A business improvement district (BID) in Los Angeles1 is a geographical area in which the owners of commercial property are assessed an additional fee for various services that aren’t provided by the City. These fees are collected either by the City of L.A. via direct billing2 or, more usually, by the County of Los Angeles as an add-on to property tax bills.
The state law authorizing BIDs requires each BID to be administered by a property owners’ association (POA).3 In the normal course of things these organizations are conjured up by the City at the time the BID is established, although sometimes previously existing nonprofits will end up as a POA. One example of this is the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which serves as POA for the East Hollywood BID, although it predates its existence.
After I spent some time looking into the Central Avenue Historic BID in the context of potential political goals for the post-approval Venice Beach BID, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about this newborn BID.1 The meetings are held at CD9’s district office at 4301 S. Central,2 so on a very pleasant evening last Thursday, I took the 210 out of Hollywood to MLK and Crenshaw, where I boarded the 705 to Central and Vernon from whence a couple blocks North on Central to watch the Board of Directors conduct their business.3 The meeting was scheduled to start at 5:30, but that evidently included some preliminaries, because when I got there at about 10 to 64 they hadn’t started yet.
Anyway, take a look at the agenda. You can see that they’re talking about the kind of things that one would expect BIDs to talk about from, e.g., reading the Wikipedia page on BIDs,5 like branding and marketing, cleaning the streets, having Halloween events, and so on. And watch this short clip of the meeting.6 That’s Sherri Franklin of the Urban Design Center, the BID consultant, who also seems to be functioning as executive director, talking about some kind of partnership the BID’s working on with Hollywood Community Housing Corporation involving affordable housing at the corner of Central and Jefferson.7 And then you can watch here as BID security director Allan Muhammad introduces his employees, and then they proceed to hand out sample Halloween bags to everyone in the room. They didn’t once discuss custodial arrests, handcuffs, social engineering, mass relocations, self-aggrandizing 5150 holds, or any of the other hard-edged tactics of which the City’s older and ever so much more dangerous BIDs are so enamored. And even though I only got 15 minutes on tape of the 90 minutes I was there8 they didn’t really have anything objectionable to say even during the parts of the meeting I didn’t record. They talked about parking, they talked about their phone bills, they talked about how it was hard for the BID to patronize local businesses because they mostly only accepted cash.9
Because it will be approved. We know that. But we also know that Mike Bonin might be susceptible to political pressure. He even thought about moving the hearing date, presumably in response to political pressure and cogent criticism. Maybe the same tactics can help improve what’s presently looking like it’ll be yet another version of the worst that this City’s BIDs in Hollywood and Downtown have to offer. So here are some things which might be attainable politically and which might help mitigate some of the worst excesses to which BIDs are prone.
First of all, maybe you remember the recent tumult over the Arts District BID. If not, there’s a1 version of the story here. In short, some property owners got a judge to dissolve the BID, there was a big fuss about getting a new BID formed, and in order to settle the controversy, José Huizar stepped in and brokered a compromise involving the composition of the Board of Directors. As the L.A. Business Journal put it:
City Councilman José Huizar, whose district includes the neighborhood, on Tuesday announced that the Arts District Community Council Los Angeles has agreed to drop its application to create a BID and support an application sponsored by a group called Arts District Los Angeles. The ADLA, in turn, agreed to give Community Council representatives at least four seats on an expanded 23-member board. In addition, the area’s homeowners association will get three additional seats on the board.
If Huizar can negotiate seats on the Arts District BID Board, Mike Bonin can certainly change the composition of the Board of Directors of the Venice Beach BID if he wants to.2 The composition of the Board is a political matter which can be influenced by political tactics. The Arts District dissenters got four seats out of 23, not enough to change things, although by no means an empty victory. A vote, four votes, is not nothing in such a closed-off political entity. Another moral is that the homeowners association got seats on the Board. That is, Huizar got people who live in the BID a voice on the Board. This is also not trivial.
Roughly, the process for creating a new BID goes like this: Some property owners hire a consultant who collects petitions in favor of the BID. When petitions adding up to more than 50% of the total assessments in the proposed district are on hand, they’re submitted to the City Clerk, who then takes the matter to City Council.1 One interesting aspect of this is that City-owned parcels in the proposed district are voted in exactly the same way that privately owned parcels are. That the City always votes in favor of BIDs is well-known, although see below for an episode where the City actually opposed a BID proposal.2 In fact, part of the consultant’s job seems to be to gerrymander as much City-owned property into the BID as possible so as to minimize the requisite number of agreeable private owners. The City Clerk, currently Holly Wolcott, is somehow authorized to sign petitions on the City’s behalf for City-owned parcels.
My colleagues and I spill a lot of metaphorical ink referring to business improvement districts and their Boards of Directors as white supremacists, and we certainly stand by that position. However, it’s recently come to my attention that not everyone in our audience is familiar with the literal meaning of the phrase. Evidently it strikes some people as a generic, semantically empty insult, or else they’re confused by the fact that the phrase refers to at least two fairly distinct ideologies. Thus I thought it would be useful to explain in detail why BIDs are in a very literal sense white supremacist organizations.
First let’s get the definitions straight. As always, our friends at Wikipedia give us a good starting place. Their article on white supremacy tells us that the phrase has two principal meanings. The salient one for our purposes is that white supremacy is:
…a political ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical and/or industrial domination by white people
A recent trip to the lovely City Archives on Ramirez Street, my absolute favorite of all city agencies,1 yielded up a bunch of really interesting stuff from 2001–2003. So much so that I started a new page for it. It took me three hours to look through two boxes of BID records (out of more than 400), so I’m sure there will be much more of this stuff to come. There’s a list of some highlights after the break, but check it!
In 2003 the BID’s expiring security contract with Burke Security, the predecessor of Andrews International, was put out for bids. Aaron Epstein, yes, the same one whose nuclear bomb of a lawsuit established the subjection of BIDs to both the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, thereby making this blog possible, and a large group of his fellow Hollywood BID stakeholders2 sent a letter to then-mayor James Hahn complaining that they:
believe[d] that the District’s board of directors and executive director have not conducted a fully open and competitive process to ensure that property owners receive the finest security service for the lowest competitive price (the current two year contract exceeds $2 million). Moreover, we believe that the board and executive director have failed to be objective in the process and have allowed the contractor, Burke Security, to function in ways that do not provide the maximum benefits to the property owners and merchants.
When first we met Ms. Alyssa Van Breene, round about the middle of 2015, she was out in Boyle Heights, shooting off her privileged mouth about street vending and how it must be forbidden because she and her strange BIDfellows “…work very hard to keep the sidewalks clean, safe, and hospitable for all pedestrians: tourists, workers, residents, and students.” Make a note of that “clean” bit. It’s going to come up again later.
But we had assumed, without evidence or even much thought, that her destructive activities were confined to Hollywood, that yes, she was willing to oppress non-zillionaires by arresting them, mocking them, and chasing them out of Hollywood, but that that was the extent of the damage.