Category Archives: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

BIDs Benefit Immensely From Coercive Collection Of Mandatory Assessments And Complain Incessantly About Being Subject To The California Public Records Act. They Can’t Have One Without The Other, Yet Both Are Voluntary, So Why Don’t They Grow Up And Quit Whining About The Consequences Of Their Choices?

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.

The law requires these POAs to be nonprofits, although it doesn’t specify what kind of nonprofit they should be. For various reasons, at least in Los Angeles, they are usually 501(c)(6) organizations. Because the City is handing over what’s essentially tax money to these POAs,4 they have a great deal of control over their activities and what they spend their money on.
Continue reading BIDs Benefit Immensely From Coercive Collection Of Mandatory Assessments And Complain Incessantly About Being Subject To The California Public Records Act. They Can’t Have One Without The Other, Yet Both Are Voluntary, So Why Don’t They Grow Up And Quit Whining About The Consequences Of Their Choices?

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Central Avenue Historic BID May Provide Insight Into The Process By Which BIDs Evolved From Whatever They Were Originally Conceived To Be Into Weaponized Shock Troops Of The Zillionaire Real-Estate Power Elite

Sherri Franklin of the Urban Design Center, consultant to the Central Avenue Historic BID, speaks at the November 2, 2016 meeting of the Board of Directors.
Sherri Franklin of the Urban Design Center, consultant to the Central Avenue Historic BID, speaks at the November 2, 2016 meeting of the Board of Directors. I apologize for the crappy image quality. I didn’t plan to film.
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

Allan Muhammad, security director for the Central Avenue Historic District BID.
Allan Muhammad, security director for the Central Avenue Historic District BID.
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

Could this be what a BID looks like as BIDs were intended to look? Well, the very question is based on a false assumption. And there were foreshadowings of bad news to come. And on the way home, and for the last few days, it’s got me thinking about what BIDs were meant to be,10how BIDs11 evolve under selective pressure, and how it’s probably inevitable that this BID is going to end up like the worst of the Downtown BIDs, the worst of the Hollywood BIDs. The short version is that BIDs probably started out as helpful tools, but as a wise woman once said, “every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” So turn the page if you’re still interested…
Continue reading Central Avenue Historic BID May Provide Insight Into The Process By Which BIDs Evolved From Whatever They Were Originally Conceived To Be Into Weaponized Shock Troops Of The Zillionaire Real-Estate Power Elite

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What To Press For After The Venice Beach BID Is Approved

palm_trees_at_venice_beachBecause 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.

But one of the City’s newest BIDs, the Central Avenue Historic District BID, suggests an even more promising goal, one which would go a long way toward making something not so bad out of the presently horrifying prospect of the VBBID.
Continue reading What To Press For After The Venice Beach BID Is Approved

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Scanned Archival Documents About BID Implementation and Policy From 1998 Now Available

Somehow BIDs, like everything else, are all Richard Riordan's fault.
Somehow BIDs, like everything else, are all Richard Riordan’s fault.
Recall that last month last month I raised the question of where the City Clerk gets the authority to vote all of the City’s property in favor of BID formation, and about two weeks ago, this question was answered by Miranda Paster, who pointed me towards Council File 96-1972, part of which is the ordinance that directs the Clerk how to vote the City’s parcels. Well, the file is too old to include online material, but a couple days ago I had a chance to visit the L.A. City Archives over on Ramirez Street to look through the file. There was a lot of stuff, most of it not that interesting,1 but I did copy a few items, and here they are for your sake and the sake of history! You can get them at Archive.Org for one thing. Also here in the menu structure, and finally directly here. They’re also linked-to and discussed a little bit after the break.
Continue reading Scanned Archival Documents About BID Implementation and Policy From 1998 Now Available

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That Time in 2005 When The City of Los Angeles Briefly Investigated BID Financial Shenanigans And Contract Violations Instead Of Pretending They’re Powerless In The Face Of Them Like They Do Now

