Category Archives: Los Angeles City Government

In Defense Of A Change To A Compensation-Based Threshold For Lobbying Registration In Los Angeles

I wrote yesterday about a troubling meeting of the Ethics Commission concerning revisions to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The proposals are still very much in flux, and timely public comments are not only essential for swaying the wavering commissioners in the right direction, but the commissioners, no matter their other flaws, do seem to read them, so they’re likely to be effective if submitted over the next couple of months.1

I had planned to write a letter to the Commission about all the issues together and publish it here as well, but the more I think about it the more I have to say. Thus I thought it would be much easier for everyone if I wrote about one issue at a time and then edited the posts down into a single letter to the Commission. Also, maybe you’ll find some of my ideas useful in framing your own letters, which should be sent to ethics.policy@lacity.org.

This post, then, is the first installment of that project, and the subject is the proposed change from a time-based registration requirement to a compensation-based requirement. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re surely not alone. Turn the page for an introduction to the issue and arguments in favor of making the change.
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In A Disgraceful Display Of Regulatory Capture, Ethics Commissioners (Except For Andrea Ordin) Drink Lobbyist Kool-Aid With Respect To Lobbying Ordinance Revision, Direct Staff To Acknowledge Even More Bullshit Pissing And Moaning From Lobbyists, And Gleefully Betray Their Duties To The People Of Los Angeles

A couple weeks ago I wrote about proposed changes to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, which were on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the Ethics Commission. The proposed revisions would essentially require more detailed, much quicker disclosure of lobbyists’ projects and clarify precisely who is required to register. Well, the meeting happened. First there was a ton of public comment from lobbyists, all of it the familiar bitching and moaning that the power elite of Los Angeles will typically spew forth when they feel that their power is threatened in any way.

Next there was a series of embarrassing PDAs between Commissioners and lobbyists about how wrong it is to burden the “regulated community”1 with any oversight at all and how, despite all evidence to the contrary, lobbyists actually want to follow the laws. The Commissioners, that is, apart from Andrea Ordin who, alone among her colleagues, seems to remember why we have a lobbying ordinance in this City, basically took the position that if the lobbyists in attendance were upset by the proposed revisions then there was something wrong with the proposals.

Subsequently, the Commissioners asked Director of Policy Arman Tarzi a series of questions displaying their embarrassing ignorance of how lobbying actually works in this City, and finally Commission President Jessica Levinson directed the staff to solicit even more input from lobbyists on how they want to be regulated. This despite the fact that the revision process has already been going on for a year and a freaking half already. Anyway, I taped the whole 90 minutes of discussion, and you can watch it here:

  • Part one — About an hour’s worth of mostly mendacious public comment from lobbyists followed by the beginning of the interrogation of the long-suffering, saintly, heroic Arman Tarzi by Commissioners who, mostly, don’t even seem to have read the material they’re deliberating on, or not to have comprehended it if they did read it.
  • Part two — Ethics Commissioners falling over themselves to state how great lobbyists are and quizzing the staff about matters that, as commissioners, they ought already to understand.

If you’re wondering how important this issue is, just think back to the recent episode of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort. There we saw massive illegal lobbying efforts directed at successfully employed to convince Jose Huizar to subvert the subdivision election on behalf of anonymous clients who paid more than $45,000 for this service and whose identities, despite the requirements of the MLO, are still unknown to the public. It’s quite plausible that a more timely disclosure of this information would have changed the outcome of the election.

And turn the page for a detailed discussion of the some problems with the proposed revisions that the Commissioners purported to find. As you consider the Commissioners’ cataclysmic failure to regulate lobbying in Los Angeles, keep in mind that it’s people like the residents of Skid Row that they’re failing to protect.
Continue reading In A Disgraceful Display Of Regulatory Capture, Ethics Commissioners (Except For Andrea Ordin) Drink Lobbyist Kool-Aid With Respect To Lobbying Ordinance Revision, Direct Staff To Acknowledge Even More Bullshit Pissing And Moaning From Lobbyists, And Gleefully Betray Their Duties To The People Of Los Angeles

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Apparently The City Attorney Of Los Angeles Has Opined That Business Improvement Districts Can’t Spend Money On Things That Aren’t In Their Management District Plans Unless The Plans Are Amended — At Least That’s What Shadowy BID Consultant Tara Devine Said In 2012 And Why Would She Lie About That?

