There seem to be two distinct ways that BIDs get started in Los Angeles. One is that a bunch of property owners want to start one, they talk to their council rep or the City Clerk, hire a consultant, and go through the process we’ve all come to know and love. But it seems that sometimes the City takes the initiative, they hire their own consultant, and as part of their duties, the consultant puts together a proponent group.
That seems to be what’s going on with the infamous Echo Park BID, and it’s also the way that the Hollywood Route 66 BID is being formed.1 Both of these establishments are being handled by OG2 BID consultancy Civitas Advisors. And as you may recall, a good citizen of Los Angeles recently supplied me with a massive set of emails between Civitas and the City Clerk‘s office.3
And buried amongst the interminable babbling about God-knows-what-all4 I uncovered a couple of really interesting gems. First, there is the contract between the City and Civitas for establishing the Hollywood Route 66 BID, and second there is a feasibility study for the BID prepared by Civitas in February 2018.5 Both of them have a lot to tell us about how BIDs get started and function in Los Angeles! Turn the page for excerpts and discussion.
I’ll start with the contract between the City and Civitas to establish the BID. I’m just taking excerpts in order here.
◉“NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION” means a California non-profit 501(c) organization legally operating within the State of California, and physically located within the vicinity of the BID area, and who has an interest in the BID and who is capable of administering the services to be located in the BID.
This is from the definitions section of the contract. It interests me only because of the seemingly fairly meaningless requirement that the non-profit, which will turn out to be the Property Owners’ Association specified in Streets and Highways Code §36612, must be “physically located within the vicinity of the BID area.” This is interesting because the Brown Act at §54954(b) requires BID boards of directors to meet within their jurisdiction. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, and one of the most important is found in sub (b)(4), which allows a BID board to
Meet in the closest meeting facility if the local agency has no meeting facility within the boundaries of the territory over which the local agency exercises jurisdiction, or at the principal office of the local agency if that office is located outside the territory over which the agency exercises jurisdiction.
You can see the effect of this clause in any given copy of the minutes of the Central Hollywood Coalition, which is a shell corporation run by the Hollywood Property Owners Association to administer the Sunset-Vine BID. Check out this one from May 2018 where they give the address of their meeting as 6562 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028, manifestly not within the boundaries of the Sunset-Vine BID, and then identify it as “Meeting Location: Principal office for Central Hollywood Coalition.”
The issue here dates back to one of my very earliest triumphs over BID lawlessness, when I found that the Central Hollywood Coalition met in the Mary Pickford Center, owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, at the corner of Vine and Fountain, which required an ID to enter the building. This is a flat-out violation of the Brown Act at §54953.3, which states ultra-explicitly that that’s a huge no-no.
They stopped meeting in that building immediately and revealed in their Q4 2014 quarterly report that their relocation was due to my work. They didn’t take it so well, though. I would have thought they’d be thankful that I pointed out their error and didn’t sue them like I’d do now if the same issue came up. But no such luck. Just more inimitably characteristic whining from Ms. Kerry Morrison:
Further, a challenge from a local citizen, Mr. Mike, to the BID forced the re-location of the BID board meetings from the location they have been held for the last seven years. Mr. Mike asserted that a Brown Act meeting should not be held in a building where there is a security entrance, despite the fact that a similar security check-point is established at city hall when members of the public arrive to attend city meetings. This is despite the fact that at the BID Board meeting, members of the public who attend can remaim completely anonymous. At this point, until there can be some legal research conducted, every effort is being made to find locations for meetings where there is no security guard in the lobby.
How’s that for whiny? For privilege?6 Who thinks it’s a reasonable argument that the City is breaking the law so we should get to also?7 That was written before they discovered the principal office of the local agency exception. And, in short, that’s why I find that one clause in the contract so interesting — because the City seems to be forbidding BIDs from invoking this exception, and yet the CHC invokes it all the time. So, for that matter, does the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which administers the East Hollywood BID but whose offices are not in that BID.
◉§3.1(C) Identify and/or create an informal PROPONENT GROUP of property and/or business owners within the Hollywood Route 66 Business Improvement TARGET AREA by gathering community consensus on possible BID services through the following means, but not limited to:
4. Assist the PROPONENT GROUP (once identified/created) through the legislative and other CITY processes necessary for the establishment of the BID, if a BID is determined to be feasible …
This is interesting for a couple reasons at least. First, note that the BID consultant here may actually create a proponent group8 despite the City’s endless, and now it becomes clear mendacious, protestations to the contrary, that BIDs are the independent ideas of their proponents and the City merely facilitates their creation. Actually, it seems, the City pays BID consultants to scrape up proponents, who then proceed to petition the City to form a BID, exactly as they were meant to do when they were scraped up.
And it’s also interesting for how specific it is that the BID consultants are meant to help the proponents “through the legislative and other CITY processes necessary for the establishment of the BID.” Of course, being paid for helping one’s clients through legislative processes is part of what it takes to be defined as a lobbyist in the City of Los Angeles.
Since BID consultants are almost uniformly not registered with the City Ethics Commission as lobbyists, with the brave and honorable exception of Larry Kosmont for whatever reason, it has been necessary for me to put together intensely detailed arguments that they actually are engaging in lobbying. Statements like this are endlessly helpful and this one will end up in the next edition of my general theory of why BID consultancy is lobbying.
