Last Thursday morning off I went to the concrete canyons of Downtown Los Angeles to sit through yet another interminable gathering of the Board of Directors of the South Park BID and, just for you, dear reader, I have posted video of the whole damn thing both here on YouTube and here on Archive.org. And it was mostly more of the same old bad BIDness, but without a quorum, so no action was taken.
There were a few interesting episodes though, and I’ll be writing about one or more of them soon enough, but the text for today’s sermon is this little hissy fit, pitched by none other than the finest legal mind of his generation, that is to say self-proclaimed schmuck Paul Keller, accompanied by the narcissistic back-up harmony vocal stylings of the BID’s own Uncle Fester,1 which is to say Bob Freaking Buente. There is, of course, a transcription of the whole damn thing after the break, and juicy quotes interspersed throughout the article here.
Paul Keller wants to talk about … underpasses. The ones he drives under when he gets off the freeway in the morning. They’re filled with homeless people. Paul Keller doesn’t like this. Bob Buente reminds him that in zillionairese underpasses are referred to as “Bombay” and/or “Calcutta.”2 What he really seems to hate about them is that (a) they are offensive to his finely honed zillionaire aesthetics and (b) he can’t ignore them because there’s a traffic signal there: “But unfortunately the light causes you to be in Bombay if it’s red.” The problem evidently is that CalTrans has jurisdiction over underpasses so the usual zillionaire methods of getting shit done, like e.g. giving José Huizar another 700 bucks, aren’t effective.
Turn the page to learn what the other problem is, how Ellen Salome Riotto schooled Paul Keller a little bit but he just won’t listen and wants her to break the law anyway, and the big reveal! All the Downtown BIDs are compiling anti-homeless intelligence which they’re evidently going to pass on to Miguel Santiago, possibly in anticipation of his becoming CD14 repster in 2020 because José Huizar’s rapey incontinence has effectively torpedoed the political ambitions of the other Huizar, his hand-picked successor, that is, of course, Richelle.
The other problem is that the underpasses, which the self-proclaimed schmuck hates so much, are not inside the South Park BID boundaries. His Zeck Dreck Ellen Salome Riotto reminds him of this, paid as she is3 to keep track of the kind of technicalities which are, it seems, beneath his highly refined directorial notice: “so technically those are outside of the BID boundaries which means that we cannot [spend BID money to clean them.]“ But of course Paul Keller can’t even hear the words she’s saying. It’s too contrary to his entire life experience.
Silly Ellen Salome Riotto! Laws don’t forbid zillionaires from doing stuff! Laws forbid the adversaries of zillionaires from doing stuff! Then if zillionaires are displeased they unleash a deadly swarm of lawyers until the metaphorical skulls of their enemies are piled high at the feet of their metaphorical thrones! Therefore, Ellen Salome Riotto, you must be wrong! And therefore thus spake Paul Freaking Keller, who is not known as the finest legal mind of his generation just because I started calling him that to mock him:4
So I appreciate everything you’re saying and it’s all correct and it’s all very thoughtful and logical. But what I don’t understand is if we send our crew across the street, who did nothing more than clean the trash in the street. Not on the sidewalk, in the street, would like you be thrown in jail, or what would happen?
Oh, good question, Paul Keller! They don’t call you the finest legal mind of your generation for nothing!5 If you wanna know what would happen if you break the law the first place to start is by reading the law. We’re surprised you haven’t done this already, you being a BID boss and all, but hey! We are here to help educate the seething zillionaire masses! The law that Ellen Salome Riotto refers to is the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994, specifically §36625(a)(6), which states in pertinent part:
The revenue from the levy of assessments within a district shall not be used to provide improvements, maintenance, or activities outside the district or for any purpose other than the purposes specified in the resolution of intention
And what happens if the BID breaks this law? Well, no one gets thrown in jail. Paul Keller is right about that much. No one will be hunted through the dark and dismal swamps, pursued relentlessly by hounds and fat old deputies with crew cuts and shotguns. That ain’t gonna happen. But the law does provide a penalty. It’s to be found right at §36670(a)(1), which states as clear as clear can be that:
If the city council finds there has been misappropriation of funds, malfeasance, or a violation of law in connection with the management of the district, it shall notice a hearing on disestablishment.
