In Which I Use The Palisades BID As A Test-Case For A New Tactic In The Neverending Quest To Find Some Way To Force Business Improvement Districts To Comply With The California Public Records Act Without Having To File Yet Another Freaking Writ Petition

Laurie Sale is a sympathetic character, no doubt, but if we start letting our personal feelings towards people stand in the way of enforcing the law then anarchy will follow as surely as the night follows the day, so we’re not gonna do that! Plus even sympathetic characters, if they’re lawless, can still pose to be dangerous!
Here’s the short version of this post: Laurie Sale of the Palisades BID has been telling me for months that she is too busy to work on my CPRA requests. Yesterday she turns out to be too busy to send copies of emails in a reasonable format. She continues to be too busy to provide an estimated date of production even though CPRA requires it. She keeps telling me she only works half-time. BIDs sign a contract with the City which requires them to maintain staffing adequate for the completion of required work in a timely manner. CPRA compliance is required work. Being too busy to do it is not doing it in a timely manner. Too busy for CPRA, BIDs?? Breach of freaking contract!!

And here is a quick recap of how we got to this place. About 80% of the staff of this website grew up in Venice, so we all got really interested in the Venice Beach BID. Unfortunately, CD11 staffie Chad Molnar took offense at the use I made of the fruits of a couple CPRA requests and stopped complying with the law altogether, forcing me to turn him in to the City Ethics Commission. That’s going to take forever to resolve, though.

Thus thwarted in my attempts to learn about the inner workings of Mike Bonin’s weirdo little empire directly, I have turned to requesting materials of all the BIDs in his district, which are Westchester Town Center, Brentwood Village, Gateway to LA, and last, but never ever least, the Pacific Palisades BID,1 which was explicitly called out by Mike Bonin himself on the floor of the Council Chambers as one of the good BIDs. I have received some material from these halfwits-by-the-sea, which provided raw material for our most popular post in the month of January, but mostly their executive directrix, Laurie Sale, keeps telling me that she’s too damned busy to send stuff in a timely manner.

And finally, yesterday, she condescended to transmit a bunch of emails to me by forwarding them, with her own typed annotations prepended. I had asked for them in native format,2 and providing them in native format is required by CPRA.3 It’s important to get emails this way because it preserves the integrity of the headers and also it ensures that attachments arrive in precisely their native formats as well.4 I habitually request emails in native formats and most BIDs have figured out how to comply with this requirement. So I told Laurie Sale that her forwarded emails weren’t acceptable and could she please figure out how to send them in the right format. I can tell from her headers that she uses Outlook, so I sent her a link to Microsoft Support which explains how to export emails to a PST file. It’s not hard.

But she was having none of it. She fired back this cranky little number, stating:


Hi,
I really can’t take the time to do this now…I’m slammed and have BID work to do. I only work part time, as I told you. I’ll finish sending what I accumulated to date, and try to work on this idea at another time. The other thing is that I can buy and charge you for a “flash drive” and then I can drop them into that.5 Trying my best.

Laurie

Well, the idea that somehow complying with CPRA isn’t part of the real work of a BID, that I’m somehow burdening them by asking them to comply with the law, to perform the terms of the contracts which they, willingly I’m assuming, sign with the City, is not unique to Laurie Sale. Blair Besten of the Historic Core BID is also famous for this, and I don’t think there’s a single one of my clients who hasn’t whined about this to a greater or lesser extent at some point.

Interestingly, though, it turns out that the contract that BIDs sign with the City has a section which requires them to hire adequate staff:

2.5. SUPPORT SERVICES. Corporation assumes responsibility for the contracting for support services as required, and paying for all such direct and indirect expenses as may be necessary for the timely completion of work. Any obligations or expenditures for items not budgeted shall not be paid through assessments collected for the District. In administering subcontracts as necessary for providing District programs, improvements or activities, Corporation shall comply with all applicable State, County and City laws and regulations.

Does it not seem that when BIDs admit that they don’t have the staff to comply with CPRA in a timely manner, they’re admitting that they’ve violated this clause of their contract? And is it not possible that the City may force BIDs to comply with CPRA, or at least to stop claiming that they’re too understaffed to comply with it, by enforcing this clause? Of course, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might well recall the fact that even though BIDs are contractually obligated to comply with CPRA, City Clerk Holly Wolcott explicitly refuses to enforce that clause. So what, you might well ask, is different about this case?

Interestingly, it turns out that there may be a significant difference. You see, the adequate staffing clause is found in Section 2 of the contract. The bit about CPRA compliance is way down in Section 16. And in Section 5, having to do with the City handing over the money to the BIDs, we find this gem:

5.2 The City Clerk will notify Corporation of the amount of funds available within twenty (20) business days of the date of receipt of a transmittal of funds to City from the County of Los Angeles, or the receipt of funds through the direct billing by City of public agencies or other entities. Corporation will deliver an invoice to the City Clerk requesting such funds. The City Clerk agrees to pay Corporation the amount due Corporation within twenty (20) business days of receiving said invoice, subject to Corporation’s compliance with Section 2 of this Agreement and except in the case of circumstances beyond the control of the City Clerk.

