Long-time readers of this blog will recall that one of our constant themes has been the exposure of an unrelenting series of violations of the Brown Act by the various BIDs of Los Angeles. I started the blog in October 2014 and that very month caught the Sunset Vine BID and its dear leader, Ms. Kerry Morrison, requiring IDs in order to attend meetings, which is a violation of §54953.3.
Since then it’s just been one damn thing after another, what with the South Park BIDdies refusing to share documents considered by their board at a meeting, or requiring meeting attendees to sign in, or their teleconferencing fiasco, or the Venice Beach BID’s deficient agenda descriptions, or the Central City East Association‘s discussing and voting on matters that were not agendized, or the East Hollywood BID‘s teleconferencing violations, and those aren’t even the worst of the bunch.
One of the most important prohibitions imposed by the Brown Act is found at §54952.2(b), which states that “[a] majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside a meeting authorized by this chapter, use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.”
In the past we have seen shameless, egregious violations of this section, e.g. the Pacific Palisades BID in 2016, or also by the Central City East Association as part of their relentlessly immoral, illegal campaign against the formation of a Skid Row Neighborhood Council, and by the Los Feliz Village BID, whose violation of §54952.2(b) was bad enough that it actually earned them a written rebuke from the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney.
That last outcome has been an anomaly, though. Despite my having filed multiple reports against BIDs for serious violations of the Brown Act, the District Attorney has, to date, ignored all of them but the Los Feliz one.1 But the legislature, oh wise and omniscient!, has determined that Brown Act enforcement is too important to be left only up to the whims of County District Attorneys. They’ve also allowed for private citizens to enforce the law as well!
So this time, when I discovered dispositive evidence that the Byzantine Latino Quarter BID had violated §54952.2(b) of the Brown Act on at least two occasions earlier this year by discussing BID business in private via email I decided that I would take matters into my own hands rather than relying on the County DA to handle the violation. And the violations are really extreme and also somewhat lurid. One involves BID board member and Greek Orthodox priest Father John Bakas arguing against homeless shelters on the grounds that homeless people are dangerous and incorrigible, e.g.
Of course, it took some time and effort to study the law, get professional advice, and generally prepare an infrastructure for the private prosecution of such violations. Now that it’s all set up, it’s not just good for this one violation, but will work for all future violations that come to my attention. Thus it is with a great deal of pride that I announce an ongoing project to force the BIDs of Los Angeles to stop violating the Brown Act by prosecuting them myself if necessary! Turn the page for the legal theories involved and the specific details of the BLQBID’s violations!
So there are three distinct processes created by the Brown Act for private enforcement. First, §54960 has to do with preventing threatened future violations. While the past, as they say, is prologue, I’m told by those who ought to know that evidence that a BID violated the law in the past is not in itself evidence that they’re likely to violate it in the future, so I’m not using this section.
Next, §54960.1 does address past violations, but focuses on reversing actions taken by the Board in violation of the law. Since mostly the kinds of things that BIDs decide don’t need to be reversed I’m not generally planning to use this section. The one exception I can think of that might come up is if a BID were to vote to spend money or approve a contract in violation of the law.
Finally, §54960.2 addresses past violations and focuses on getting a BID to commit unconditionally that they will not violate the law in the future. This is the section I’m expecting to use regularly, and it is the one I am using with the BLQBID for the violations described below. Here’s how it works:
⚿ The district attorney or interested person alleging a violation of this chapter first submits a cease and desist letter by postal mail or facsimile transmission to the clerk or secretary of the legislative body being accused of the violation — I’m the interested person. This section of the law is fairly forgiving of the violator because it requires a demand letter first. In practice, as you’ll see below, this is going to contain a really detailed description of the violation. Part of the purpose of this, I guess, is to convince the BID that the accusation has merit so that they’ll take it seriously.
⚿ The letter must be sent within nine months of the violation — This is much better than §54960.1, which requires the process to begin within 30 days of the violation. Given the hostile obstructionism with which BIDs treat my CPRA requests at this point, it’s pretty unlikely that I’d get proof of a violation within 30 days, although it has happened.
⚿ The BID can respond within 30 days with an unconditional commitment to stop violating the law — The decision to respond this way must be taken at an open and noticed meeting of the BID.
⚿ If the BID sends such a letter within 30 days then they negate the possibility of a court action against them. — That is, the BID has an absolutely cost-free chance to promise to follow the law and thereby not to get taken to court. Obviously this is the smart thing to do. I hope the BIDdies will take it when offered the chance, but I certainly won’t be surprised if they don’t.
⚿ If the BID refuses or fails to answer within 30 days then a filing an action is authorized by the statute
⚿ If the BID sends such a letter but after the 30 days then they will have to pay attorneys’ fees — This seems only fair, since if they don’t respond within 30 days the lawyer starts drawing up the petition, and the lawyer will need to be paid for that.