◉ §3.1(D) Have a REGISTERED PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER on staff, or subcontract with one, to perform all necessary services under the contract. The REGISTERED PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER’S duties shall include, but not be limited to:
1. Preparation of a detailed ENGINEER’S REPORT, which:
a. Is a complete and stand-alone document that complies with State Law and City Policy;
b. Identifies all parcels that will have a special benefit conferred upon them and upon which an assessment will be imposed;
c. Identifies and describes, with descriptive and explanatory reasoning, the precise boundaries of the proposed BID and the rational for exclusion and inclusion of property and/or businesses;
d. Identifies with particularity any CITY properties contained in the proposed BID;
e. Identifies and defines special and general benefits;
f. Separates the general from the special benefits conferred on each parcel, including, but not limited to, an explanation of the boundaries of the BID;
g. Provides evidentiary support for all assessments to be imposed on each parcel;
h. Clearly identifies benefit zones and differences in assessments;
This detailed list of what the engineer is expected to do is really important. You may well recall that the Property and Business Improvement District Law at §36622(n) requires a licensed professional engineer to write a report as part of the BID establishment process. The only plausible reason for the legislature to have such a requirement is to hold those who would establish a BID to some kind of rational standards, not that it’s an infallible method for doing that.
However, over the years, it seems that at least some of the engineers have become more and more lax in the standards to which they hold their BID work. And at least until recently their oversight agency, the Board for Professional Engineers, has openly abrogated its regulatory power when it comes to engineering reports prepared for BID establishment. Their claim was that engineering reports don’t constitute the practice of engineering but rather just simple mathematical calculations.
The Board’s executive director, Ric Moore, has recently indicated his willingness to make sure that complaints about unprofessional engineering reports are at least granted the process due to them before being rejected, In response to this welcome glasnost I’m working on a complaint against Ed Henning, the engineer who drew up the report for the Venice Beach BID (not to mention the infamous South Los Angeles Industrial Tract BID). Thus a detailed explanation of what the engineers are actually meant to do will be very useful in countering the Board’s historical argument that they’re only doing simple math and therefore can’t be regulated.
◉ §8.2(C) C. If CONSULTANT engages in any dishonest conduct related to the performance or administration of this Agreement or violates CITY’S lobbying policies, then CITY may immediately terminate this Agreement.
How ironic is that? As I mentioned above, I’ve been working for years now to prove that when BID consultants are paid to establish or renew a BID they’re engaging in lobbying. Here’s another example of the kind of work I’ve done on the issue. And the City puts this totally implicative clause in here, not deigning to state whether or not BID consultancy is in fact lobbying but leaving it up to the consultant to decide and to do the right thing.
This is so very typical of the City of Los Angeles in its relations with business improvement districts. They can’t be seen to require something of a BID in theory, in a contract, and not require it of them in practice. That almost certainly exposes the City to liability. So what they’ve hitherto chosen to do is to remove requirement after requirement from the contracts.
This possibly relieves the City of some of the risk, but it leaves BIDs even more without any oversight than ever. These BIDs are well-funded and powerful players in the life of our City. The legislature set up the PBID law pretty carefully so that it is in fact possible for a city to oversee their activities. But the City of Los Angeles will not. I’m sure this all seems to everyone like a good idea in the short run, but I have a pretty strong feeling it’s going to feel like hell in the long run. We’ll certainly find out!
And, eleventy jillion words on the contract later I have not even managed to discuss the feasibility report. Well, I don’t have it in me tonight, and this is already far too long. So it’ll have to wait for another day.9
- Take a look at that web page if you want to see yet another BIDdie malapropism about the geography of this City that they’re putatively so freaking involved with improving. They describe the proposed boundaries as running “along Santa Monica Boulevard, between Hoover Avenue and Vine Street.” Anyone who’s paying attention knows that there is no freaking Hoover Avenue in Los Angeles. There is, famously, a Hoover Street, though, and that seems to be what they’re talking about. And it’s a really important street, too. This kind of thing happens regularly, which is unsurprising given that BIDdies care about Los Angeles like vampires care about an unprotected neck. Just for instance see the case of Misty Iwatsu thinking that Culver City was part of Los Angeles or also Hollywood BIDdie-in-charge Monica Yamada thinking that the Hollywood Spa building was on Vine Street when everyone, like EVERYONE, knows it’s on Ivar. OK, I’m being rhetorical again, since most people not in Hollywood probably don’t even know where the Hollywood Spa building is, or what it is, or even THAT it is, or much if anything about Ivar Avenue for that matter, but at the time of this solecism Monica Yamada was both a past and future president of the damn BID that both that part of Ivar and the Hollywood Spa Building are located in. She was reporting back on a committee discussion about the Hollywood Spa Building. Get for real, BIDdies!
- OG in the sense that Civitas founder John Lambeth actually wrote the damn 1994 PBID law. Dude has a lot to answer for both in this life and the next.
- Which, as of course you’re well aware, handles BIDs for the City of Los Angeles, from establishment through operations through disestablishement.
- I’m being wearily cynical merely for cheap-ass rhetorical effect — every damn page of this collection of emails is interesting. You’ll be hearing about it again, and more than once!
- There’s at least one earlier draft available in the complete set of records, but I didn’t take the time to see if they’re different in any significant way.
- Anyway, if she wasn’t so wrapped up in her own head she might have noticed that when the cops at City Hall ask why you’re there, if you say a meeting, they actually don’t ask you for ID, they just give you a sticker. I guess it’s too subtle a distinction for these masters of the universe and their minions.
- Especially when the City isn’t even breaking the law? Well, at least not that law.
- Which, it’s clear from the context later, will morph into the Property Owners’ Association required by Streets and Highways §36612.
- Maybe even tomorrow, but don’t hold your breath or anything!