This time not by me but by the intrepid Katherine McNenny. It’s the same old story, though. As you may remember, the Little Tokyo BID was chin-deep in the anti-SRNC conspiracy coordinated by the Voodoo queen of Skid Row herself, Ms. Estela Lopez. Thus it was natural for Katherine McNenny, one of the SRNC proponents, to try to discover more about the BID’s role using the California Public Records Act.
Ellen Endo, BID president and chief apologist, wasn’t having it, though. It took her almost a year to even respond, and even then she didn’t respond appropriately.1 Even worse than not responding, at no time did she produce any records. She still hasn’t. As we’ve all come to learn, most tragically, our esteemed legislature has left citizens in this position with no recourse but to file a petition in Superior Court, and that’s just what Katherine McNenny did!
Here’s a link to the petition itself, which is well worth reading for many reasons, not least of which is its stirring defense of the very weighty public interest in seeing fair play in the SRNC election process. Selections of this latest triumph by the incomparable Abenicio Cisneros are transcribed after the break, and you might keep an eye on this page on Archive.Org for future developments. If you don’t have time for all that deep dive jive, though, just read this one stunning paragraph:
In denying access to the requested records, the BID has obscured its role in a matter of public significance. The residents of Skid Row labored and organized to create a local governing body for the purpose of better coordinating with City government to meet the needs of some of Los Angeles’ most imperiled and dispossessed residents. The formation of the SRNC was opposed by United DTLA, a secretive organization employing a prominent-and no doubt expensive-lobbyist, which apparently enjoyed funding and in-kind support by Respondent and other Business Improvement Districts. Petitioner, after obtaining glimpses of Respondent’s involvement, lawfully requested records which, if disclosed, will throw into the full light of day the nature and scope of Respondent’s efforts to defeat Skid Row residents’ hopes for a neighborhood council of their own. When faced with this exposure, Respondent refused access and opted instead for secrecy, obstruction, and lawlessness. Respondent neglected every obligation imposed by the CPRA and refused to provide even a single record, in clear violation of the law.
Selections from the petition. Look at the PDF to see the exhibits.
1. This is a petition to enforce the California Public Records Act (‘CPRA’) against
Respondent the Li’l Tokyo Businessmen’s Association, a.k.a. the Little Tokyo Business Improvement District (‘the BID’). Petitioner is seeking records to better understand the BID’s role in opposing the formation of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council (‘SRNC’). The formation of the SRNC, decided after an April 6th, 2017, election, would have allowed the residents of Skid Row- many of whom are homeless, low-income, marginalized on the basis of identity, and/or otherwise alienated from formal power within the City of Los Angeles-to more easily communicate with the City’s elected leadership and to obtain funding in order to better meet local needs. Business interests, including a confederation of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) participating in the organization ‘United Downtown LA, LLC,’ (‘United DTLA’), opposed the formation. United DTLA hired former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo as a lobbyist and set about preventing the formation of the SRNC, a neighborhood council in which homeless and low-income residents would have had multiple designated board seats, whereas Skid Row has historically been within the jurisdiction of neighborhood councils dominated by business representatives and property-owning stakeholders. After a close and controversial election, which now the subject of litigation, the formation of the SRNC was defeated.
2. Subsequent to the election, records obtained from various BIDs via public records requests revealed BIDs’ roles in United DTLA and the effort to defeat the SRNC. Documents further revealed that Respondent, the Little Tokyo BID, was among those BIDs participating in the effort.
3. On May 28, 2017, Petitioner submitted to Respondent a clear, specific, and easy-to-fulfill request for records under the CPRA. The request sought emails containing various search terms as well as emails to and/or from certain individuals over a five-month period. The records, if disclosed, will shed light on Respondent’s participation in frustrating the efforts of Skid Row residents to form an independent neighborhood council. However, in the year that has passed since receiving the request, the BID has failed to provide even a single record. Instead, the BID has-by its non-response and delay-unlawfully frustrated any and all public access to the requested records.
Background on the SRNC election at issue in Petitioner’s unanswered CPRA requests
9. The City of Los Angeles, sprawling as it is, utilizes a city wide system of neighborhood councils, created by ordinance, to assist communities in working with local govemment to address community needs. There are 97 neighborhood councils across Los Angeles, each receiving public funds to support their activities. The Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (‘DONE’) coordinates with the neighborhood councils and provides operational support.
