputy Controller; Council Aide VI; or Council Aide VII.
2. For one year after leaving City service, all other former City officials shall not receive compensation to attempt to influence, either personally or through an agent, City action on any matter pending before an agency in which the City official served during the 24 months preceding the official’s departure from City service on behalf of a person other than an agency. Serving an agency means being directly employed by or being assigned or on loan to that agency.
If that makes your head spin, you’re not alone. It’s not easy to read laws. The City Ethics Commission has a nice simplified explanation of it if you’re interested. Essentially what it says is that City employees above a certain rank are forbidden from being paid by someone for lobbying any City agency about any pending matter.1 Lisa Schechter was Tom LaBonge’s deputy chief of staff at the rank of Council Aide VII,2 which makes her subject to the law.3 And this law isn’t a joke. According to section 49.5.16 a knowing violation is a misdemeanor. It’s possible that this matter is already under investigation, and you’ll be able to read more about it here as I learn more.
That’s one aspect of the story of this resolution. If you have any patience left, it turns out there’s even more to say about it. First of all, take a look at the actual text:
…the City Council…hereby prohibits the parking of vehicles that are in excess of 22 feet in length or over 7 feet in height, during the hours of 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. on the following road segments:
- Lillian Way between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue
- Cole Avenue between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue
- Cahuenga Boulevard between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue
- Eleanor Avenue between Cahuenga Boulevard and Vine Street
- Romaine Street between Cole Avenue and Vine Street
- Willoughby Avenue between Cole Avenue and Vine Street
- Waring Avenue between Cole Avenue and Vine Street
This is by no means the entire Media District BID (see the map for reference). It’s about one third of it on the eastern side. But it’s most of the part of the Media District BID that lies in CD13, with the balance being in CD4 except for a tiny sliver in CD5. Obviously the BID wants to ban RV parking everywhere in its district. It’s a testimony to the power of the unspoken agreement that our Councilmembers have with one another never to oppose any matter that affects things wholly within a district and never to interfere in other districts that O’Farrell found it necessary to write these otherwise incomprehensible boundaries into this resolution. After all, if it’s somehow good for the City to restrict RV parking in the Media District, why doesn’t O’Farrell just include parts of CD4 and CD5 in there? Aren’t Councilmembers supposed to do things that are good for everyone in the City? The reason is, of course, because he can’t do it without violating the secret pact.
It’s also significant that Mike Bonin of CD11 seconded the resolution rather than David Ryu of CD4. Most of the Media District BID is in CD4, not in CD13. First of all, Bonin has had his own problems with RV restrictions and probably is looking here to build a tangible reputation for supporting them. He gets a lot of pushback from his Venice constituents who see these measures for the covert criminalization of homelessness that they are, which, in turn, causes a lot of grief among his Venice constituents who want to ban RVs and, indeed, homeless people altogether, but haven’t been able to find the political will to overcome the formidable obstacles in their path. Next time they corner him or his aides at a VNC meeting or something, he’ll be able to say he supported it in Hollywood for God’s sake!
Second, it’s not like the Media District Didn’t lobby Ryu on this. Take a look at this email chain from the same time period between Schechter and various CD4 staffers about the very same issue. It suggests the possibility that Ryu isn’t as invested in pleasing these BIDdies as O’Farrell is. Or maybe he’s sitting it out because his staff has made him aware that Schechter’s up to something sneaky. There seems to be no way to know about that speculation for certain, but check out this evocative email from CD4 Hollywood Field Deputy Nikki Ezhari to staffer Catherine Landers.
Oh, and one last thing. The main piece of commercial property in the area covered by the resolution is Red Studios. If you live in the area you will have seen star trailers and other working trucks parked for days on end on Lillian between Willoughby and Waring and on Waring between Lillian and Cahuenga. Red Studios is surely one of the prime movers behind this resolution, so what are they going to do with their trailers? Well, that’s taken care of:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that upon adoption of this Resolution, that the Department of Transportation be directed to initiate the necessary procedures for the preparation and sale of overnight parking permits, as specified in Los Angeles Municipal Code section 80.69.4(c).
The permits cost $10 per day and are good for no more than 3 consecutive days. Thus they cost just enough to make them prohibitive to people who are living in an RV because they can’t afford a home. They’re cheap enough so that people in businesses, e.g. Red Studios, won’t blink, and the three consecutive day thing is amenable to the kind of selective enforcement that the City has shown itself time and time again to practice against the homeless. They can and will ignore that bit when Red Studios asks them to do so.
I’ll close with a little theory, if you don’t mind. Think about the fact that I’ve been able to write this detailed explanation of the origin and esoteric import of one trivial Council resolution on parking restrictions in a four by three block area of Hollywood only after spending two years studying this BID, requesting public records from multiple sources, reading them, compiling them, learning the applicable laws, and so on. If I weren’t completely obsessed and willing to spend dozens of hours a week for years on end doing this, no one would ever have known what was happening, so what chance do the people who live in the ten or twelve RVs in the affected area have to fight something like this?
This story illustrates a barely-discussed aspect of the disproportionate influence that the propertied classes have on politics. If you or I want to influence the government we have to do it on our time after or before work, on irreplaceable weekends. Zillionaires don’t have to spend their precious time studying all this nonsense, all these details and mazes and snares and procedural obfuscations that governments at all levels put in the way of action. Instead they, the zillionaire classes, merely state their desire, and then their hired minions proceed to edit their whims into legislation and other forms appropriate for submission to public agencies, sort through every last legal detail and procedure and to (illegally if necessary) get government officials to implement the policies. What takes a few minutes to express may take hundreds of hours to implement, but those hours are invisible to the zillionaires. Before I started this project I thought that zillionaires influenced politicians through campaign contributions. And they do, but I don’t think that’s the most pernicious means they use. The fact that they can hire people to spend time influencing is far, far worse.
Pictures of Lillian Way are ©2016 MichaelKohlhaas.org.
- That’s a technical term here. It sounds as if “pending matters” would have to already be before the City agency being influenced, but it turns out that unintroduced resolutions and motions are included here. They’d have to be for the law to make sense.
- Confirmed for me by the office of City Controller Ron Galperin.
- I’m glossing over the fact that her rank banned her from lobbying any City agency according to section C.1, but the fact that she’d worked for the City Council also banned her from lobbying them according to section C.2. In fact, she violated both of these sections.