That’s the penalty. If the City Council “finds” that the BIDdies broke the law then they’re required to call a hearing to see about disestablishing the BID. The act of finding seems voluntary but once it’s found then it seems that the hearing is not. Obviously the City Council, bunch of damn BID lovers as they are, isn’t going to make such a finding without being pushed, but there are circumstances under which they probably have a duty to so find. You may well recall that we’ve explored these possibilities before.
Now, Ellen Salome Riotto has some inkling of the difference between right and wrong.6 She knows something bad will happen if they just violate the law. So what did she tell Paul Keller? Well, listen and watch for yourself, or read:
No. We cannot do it. We cannot do it. By law we are not allowed to operate our services outside of the business improvement district boundaries. Those are very clearly delineated on a street basis. Side of the street basis. I know exactly where our boundaries are. And any action … And yeah, we could get sued. We would get sued.
Right on, Ellen Salome Riotto. Sued and/or disestablished. Better not to go there. And probably they’re not going to. But they gotta go somewhere. Can’t just sit around and let Bombay and Calcutta coexist with the BID. So what is she doing instead? Well, here’s the story straight from her mouth:
What we have done is collected photos of all the trash, the debris, the stuff that’s in lanes of traffic, the completely untraversable sidewalks, you know, we all have seen the underpasses. And we along with other BIDs who have underpasses in Downtown compiled them in a shared folder and have been kinda spreading those around. CCA now has access to them. We’ve been working very closely with Council offices both 9 and 14. We will be … we’re setting up a meeting with assemblymember Santiago’s office to help with it.
This is interesting! It’s the first I’ve heard of it! All the Downtown BIDs are compiling a bunch of pictures of the underpasses and they’re passing them around to various politicians, including that notorious best buddy of the BIDs, Miguel Freaking Santiago, who I guess will all be shamed into turning Bombay into the Pacific Palisades or something. Don’t worry, obviously I have CPRA requests out on the matter.
But really, not that I’m the finest legal mind of my generation or anyone else’s generation for that matter, but I really have to wonder how this kind of operation is legal. The South Park BID does not have any underpasses in it. We’ve seen that. But here they are paying Ellen Salome Riotto an actual salary to take pictures of extra-BID underpasses in order to influence government action about them.
How does anyone think that this is not using “[t]he revenue from the levy of assessments within a district … to provide … activities outside the district”? Gathering photos and lobbying officials are certainly activities. Ellen Salome Riotto’s salary is certainly paid out of the revenue from the levy of assessments. It seems just as illegal to me as whatever kind of crazy nonsense Paul Keller wanted to drag the BID into.
I think that I will never cease to marvel at the regularity with which BIDdies violate the law. It’s like they aren’t actually able to follow the law even though the law was and is mostly written for the aid and comfort of them and their fellow zillionaires. It’s not enough for them, though. It never is. I guess one doesn’t get to be a zillionaire if anything’s ever enough. Not that I would know. And that’s today’s lesson in BIDdology, friends!
Transcription of the whole damn thing:
Paul Keller: Can I just add one thing? And I know that everyone is incredibly frustrated with CalTrans.
Ellen Riotto: Underpasses?
Bob Buente: You mean Bombay?
PK: Sorry, Bombay. You know, everyone that comes here every day like so many of us. The experience, getting off at Grand and coming up Olive is just so … depressing. And it’s getting worse. It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. The trash now is piled up to the top of the curb on both sides. And you immediately cross the street and it’s like you’re not in Bombay. But unfortunately the light causes you to be in Bombay if it’s red. And you know so many guests to the CBD7 come and they’ve gotta come through Bombay.
BB: Calcutta’s here on Olympic, by the way.
PK: Yeah, Calcutta’s over there. [unintelligible] take the bull by the horns?