10. On November 29,2016, the ‘Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee’ submitted a subdivision application to DONE for the purpose of initiating an election to subdivide existing neighborhood councils in order to form a new Skid Row Neighborhood Council. The committee took special consideration in drafiting the proposed SRNC bylaws to guarantee multiple board seats to low-income renters and/or unhoused individuals, as well as to those providing services to those communities. This arrangement is in contrast to other local neighborhood councils, including the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (from which the SRNC would have been subdivided), in which business interests comprise a majority of the goveming board under the bylaws, and no seats are designated for renters, let alone low-income renters.
11. On January 11, 2017, DONE approved the subdivision application. Subsequently, an election to establish the new SRNC was scheduled for March 29th, 2017 – April 6th, 2017.
12. At the conclusion of voting, the formation of the SRNC was defeated, with DONE’s
official canvass of votes showing 766 votes in favor, and 826 votes opposed, to the formation of the SRNC.
Petitioner submits a CPRA request and multiple follow-ups to Respondent.
Respondent neelects its duties and withholds all responsive records
13. On May 28, 2017, Petitioner submitted a CPRA request to Respondent via the ‘contact us’ webform on Respondent’s website. The request sought two categories of records: (1) all emails which contained an enumerated list of names and/or phrases related to the SRNC election; and (2) all emails to and/or from a number of named individuals. The time scope of the request was January 1, 2017, through May 28,2017. Petitioner submitted the request via the webform because the BID does not publicize a general email.
14. Petitioner submitted the same request on June 3, 2017, via email to the BID, in the person of Ellen Endo. According to the BID’s website, Endo is the President and Co-Chair of the BID. That request was identical to the request first submitted on May 28, 2017. A true and correct copy of the June 3. 2017. email from Petitioner to Respondent is attached as Exhibit A
15. The BID failed to respond to the request within 10 days, as required by the CPRA §
6253(c). As the days turned to weeks, and the weeks to months, the BID failed to send any reply whatsoever in response to Petitioner’s request. As such, the BID withheld all requested records, unlawfully denying Petitioner, and the public at large, access to them.
16. Rather than proceeding directly to litigation. Petitioner made additional attempts to obtain the records. In March of 2018, after Respondent had denied access to the requested records for approximately ten months, Petitioner submitted a follow-up letter, delivered both by certified mail on March 21,2018, and by email on March 22, 2018. A true and correct copy of the March 22, 2018. follow-up letter is attached as Exhibit B.
17. On March 23, 2018, Respondent sent its first-and, to date, onlv- communication regarding this request. In the email, Endo States, ‘I will put together all of my pertinent emails but must ask for your patience.’ Thus, the BID confirmed that it had, for the preceding ten months, ignored its responsibility to gather and review records in response to Petitioner’s 2017 request. After continuing that it had no paid staff, the BID stated that it would ‘endeavor to provide the information requested within the next two weeks.’ A true and correct copy of the BIDs March 23, 2018 email is attached as Exhibit C.
The BID completelv failed its duties under the CPRA and withheld all requested records from Petitioner
39. Here, Petitioner submitted a request for basic, easy-to-provide records concerning the BID’s participation in a matter of great public concern: namely, the election to decide whether Skid Row would win its own neighborhood council. Petitioner’s requests triggered the BID’s duty to locate responsive records, to determine whether those records are public and disclosable, and to provide those records promptly.
40. The BID refused to comply with its duties under the CPRA and, in so doing, has denied Petitioner all access to the requested public records. At no time did the BID indicate that it had located the requested records. At no time did the BID make a determination of disclosability. At no time did the BID State under what exemptions, if any, it was withholding records. Most significantly, at no time did the BID provide records .
41. In denying access to the requested records, the BID has obscured its role in a matter of public significance. The residents of Skid Row labored and organized to create a local governing body for the purpose of better coordinating with City government to meet the needs of some of Los Angeles’ most imperiled and dispossessed residents. The formation of the SRNC was opposed by United DTLA, a secretive organization employing a prominent-and no doubt expensive-lobbyist, which apparently enjoyed funding and in-kind support by Respondent and other Business Improvement Districts. Petitioner, after obtaining glimpses of Respondent’s involvement, lawfully requested records which, if disclosed, will throw into the full light of day the nature and scope of Respondent’s efforts to defeat Skid Row residents’ hopes for a neighborhood council of their own. When faced with this exposure, Respondent refused access and opted instead for secrecy, obstruction, and lawlessness. Respondent neglected every obligation imposed by the CPRA and refused to provide even a single record, in clear violation of the law.
42. Therefore, Petitioner respectfully petitions for a writ of mandate ordering the BID to comply with the CPRA.
Image of Ellen Endo is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is based off/on this picture of Ellen Endo.