When business improvement districts in California are created, it’s required by the Property and Business Improvement District Act of 1994 at §36622 to file a so-called management district plan (MDP) with the City. This is meant to describe exactly what the BID is going to spend its money on, and it’s incorporated into the City’s Ordinance of Establishment, by which means the BID is created. It must be approved by the City Council, and the City has the power to revise it at will. The law makes it pretty clear that BIDs are actually forbidden from spending money on activities that aren’t in the MDP, although this facet of the law is generally ignored by the City.

And I’m presently working on a project that requires a close reading of invoices submitted by Tara Devine1 to the South Park BID over the years, which I obtained last month as the fruit of a CPRA request.2 Although 2012 is outside the timeline I’m working on, I was fascinated to note that Tara Devine seems to have been engaged by the South Park BID to actually write that year’s annual planning report3 for them. One of the things that she billed for in the course of performing her contract to do so Tara Devine billed for was a conversation with accounting firm RBZ, since merged with Armanino, and the subject of that conversation was wholly new to me:
Continue reading Apparently The City Attorney Of Los Angeles Has Opined That Business Improvement Districts Can’t Spend Money On Things That Aren’t In Their Management District Plans Unless The Plans Are Amended — At Least That’s What Shadowy BID Consultant Tara Devine Said In 2012 And Why Would She Lie About That?

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In Which I Present A General Argument That BID Consultancy Is Lobbying Activity In Order To Simplify And Regularize The Process Of Reporting BID Consultants To The Ethics Commission For Failure To Register

It’s a long term project of mine to turn in as many BID consultants as possible to the City Ethics Commission for failing to register as lobbyists. So far, though, I’ve only managed to report Tara Devine for her work on the Venice Beach BID because the work is so involved. Such a report has two essential components:

  1. An argument that BID consultancy satisfies the definition of lobbying activity found in the the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance at LAMC §48.02.
  2. An argument that a specific BID consultant was paid for sufficiently many hours over sufficiently few months to trigger the registration requirement found in the MLO at LAMC §48.07(A).

It occurred to me recently that the first argument will be the same for all BID consultants, and that therefore it would be possible to streamline the reporting process by writing it up in a generic format that would apply to any given BID consultant. So that’s what I did, and you can read the result here. I will be using this to make a number of complaints against BID consultants in the near future, which I will report on here.

Meanwhile, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can find explanations of everything after the break, along with a fairly detailed summary of the argument that BID consultancy qualifies as lobbying under the MLO.
Continue reading In Which I Present A General Argument That BID Consultancy Is Lobbying Activity In Order To Simplify And Regularize The Process Of Reporting BID Consultants To The Ethics Commission For Failure To Register

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Department Of Neighborhood Empowerment Recommends That Online Voting In Future Neighborhood Council Elections Be Optional

Background: You can read my previous stories on the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort and also see Jason McGahan’s article in the Weekly and Gale Holland’s article in the Times for more mainstream perspectives.

Yesterday the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment submitted a report on online voting in neighborhood council elections to the Los Angeles City Council’s Health, Education, and Neighborhood Councils Committee.1 Here’s a link to the report, but be careful as it’s a massive PDF. After the great injustice and great pain caused by José Huizar and DONE by imposing online voting on the Skid Row Neighborhood Council effort one might think that DONE would have displayed some consciousness of the damage they’d created.

But that didn’t happen. In an unfortunately characteristic display of block-headed indifference to both morality and reality, the sole lesson DONE seems to have learned is that online voting increases voter participation:

The potential of online voting and voter registration to engage more stakeholders in Neighborhood Council elections was clear in the 2016 pilot as noted in the January 17, 2017 report and confirmed in the subdivision election for Skid Row Neighborhood Council this year where 1,388 votes were cast online out of a total of 1,592.

