Category Archives: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

A Potential Solution To A Perennial Problem At The Nexus Of Los Angeles Business Improvement Districts, The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, And A Few Widely Abused Exemptions To The California Public Records Act

The life-cycle of a request for documents under the California Public Records Act goes like this: A member of the public asks to see records held by some agency. The agency has ten days1 to respond with a determination which states whether the agency has any such records and, if so, when the agency will be ready to hand them over.2 In general agencies are required to produce all requested records.

However, CPRA lists certain classes of records which are exempt from production. Some of these so-called exemptions are weirdly specific, e.g. at §6253.5 we read:

…statewide, county, city, and district initiative, referendum, and recall petitions … and all memoranda prepared by the county elections officials in the examination of the petitions indicating which registered voters have signed particular petitions shall not be deemed to be public records…

One of the two most important sections of CPRA with respect to exemptions is found at §6254, which consists of innumerable sections, each listing an exemption or a broad class of exemptions. And as completely in favor of absolute government transparency as I am, it’s clear that at least some of these are absolutely justified. For instance, §6254(r) exempts:

Records of Native American graves, cemeteries, and sacred places and records of Native American places, features, and objects … maintained by, or in the possession of, the Native American Heritage Commission, another state agency, or a local agency.

And there are sections which exempt such things as reports on vulnerabilities to terrorism, library circulation records, certain financial data that people are required by law to submit, and so on. These are mostly noncontroversial. Others, however, are much less defensible, at least as applied.
Continue reading A Potential Solution To A Perennial Problem At The Nexus Of Los Angeles Business Improvement Districts, The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, And A Few Widely Abused Exemptions To The California Public Records Act

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Why Are BIDs In Los Angeles Allowed To Pay For Their Renewal Out Of Current Assessments? It Seems To Be Some Kind Of Pernicious Circular Reasoning And May Well Violate The Law

I’m presently working on a number of fairly involved projects which relate to the establishment and renewal processes for BIDs. There’ll be more news on that later, but, tangentially, in the course of my research I’ve noticed that BIDs that are up for renewal tend to state the fact in their Annual Planning Reports (“APRs”). Just for instance, here’s the Fashion District’s 2017 APR. In there, on page 3, you can see BID renewal under the heading “Management/City Fees (Zones 1-9): $487,795.00 (10.67%).”

It’s only recently that I’ve come to understand the importance of these APRs. First of all, BIDs in California are required by State law to produce them. According to the Streets and Highways Code at §36650(a):

The owners’ association shall cause to be prepared a report for each fiscal year, except the first year, for which assessments are to be levied and collected to pay the costs of the improvements, maintenance, and activities described in the report.

In the laconic dialect of the law, this seems to say that assessments are to be spent on “improvements, maintenance, and activities” if and only if they are listed in the APR. This is one reason these APRs are essential to understanding the operations of BIDs. They’re explicitly forbidden from spending money on matters not listed in the APR and they’re explicitly required to carry out matters that are listed. This is possibly part of the reason why the City exercises hyperspecific control over the content of APRs even as they categorically refuse to exercise any control whatsoever even over overt malfeasance by BIDs.

And elsewhere in the law, specifically at §36622(k)(2), we find a statement of the infamous “special benefits” requirement for property-based BIDs:

In a property-based district, the proportionate special benefit derived by each identified parcel shall be determined exclusively in relationship to the entirety of the capital cost of a public improvement, the maintenance and operation expenses of a public improvement, or the cost of the activities. An assessment shall not be imposed on any parcel that exceeds the reasonable cost of the proportional special benefit conferred on that parcel. Only special benefits are assessable …

So BIDs are required to spend money on activities listed in the APR and all money they spend must be spent on special benefits to the property owners. Therefore the presence of BID renewal as a fundable activity in the APR implies that BID renewal in itself must be a special benefit to the property owners.
Continue reading Why Are BIDs In Los Angeles Allowed To Pay For Their Renewal Out Of Current Assessments? It Seems To Be Some Kind Of Pernicious Circular Reasoning And May Well Violate The Law

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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.
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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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