See the difference? It actually says in the contract that the City can withhold money from the BID if the BID doesn’t comply with Section 2. CPRA compliance isn’t in Section 2 and maybe that’s why the City is less willing to enforce it. But the adequate staffing clause is in Section 2. And not only that, but recently, BID overseer Miranda Paster has been willing actually to withhold money from BIDs who don’t perform contractual clauses. In the linked-to case it was submitting copies of their newsletters. But the newsletter requirement is in Section 2 as well as the adequate staffing requirement. They’re on a par.6

So my theory is that if Miranda Paster will withhold money based on BIDs’ admissions of inadequate staffing to comply with CPRA then BIDs will stop claiming that. If she will not withhold money based on those admissions, it’s plausible that she’ll have to explain to the City Ethics Commission what the difference is, since not enforcing one clause while enforcing another is certainly misusing her position and it’s certainly creating either an advantage for BIDs or a disadvantage for CPRA requesters or both, and that’s certainly a violation of LAMC 49.5.5(A), which we have a whole project dedicated to. I’ve been collecting material about Miranda Paster’s myriad violations of this law, and this topic will fit right in, depending on what comes of it.

Anyway, that’s all speculative at this point, and ahead of the facts. For now, I sent a letter to Palisades BID Board Chair Elliot Zorensky, asking him to straighten things up at his BID (transcription at the end of the post). If they don’t deal with it, the next step will be to send a complaint to Miranda Paster about it. If she doesn’t deal with it, then the CEC will come into it. But the ideal outcome would be for Miranda Paster to actually handle the matter. This would provide a way to encourage BIDs to fulfill their legal duties with respect to public records without having to take them to court, which would be immensely useful for everyone. Stay tuned, of course!


Dear Mr. Zorensky,

I am writing to ask you to arrange for your organizaton to perform its statutory and contractual obligations under the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”) with respect to some recent requests I made of your executive director, Laurie Sale. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Pacific Palisades BID Inc. (“PPBID”) is subject to CPRA’s requirements both as a matter of State law and by the terms of its contract with the City of Los Angeles to administer the BID. Furthermore, in addition to requiring compliance with CPRA, the BID’s contract with the City states explicitly that Corporation assumes responsibility for the contracting for support services as required, and paying for all such direct and indirect expenses as may be necessary for the timely completion of work.

In particular, on January 14, 2017, I emailed Ms. Sale 2 asking her to see copies of various emails relating to the business of the BID. I asked specifically to see these emails and their attachments in their native formats, production of which by the BID is required by CPRA at §6253.9(a). Furthermore, the CPRA also requires records to be made available promptly. On Friday, more than six weeks after I made my request, Ms. Sale forwarded a number of emails to me.

As you may or may not be aware, a forwarded version of an email is not a copy of the original email Many important parameters are altered in the forwarding process. Also, Ms. Sale hand-annotated at least one of the forwarded emails, making it even less of an exact copy of the records access to which I am seeking. Yesterday, when I told Ms. Sale that forwarded copies of emails did not satisfy the requirements of CPRA and provided her with a simple means of extracting the emails in a compliant manner in PST format, she told me that she did not have time to deal with it because she is “slammed” and has “BID work to do.” Ms. Sale has told me on a number of occasions that she has been unable to fulfill my requests because she only works half time and has other duties to carry out for the BID.

Please note, however, that complying with CPRA is also “BID work,” as it’s required by the BID’s contract. Irrespective of Ms. Sale’s work schedule, the PPBID is contractually obligated to maintain staffing “necessary for the timely completion of work.” It’s not unreasonable to conclude that adequate performance of this clause would require the BID to be able to fulfill its contractual obligations, including CPRA compliance, even when “slammed.” I really need these records and I need them quite soon. I hope you can find a way to arrange for me to get them quickly and in the proper format, as you agreed to do when you signed that contract with the City.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter,

Mike


Lichtensteinified picture of Laurie Sale is an extreme modification of an image that appeared originally in the Palisades Post and, after I messed with it enough, appears here under a claim of fair use.

  1. I have also requested some stuff from the Venice Beach BID. They haven’t answered at all. I’ll be taking steps, but one can’t reason with people who won’t reason back. Stay tuned for more news, although of necessity it’s probably going to be quite a while before there is any.
  2. Like eml, msg, pst, or mbox.
  3. At §6253.9.
  4. Also native formats are text-based, making batch searching accurate and feasible.
  5. Don’t get me started about the freaking flash drives. This is pretty good evidence that either Laurie Sale has been talking to Suzanne Holley of the Downtown Center BID or else they’ve both been talking to some common source. It’s one of their tactics to try to thwart my inquiries by refusing to use Dropbox like civilized human beings. This tactic probably originated in the feverish mind of Kerry Morrison, although it’s not possible to be sure yet that she’s the ur-instance. The fact that Laurie Sale brings it up in this context shows that she’s really confused about the issue, which is not a matter of storage but of format. I do feel bad that she’s so confused, but at some point these BIDs have to take responsibility for training their staff to comply with the contracts that they signed. Given that they’re bound to comply with CPRA, part of that would seem to be understanding the issues involved in providing copies of electronic records.
  6. I don’t know enough about contractual interpretation to say for sure if withholding the money is discretionary for the City, but I’m thinking it’s probably not, since the default assumption would seem to be that it wasn’t, so that if it were meant to be discretionary, the contract ought to say so explicitly. That it does not probably supports a claim that it’s mandatory. But as I said I don’t know for sure.
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