Former Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick (right).
Former Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick (right).
Here’s the situation these days. BIDs have a standard contract that they sign with the City of Los Angeles. It has a lot of requirements in it, and BIDs routinely ignore all of them but a few, known as the “reporting requirements.” I’m skipping the details, but they’re mandated to report various things to the City, and if they don’t then Rick Scott or another one of Miranda Paster’s minions in the Neighborhood & Business Improvement District Division (N&BID) of the Clerk’s office will fire off a threatening email like this one telling the negligent BIDdies to cough up the report or they don’t get paid. On the other hand, there are plenty of clauses in that contract, e.g. the ones on record retention and on abiding by the Public Records Act or the Brown Act, that BIDs not only violate with impunity, but which the City Clerk’s office in the persons of Miranda Paster and Holly Wolcott actually just refuses to enforce. I’ll be writing about that more in the future. Tonight I’m just looking at how it came to pass that N&BID staff even enforce any parts of that contract.
Continue reading That Time in 2005 When The City of Los Angeles Briefly Investigated BID Financial Shenanigans And Contract Violations Instead Of Pretending They’re Powerless In The Face Of Them Like They Do Now

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A Crucial Open Question in Anti-BID Theory: Where Does the City Clerk Get the Authority to Sign Pro-BID Petitions Before the BID is Approved? Arts District BID Episode From 2013 Highlights City’s Hypocrisy On This Issue and Collusion With Carol Schatz

Holly Wolcott, Clerk of the City of Los Angeles, in June 2015.
Holly Wolcott, Clerk of the City of Los Angeles, in June 2015.
UPDATE: This problem is now solved. Let’s work on fixing things!

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.

But the petitions must be signed before City Council can pass an ordinance of intention to form the BID. For instance, in the case of the proposed Venice Beach BID, consultant Tara Devine submitted the signed petitions to the Clerk before June 24, 2016. City Council passed the Ordinance of Intention on July 1, 2016. But see these pro-BID petitions for City parcels, signed by Holly Wolcott on June 15, more than a week before Council voted to authorize the BID process. Of course the City always favors BID formation, but where does the Clerk derive the authority to sign these? It can’t be from the Council vote, which happens afterwards. There must be a law or a rule or something authorizing this. I haven’t been able to find it yet, although I’m sure it exists.
Continue reading A Crucial Open Question in Anti-BID Theory: Where Does the City Clerk Get the Authority to Sign Pro-BID Petitions Before the BID is Approved? Arts District BID Episode From 2013 Highlights City’s Hypocrisy On This Issue and Collusion With Carol Schatz

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Business Improvement Districts As A Force For White Supremacy in Twenty-First Century Los Angeles

This is the most obvious and least dangerous form in which white supremacy expresses itself.
This is the most obvious and least dangerous form in which white supremacy expresses itself.
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

It’s crucial to note that there’s nothing inherently racist about this kind of white supremacy.1 Now, the history of the racial segregation of real estate in Los Angeles is well-known, and Hollywood was at the forefront of it from the early years of the last century. What’s not so well understood is how racially segregated the commercial real estate market was. In fact2 it was certainly more segregated than residential real estate, since white people owned much of the commercial real estate even in areas of the City where nonwhites were allowed to own houses.3
Continue reading Business Improvement Districts As A Force For White Supremacy in Twenty-First Century Los Angeles

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A Trip to City Archives Yields Fascinating Historical Material Including 2003 HPOA Stakeholder Rebellion Over Shady and Neurotic Behavior by Tronson and Morrison During Security Provider Bidding Process

The view from Ramirez Street.  The entrance to the Archives is by the loading dock in the mid-right area of the image.
The view from Ramirez Street. The entrance to the Archives is by the loading dock in the mid-right area of the image.
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.

Even in 2003 the BIDs had captured the regulatory function of the City Clerk's office to the point where they were warning Kerry Morrison that people were scrutinizing her sketchy behavior rather than using the power of the purse to make her be not so shady.  The fox wasn't guarding the henhouse--the lunatics were (and are) running the asylum.
Even in 2003 the BIDs had captured the regulatory function of the City Clerk’s office to the point where they were warning Kerry Morrison that people were scrutinizing her sketchy behavior rather than using the power of the purse to make her be not so shady. The fox wasn’t guarding the henhouse–the lunatics were (and are) running the asylum.

