If you’ve been following the story of the Venice Beach BID here, you’ll recall that no one involved wants to give me a copy of the mailing list used to send out the various legally required notices to the property owners. You can check the background here and another episode in the saga here. Well, amazingly, my last argument was effective, and after what I think1 was months worth of noodging, Miranda Paster finally gave in and sent me an actual mailing list with actual mailing addresses of the property owners.
This is huge, so I’m linking to it again:
Anyway, I hope the list will be useful to Venice activists in their anti-BID campaign. Not that many property owners even voted, so it’s possible that sending letters encouraging anti-BID property owners to vote will be enough to sink the BID’s next iteration. If you’re interested in the technical details of the differences between this ultimately successful request and my earlier unsuccessful requests, turn the page and read on!
It’s important to know that various mailings are required by law for a successful BID formation process. First there are the petitions. These are (usually but not always)2 sent out by the private BID consultant, in this case, Tara Devine.
I first asked Miranda Paster for a list of property owners in the two Hollywood Property Owners Alliance BIDs3 in April 2016. In May 2016 she sent me a list of parcel numbers. I clarified. At this time she claimed, as she would so many times subsequently:
The County Assessor’s Office bills the property owners (which are listed in the database forwarded to you along with the address). We provide the APN and the dollar amount to the County only.
Her tacit point is that if the Clerk doesn’t have the list, they don’t have to give it up under CPRA. This is a common move, and probably not valid, since CPRA defines public records to be any records, not only “owned,” but also “used” by an agency. In any case, it’s going to take litigation to cure them of that bad habit, and that’s not on the agenda right at this moment.
In June another tactic occurred to me:
I read in the Senior Management Analyst II job description (attached for sake of reference) in your office that you all handle ballots for BID certification. Is there not a mailing list associated with these? If so, it would certainly be responsive to this request for contact information for all the property owners in the two HPOA BIDs. Can you please either send me a copy or tell me why it’s exempt?
Additionally, I read in the council files establishing these BIDs that the Clerk’s office notifies record owners of the public hearing required to determine whether the BIDs will be established. Surely you must have a list of record owners so that you can send out this notification? That would certainly be responsive to my request as well.
For a week or two, crickets. Then I thought of another theory:
I’m sorry to bother you twice on the same day about this, but I read just now in some BIDs’ quarterly reports that the Clerk’s office mails ballots to property owners. Thus there must be a mailing list for each BID, which is certainly responsive to my request for contact information for all property owners in the HED and SVBIDs.
I really need this information, and I can’t imagine why it would be exempt.
And, in the middle of June, another theory. This is all without any word from Miranda Paster:
Additionally, the Streets and Highways Code at 36670(b) (appended) requires the City Council to notice property owners by mail under certain circumstances. Since the office of the Clerk is certainly responsible for these notifications on the Council’s behalf, you all must have a list of mailing addresses of property owners in order to carry out this duty.
Please let me know what’s going on with this? Even if it were to be counted as a new request your response is overdue.
And then nothing. Well, it’s not possible to sue everyone, so I let it drop until the Venice Beach BID.
My next attempt, in August 2016, at getting a list of the addresses involved a request to Miranda Paster for “the mailing list that Devine Strategies used during the petitioning process.” No dice. She wrote back, with what in hindsight is clearly deceptive over-specificity, stating: “I have requested staff to provide you with the petitions. We use the County LUPAMS System which you can go to the County Assessor’s Office and gain access free. We do not have the petition mailing list that Devine Strategies used.” This is code for go to Norwalk, sit in the Assessor’s office, and look up the addresses one freaking parcel number at a time. This is clearly not how it’s done by the Clerk’s office.
This degenerated into a spiral time-sink with Holly Wolcott “confirming” that they didn’t have such a list, that I should ask Teresa (AKA “Tara”) Devine for the list, and other weird tropes that led nowhere. But then I thought of the now-famous Government Code section 53753 theory. This got her to cough up a fake list but also not to claim any exemptions, which is progress of a sort I suppose.
Well, today I thought I’d try again, and fired off the following little missive:
I’m just wondering what the status of this request is.
Also, please note that CPRA at section 6253.1(a) requires you all to help me overcome whatever “practical basis for denying access to the records or information” that I’m looking for, which, you may recall, is the mailing list that the Clerk’s office used to notice the to-be-assessed property owners in compliance with Government Code section 53753.
You all haven’t even claimed that it’s exempt, you’ve just (1) not sent it and (2) not discussed why you’re not sending it. Please, please at least discuss it with me as the law requires you to do.
Note that it’s not only CPRA that you’re violating by not discussing it, but the City Charter as well, which, at Section 213, requires you all to comply with CPRA.
Thanks for your (anticipated) assistance.
And then a mere five minutes4 later she sent me the list. So I’m thinking this is a really good theory. It worked that fast. And look at the metadata of that PDF. It says that the PDF was created on August 16, 2016. Thus they’ve been sitting on it for almost a month now. Sigh. Anyway, I immediately fired off a request for similar lists for a bunch of other BIDs, some of which are coming up for renewal quite soon and thus are ripe for a little mailing-list activism. You’ll read about it here when it happens, friends!