More Scenes From The First Interested Persons’ Meeting — Über-Lobbyist Bill Delvac Reveals That His Clients Tactically Report Their Opponents In The Land Use Wars To The Ethics Commission As Unregistered Lobbyists But No Action Is Ever Taken — Heather Holt Corrects Him With Provocative Obliquity: “Perhaps No Public Action,” Quoth She

Oh dear, CPRA material from various BIDs, fascinating stuff, is pouring in as usual and just piling up on my metaphorical desk while I write post after post after post about the Ethics Commission‘s ongoing effort to revise the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. Well, it can’t be helped, because the MLO is essential.1 Part of the process is holding a bunch of meetings to seek input, the first of which took place last Thursday.2 I’ve also posted my take on the various proposals. I’ll get to the BID stuff as soon as possible, friends, but meanwhile, here’s yet another MLO post.3

If you’ve been following the conversation you’ll know that the lobbyists opposing the proposed revisions have argued consistently that the City doesn’t need more regulations imposed on lobbyists who, according to them anyway, desperately want to follow the law but instead needs to register the herds of unregistered and unregulated lobbyists swarming around City Hall.4

They’re not wrong that there are far, far too many unregistered lobbyists. Turning these people in to the Ethics Commission is one of the main purposes of this blog and I have, uncharacteristically, to agree with the registered lobbyists that there are an awful lot of unregistered lobbyists haunting 200 N. Spring Street and that the ease with which they can be detected is astonishing.5

Where they are wrong is in their claim that there’s some kind of dichotomy between registering the unregistered and revising the laws. Mostly the people pushing this idea, that somehow revising the law and registering the unregistered are mutually exclusive, seem to be doing it only to distract everyone’s attention from how badly the present law needs revision and, possibly, how badly their subterranean activities might be exposed were the law to be revised.

At least that’s how it sounded in last week’s meeting when John Howland, late of the CCALA but more recently employed by Arnie Berghoff and Associates, broke out with the same old routine, of which I’ll spare you a transcription, because it’s essentially content-free. However, at that same meeting supervillainesque land use attorney Bill Delvac also had quite a lot to say, most of which, in contrast to the self-serving contributions of his fellow flacks in the so-called regulated community, was quite interesting.

On the subject of unregistered lobbyists, for instance, Bill Delvac asserted that not only were there bunches of them, but that many of the lawyers who professionally oppose development projects are engaged in lobbying, and that essentially none of them are registered. He also, surprisingly to me, revealed that many of his clients had reported such lawyers to the Ethics Commission but that no action had been taken. Heather Holt, executive director of the Commission, corrected him, saying “perhaps no public action.”

And turn the page for some comments on the more technical parts of what Bill Delvac had to say, including the only colorable argument I’ve ever heard against a compensation-based definition as the main criterion for registration as a lobbyist.6 There is also, as usual, a transcription of all relevant remarks.

One of the main points Bill Delvac had to make about unregistered lobbying is that attorneys who specialize in opposing land use projects are rarely registered as lobbyists, even though, according to him, “[t]hey write letters, they appear, they go to Council meetings, they contact staff.” And the context is that they may not actually be required to register because, at least according to Bill Delvac, they tend not to get paid until after fees are awarded by a court.

This is at least superficially a plausible argument, because the MLO requires that lobbying activity be compensated before lobbyists are required to register, but it may also not be entirely accurate. CEC Director of policy Arman Tarzi asked Bill Delvac if “[t]here’s no promise of any compensation to them at any point?” This is crucial because the MLO at LAMC §48.02 defines compensated services, which are the kind that trigger registration, to be “…services for which compensation was paid during a reporting period or for which the lobbyist or lobbying firm became entitled to compensation during that period.”

Well, Bill Delvac admits that he doesn’t know how their pay is arranged, and I have to say that it seems highly implausible that any attorney is going to take on a case, no matter how magna the bono it’s pro, without an agreement with the client stating that if fees gets paid the attorney gets paid out of them. This certainly seems as if it would be enough to trigger the registration requirement.

Even more interesting than all that, though, are Bill Delvac’s hints for hunting down unregistered lobbyists!7 He told a rapt audience that they should “…ask the City Attorney who the most active litigants against the City are, I’ll bet you none of them are registered. .. Just go sit in on the Planning Commission and see which lawyers are there for project opponents.”

This is too exciting to pass up! I mean, I’m not going to ask the City Attorney, because no one over there is talking to me right now,8 but I couldn’t resist checking some council files to find appellant representatives! This could be really fun, right? Just because I tend to agree with the positions they’re taking doesn’t mean they shouldn’t register. Everyone has to follow the law.

I started close to home, with CF 17-0029, a proposed big-ass hotel at Ivar and Sunset that’s being opposed by a strange even for Los Angeles collection of groups, including UNITE HERE, and the L.A. Film School and some but not most gay rights activists. And indeed, one of the representatives, Rachel Koss, is not registered as a lobbyist.9 But the main opponent rep, Gideon Kracov, actually is registered and seems to have been for a long time.10

To find other cases to investigate, I turned to the City Clerk’s website. It turns out not to be possible to link through to searches in the Council File System, or at least I can’t figure out how to do it. These land use files, though, seem always to be initiated by City Planning, and it’s possible to search on that criterion11 and generate a PDF report of the results. So, if you’re interested, here are 500 recent files initiated by City Planning. Note that the Council File links are live, which makes this a perfect hunting guide! They’re not all being appealed, but many of them are. Here are a few things I found among the first five or so:

It’s important to note that when I say that one of these people or firms is unregistered, I haven’t actually checked to see if they ought to be registered. But this super-cursory look at appellant representatives suggests that, even if he exaggerated somewhat, Bill Delvac was right in claiming that searching for unregistered lobbyists amongst land use opponents would pay off.