ER: Yeah, yeah, so here’s what we have been doing. I’ll give you an update. It’s not on the agenda because it was for a very long time and we’re slowly making progress I think. What we are doing is compiling … so technically those are outside of the BID boundaries which means that we cannot [unintelligible] to help clean that up. That’s number one. Number two is … so our [unintelligible] are a little bit removed, right? What we have done is collected photos of all the trash, the debris, the stuff that’s in lanes of traffic, the completely untraversable sidewalks, you know, we all have seen the underpasses. And we along with other BIDs who have underpasses in Downtown compiled them in a shared folder and have been kinda spreading those around. CCA now has access to them. We’ve been working very closely with Council offices both 9 and 14. We will be … we’re setting up a meeting with assemblymember Santiago’s office to help with it. I was at a meeting, a CCA luncheon with him, and asked him and everyone, you know, what can you do to help us? It comes down to jurisdiction, right? It’s CalTrans but it’s also DOT and BSS. Which means that all of those different entities are saying “not my problem” and then it just grows and grows and grows. And so we are trying to facilitate more regular cleanups. Right now we have one-offs where we say “guys, it’s getting really bad and people have to step off the sidewalk and into traffic where they’re getting hit by vehicles.” This happens all the time and we are documenting all of those. But really trying to elevate this to a person who does have [unintelligible] power and can help us with CalTrans. And we hope that that’s Santiago’s office. I know that CCA is working with Bloom on this as well, so we will be joining forces and getting a more regular program in for cleanup enforcement. And really it’s not even just cleanup, right? It’s pitch black under there, so we need to have lights installed. We need to make that a welcoming entrance to Downtown as opposed to a scary tunnel where, you know, you don’t know if you’re gonna hit somebody or you can’t walk it, it’s not OK. So I will say that I wish that we could have a hard and fast, you know, button to push and it would make this situation go away but we don’t have that kind of leverage or authority so we have to play the convener, facilitator, documenter.
PK: So I appreciate everything you’re saying and it’s all correct and it’s all very thoughtful and logical. But what I don’t understand is if we send our crew across the street, who did nothing more than clean the trash in the street. Not on the sidewalk, in the street, would like you be thrown in jail, or what would happen?
ER: No. We cannot do it. We cannot do it. By law we are not allowed to operate our services outside of the business improvement district boundaries. Those are very clearly delineated on a street basis. Side of the street basis. I know exactly where our boundaries are. And any action …
ER: And yeah, we could get sued. We would get sued. And … [unintelligible]
Richard Wu: Are you talking about the 9th Street [unintelligible]?
PK: No, Olive. When you get on Grand [unintelligible]
RW: Olive and Grand, is that what you’re talking about?
BB: No, I’m talking about Olympic.
PK: Right, you said Calcutta and Bombay.
BB: Calcutta’s 9th Street. Bombay is [unintelligible] … and so all three agencies have some jurisdictional authority over that area? Over that stretch of street.
ER: Over underpasses.
ER: So I can keep you personally up to speed on how this is going.
PK: It’s just a depressing tone …
ER: Particularly it’s frustrating when you have elected officials who are champions of Downtown and really as they should be and really espouse all of the positive things that are happening down here and neglect the doorways. And those are really … if we can’t make folks feel like they are safe and welcome when they come into Downtown then I feel like we’re missing a pretty key …
RW: Did we have a CD14 teamup cleanup conversation?
BB: But I don’t think that’s CD14. Isn’t that Curren Price?
ER: The underpasses under the 10 are CD14. The underpasses under the 110 are CD9. And CD14 and CD1. So that’s … I love the way that you’re thinking and yes that seems like the logical thing. I don’t think that that is …
Image of Paul Keller is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is modified fairly and usefully from this little Paul Keller right here.
- For some reason I never knew before I checked the Wikipedia article that Jackie Freaking Coogan played Uncle Fester. This has changed my life in ways the details of which are still working themselves out. I’m sure you know what I mean.
- This is probably not out of any awareness that the same weaponized economic forces that create both zillionaires and homeless people in Los Angeles are identically at work in India (and everywhere else for that matter).
- And very highly paid, too. With big freaking bonuses! You’re going to hear more about this matter, much more, in a whole bunch of various contexts, soonish. It’s gonna be really fun, friends!
- Actually that’s the only reason he’s known as that. Doesn’t mean it ain’t true, though, in the usual sarcastic way such things turn out to be true.
- I mean, they kinda do, but I’m just going for the rhetorical effect here if you know what I mean.
- I cannot really resist quoting Bertie Wooster here, who famously said something like “Of course I know there’s a difference between right and wrong. I learned that at school. But I can’t remember what it is.” Something like that, anyway.
- Probably some kind of zillionaire lingo for “Central Business District” rather than anything to do with medical marijuana which, if you’re gonna be honest, you know that’s what you were thinking!