If you read the letter you’ll see that they’re talking about practices that are still retained by the current BID Patrol: custodial arrests rather than observe-and-report, unseeming over-coziness with the staff of the HPOA, and so on.3 The copy I obtained came with a couple of handwritten notes4 from a Clerk’s office employee suggesting that they warn Kerry Morrison that people were watching so she should follow the rules. This, obviously, is not the kind of behavior one would expect from a regulatory agency. Why didn’t they tell Kerry Morrison to follow the rules because the law required her to?
Continue reading A Trip to City Archives Yields Fascinating Historical Material Including 2003 HPOA Stakeholder Rebellion Over Shady and Neurotic Behavior by Tronson and Morrison During Security Provider Bidding Process

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Hollywood Property Owners Alliance Board Member Alyssa Van Breene: Financial Beneficiary of a Century of Poison-Saturated Environmental Racism in South Los Angeles

Standard Plating Company at 826 E. 62nd Street, Los Angeles.  Like the Hollywood Gower Plaza, this property has been in Alyssa Van Breene's family for four generations.  She's not bragging about it on the internet, though, possibly because, rather than being associated with glamor and glitz it's associated with poisons saturating the land and the groundwater.
Standard Plating Company at 826 E. 62nd Street, Los Angeles. Like the Hollywood Gower Plaza, this property has been in Alyssa Van Breene’s family for four generations. She’s not bragging about it on the internet, though, possibly because, rather than being associated with glamor and glitz, it’s associated with poisons saturating the land and the groundwater.
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.

When next we met Ms. Alyssa Van Breene she was boasting in her Board bio that her family had owned the northeast corner of Hollywood and Gower for four freaking generations, as if this were some kind of accomplishment to be proud of, predicated as it was and is on the white supremacist real estate policies that made Hollywood what it is today.

The human face of white supremacy, hypocrisy, and wanton saturation of the earth and water of South Los Angeles with poisons.
The human face of white supremacy, hypocrisy, and wanton saturation of the earth and water of South Los Angeles with poisons.

And when last we met Ms. Alyssa Van Breene, she was sitting in a room watching, not protesting, a gang of her white supremacist BID buddies laughing it up with Cowboy Cory Palka of the LAPD’s Hollywood Division about how fucked up South Los Angeles is. And really, this is how we meet her every month, as the HPOA plots to turn its BID Patrol into a tool for the LAPD to avoid civilian oversight, as they arrange the destruction of their own records to avoid criticism, as the BID Patrol continues to arrest the homeless merely to harass them, as they plot and plan to keep arresting street vendors, not to mention illegally destroying their wares, and so on. Her silence, obviously, equals her consent.
The famous four-generation Dulgarian/Van Breene strip mall at Hollywood and Gower is the non-toxic side of Alyssa Van Breene's holdings.
The famous four-generation Dulgarian/Van Breene strip mall at Hollywood and Gower is the non-toxic side of the holdings of Alyssa Van Breene’s people.

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.

So what a surprise it was when the almighty Google turned us on to the fact that her mom, Dickie Van Breene (née Dulgarian) and her uncle Duke Dulgarian (and a bunch of other Dulgarians, but they don’t concern us here) were sued every which way but loose in 2013 in Federal Court by Kamala Harris and the California Department of Justice for illegally dumping a bunch of poisonous shit at a nickel-chrome plating factory in on East 62nd Street in South L.A. that they all inherited down the generations along with the Hollywood and Gower property, the economic benefits of which inure to Alyssa Van Breene just as surely as do those of the famous strip mall. You can read the initial complaint here, and it has some interesting history in it:
Continue reading Hollywood Property Owners Alliance Board Member Alyssa Van Breene: Financial Beneficiary of a Century of Poison-Saturated Environmental Racism in South Los Angeles

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