In closing, I thought it might be interesting, and certainly equitable, to check out Bill Delvac’s cronies and compatriots as well. He, of course, is most recently infamous for his work on securing permission to destroy the Metropolitan Water District campus on Sunset. In a lobbying campaign assisted not only by the usual shenanigans but also by the underhanded manipulations of Eric Garcetti, L.A.’s scariest clown of a mayor, who refused to fill a vacant seat on the Cultural Heritage Commission before a crucial hearing, thereby sealing the fate of William Pereira’s modernist work.

At the crucial CHC meeting, Bill Delvac was assisted in his bloody work by a putative preservation consultant named Jenna Snow who, amazingly, it turns out, is ALSO not registered as a lobbyist with the Ethics Commission. Whether or not she ought to be registered is an open question due mostly to the absolute unworkability of the MLO’s time-based threshold for registration, but a strong case can certainly be made.12

And I think I’ll just let Bill Delvac have the last word here. At the end of the meeting he summed up his position quite nicely. You can watch it here, and here’s what he said:

I really do urge you to look at these groups that oppose projects and then sue later for attorney’s fees. Never ever ever once
[?] registered. There are four or five people. Almost everyone in this room could name all the unregistered [unintelligible]. It’s an out-and-out abuse. And I don’t know that I would call it a shakedown but most clients feel a shakedown. At the end these attorneys are paid fifty, a hundred, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to settle. And they never report…letters, [unintelligible] to the commission. It’s a big hole…

Transcription of Bill Delvac’s comments on unregistered lobbyists:

Bill Delvac:    Fairness? There’s a huge unfair gap in the law, and I’ll give a specific to John’s point. People unregistered…most, many, land use opponents hire attorneys who work for free until they file lawsuits and then they collect legal fees. They write letters, they appear, they go to Council meetings, they contact staff. They don’t get paid until after the approval. They never register. They never register. I could probably give you…you could…ask the City Attorney who the most active litigants against the City are, I’ll bet you none of them are registered.

Arman Tarzi:    There’s no promise of any compensation to them at any point?

Bill Delvac:    I don’t know what their engagement letter says. Their engagement letter says “if we collect attorney’s fees you’ll get it.” It probably does. But even if it doesn’t, it’s a plan to do it that way. It isn’t accidental. Almost nothing gets settled without legal fees being paid. Almost nothing. Today was cultural heritage? Planning Commission? Just go sit in on the Planning Commission and see which lawyers are there for project opponents. I’m gonna tell you, there’s a huge volume of contacts that are undisclosed and lobbyists who are not registered because of the quirk of you only register when you get paid. If you don’t get paid for a year and a half then year and a half, where’s the registration? And, by the way, to your point?13 I have had clients file complaints, and no action’s ever been taken against these lawyers who appear at those projects.

Heather Holt:    Perhaps no public action.

Bill Delvac:    Understood. Let me be more clear. I am not aware of any [unintelligible] and I haven’t seen those people getting registered.

The image of Bill Delvac at the top of this post is ©2017 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is a transmogritive resubstantion of this little item right here.

  1. And it’s essential to bringing down BIDs, so it’s not like it’s a waste of time or anything.
  2. The last of the three took place on September 13. I wasn’t able to attend, but I hope to have access to a video quite soon, and I’ll post information about it when it comes in.
  3. Of course the two topics are not at all mutually exclusive. I got interested in the MLO in the first place as a way to cause trouble and pain for BIDs and BID enablers by trying to get them to actually follow applicable laws. It’s interesting, ironic, and vulnerability-creating that BIDs use hyperenforcement against the homeless as one of their main tactics but don’t seem to bother protecting themselves against turnabout. The detailed manifestations of zillionaire privilege are quite varied.
  4. These lobbyists universally exaggerate the degree to which they want to comply with the law. They may be lying, they may be deluding themselves, but the fact is that, on average, even among registered lobbyists, compliance is abysmal. For instance, John Howland has pushed this theory at every meeting I’ve seen him at, but himself has had some problems complying with disclosure laws. His replacement at the CCALA, bottle-bottom-beglassed shiny-pated whiny baby Shane Phillips has also pushed this theory and he, or, anyway, at least his employer and his colleagues, have had their own problems with consistent compliance with the law.
  5. At this point I have a backlog of about six to turn in, and it’s only that few because I mostly stick to BID-associated people and also I stopped looking hard for them for now until I get through my backlog. Pay attention to any City matters and these people will drop into your lap. At some point I’d like to teach a class in municipal ethics where the final project would require each student to find a previously unreported unregistered lobbyist and turn them in to the CEC. Good times!
  6. Colorable but still wrong.
  7. This is almost like having a personal great white hunter! Dude even looks like Papa! Bang bang, friends!
  8. Long story, will tell you in person if you’re interested, not going to last much longer probably.
  9. She was representing CREED LA, but they’ve since withdrawn their opposition.
  10. I can’t figure out how to link directly into searches for lobbyists on the CEC website, but if you go to their search form, fill in last name “kracov,” and choose “all years” you’ll see what I mean.
  11. Deep down in the advanced search options it’s possible to filter by which City department initiated the file. This is a generally useful option to know about.
  12. And I might just attempt to make it, because situational irony is a thing.
  13. Speaking to Heather Holt, referring to an earlier comment she made to John Howland about using the CEC’s whistleblower hotline.

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