⚿ If the BID sends the letter and later violates their commitment they can be taken to court with no warning at all for that, which counts as an independent violation.
⚿ Unlike with the CPRA, the Brown Act at §54960.5 makes an award of attorneys’ fees possible but leaves it up to the discretion of the judge. — So there’s some risk here of prevailing over an outlaw BID but still not covering costs. But I’m told by those who have cause to know that it’s a risk worth taking in selected cases. Naturally those are the cases we’ll be taking the risk for!
And now let’s close with a detailed description of one of the BLQBID’s violations of the Brown Act at §54952.2(b), involving discussions by the Board over email about matters within the subject matter jurisdiction of the BID. This is taken more or less verbatim from the demand letter I sent today, and there’s another example in there as well.
Interestingly, this illegal exchange has to do with a matter I covered last month, which is Herb Wesson’s attempt to astroturf support for his K-Town homeless shelter. It seems that Wesson’s staff also asked the BLQBID for a letter of support, leading to director Moises Gomez emailing the whole Board thus:
Subject: Request for letter of support from Council District 10
From: Moises Gomez
To: Ana M. Ricardo <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Don Swartz <email@example.com>, Fr. John Bakas <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Jacob Segal <email@example.com>, Leonardo Magana <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Marc Tavakoli <email@example.com>, Vanessa Rivera <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: Rebecca <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, 16 May 2018 19:27:35 +0000
Dear Board Members,
I am passing along a request for a letter of support for Councilmember of District 10, Herb Wesson from the BLQ BID.
This letter is to demonstrate community support for the proposed conversion of a City of LA owned parking lot located at 682 S. Vermont Ave <https://goo.gl/maps/JRnYa8s9z9o> to a temporary homeless support housing.
I have attached a draft of the letter for your review and approval.
The BLQ BID is not taking a position on this matter and leaves it up to the Board to decide how to proceed with this request.
And a mere 19 minutes later, the exceedingly reverend Fr. John Bakas, the dean of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, hit reply-all and emailed the entire Board his take on the matter, thereby creating the violation in the first place:
I cannot support this proposal. The homeless will just do what they did at the Santa Anna river. There will be needles and human waste all over the place and endanger kids going to school and merchants in the area. The homeless need healing FIRST and housing will follow
V. Rev. Fr. John S. Bakas
Saint Sophia Cathedral
Here they are, the board of directors of the BLQBID, using a medium of communication, that is to say email, to hold a discussion on an issue within the subject matter jurisdiction of the BID. It’s shameful, and it’s not over yet. Just 8 minutes later Board member Marc Tavakoli also hit reply-all, and now it was not just his take on matters that he emailed to all his fellow board members, but an actual motion as well, thus seriously compounding the violation:
I already sent the letter on my own behalf yesterday. And I fully encourage the board to support the matter as well. We need these shelters desperately. If procedurally permitted, I hereby make a motion that the BLQ BID support the homeless shelter as set forth in the letter sent with your email below.
Real Estate Investment,
Development & Management
And later that night Marc Tavakoli weighed in again with more discussion, deliberation, and what have you emailed to every last one of his fellow Board members but directed to shockingly un-Christian Fr. John Bakas:
Father Bakas –
I always find myself agreeing with you in every regard, but I have to disagree with you on this. I think there is a greater likelihood of healing people if they are in the shelter as opposed to being on the streets. The homeless are already there, as are the needles and waste. I don’t think there is much healing going on under current circumstances. The shelter will not solve everything… not even close. But I think it may serve as conduit for some people to get the healing they need and hopefully find a way off the streets. It may or may not work, but I think it is worth a try. We are in a critical situation and need to try anything we can.
Real Estate Investment,
Development & Management
And the conversation ends with Fr. John Bakas’s reply, again emailed to all his fellow Board members, again compounding the violation:
Hope this works dear friend. Nothing will ever work until the homeless want to get well. Unfortunately there is little will for a life change. But give it a try. Let’s see what happens. Healing must come first then housing will happen. A person with gangrene in his feet must heal first before new shoes are provided . My best to you
V. Rev. Fr. John S. Bakas
Saint Sophia Cathedral
So that’s the gist of one of the two violations described in my demand letter. As I said above, the BID’s two choices are to unconditionally commit to never violating the Brown Act like this ever again or else to get taken to court. We’ll find out which it is within 30 days, and whatever happens you’ll read about it here. In closing I’ll just quote the opening section of the Brown Act, §54950, in case it’s not clear why this all matters so very, very much:
In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
Image of Father John Bakas is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is tangentially related to this lil pupper right here.