It’s disgusting indeed that they don’t even mention the fact that online voting increases participation among non-homeless people while actively decreasing it among the homeless, even though they are well aware of this fact. And their recommendation to the City Council, which will almost surely be adopted verbatim? It’s that online voting should not be imposed on any other neighborhood councils but that they be allowed to opt into it if they so choose:

[DONE recommends that Council i]nstruct the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and Office of the City Clerk to make online voting an option available for the Neighborhood Councils whose online voting platforms are already built out …

Additionally, they recommend that neighborhood council terms be extended in order to match the new Los Angeles city election schedule. Turn the page for a transcription of the summary of the report
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Why Does Shadowy Anonymous United Downtown Have The Same Phone Number As The Central City East Association?

Background: You can read my previous stories on the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort and also see Jason McGahan’s article in the Weekly and Gale Holland’s article in the Times for more mainstream perspectives.

I reported a couple days ago that Liner LLP, the lobbying firm hired by the shadowy anonymous entity known as United Downtown for the purpose of killing the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation, had finally disclosed their client via their Q2 report. I didn’t realize then that Liner had also filed an amended 2017 registration statement showing United Downtown as a client, which they had previously failed to do.

And there’s a crucial detail in these disclosures that I missed. I was alerted to this matter by a source who spoke to me on condition of anonymity. Take a look at the disclosure statement. In particular, the phone number that Liner gives for United Downtown is (213) 228-8484. Now take a look at Central City East’s contact info (and here’s a screenshot should it become necessary). Their phone number is (213) 228-8484 as well! This would go a long way towards explaining the outsized role played by Estela Lopez in this fiasco as early as January 2017.
Continue reading Why Does Shadowy Anonymous United Downtown Have The Same Phone Number As The Central City East Association?

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Ethics Commission Releases List Of Far-Reaching, Much-Needed, Proposed Updates To Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, To Be Discussed Further At August 15 Meeting

On Friday the City Ethics Commission released a list of proposed updates to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. This is scheduled for discussion at the Commission’s upcoming August 15 meeting. These are extraordinarily far-reaching and much welcome proposals, and you’ll find a list with commentary after the break. Just for instance, though, they’re proposing to alter the definition of a lobbyist to make it easier to decide when they’re required to register, to require disclosure of specific City employees lobbied, to require disclosure of positions taken on lobbied issues, and so on.

First though, let me just outline the slightly unusual procedure by which government ethics laws are changed in the City of Los Angeles. Unlike most laws, which are proposed, amended, and passed or defeated by the City Council, ethics laws are proposed by the Ethics Commission. Once the Commission finalizes its proposal, it’s sent to the City Council, which has the right to adopt the proposal or reject the proposal, but they are specifically forbidden from altering the proposal.

Of course, something like this complex procedure is necessary, because it wouldn’t be safe to allow the City Council, the main agency reined in by ethics laws, to rewrite them on their own initiative. They’d very soon be meaningless. However, it seems to make the laws extraordinarily difficult to change in substantive ways. For instance, the Ethics Commission sent up a set of proposals fairly similar to the current set in 2010.

At that time Eric Garcetti was chair of the Rules and Elections committee, where the proposal went first. At the behest of Kerry Morrison, Estela Lopez, and a bunch of other BID staffers, in the midst of a stomach-turning display of flirtatious trivialization, he let the proposal die in committee without even a second hearing. You can read all about this disgraceful episode and even listen to audio of the giggly horribleness of it all. There’s every chance that something very similar will happen this time around. But maybe not, who can say.
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United Downtown LA Paid Liner LLP More Than $45,000 To Lobby Against Skid Row Neighborhood Council In Q2 2017. Payments From First Quarter Are Still Undisclosed

Background: You can read my previous stories on the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort and also see Jason McGahan’s article in the Weekly and Gale Holland’s article in the Times for more mainstream perspectives.

You may recall that shady downtown municipal lobbying firm Liner LLP was hired by the even shadier anonymous Delaware incorporated United Downtown LA to lobby against the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort and that I turned them in to the City Ethics Commission for failing to amend their disclosure forms to disclose United Downtown as a client as required by LAMC §48.07.

Well, yesterday was the filing deadline for Second Quarter disclosures, and Liner filed theirs on time. It’s required by law for lobbying firms like Liner to disclose their clients and also how much money they got paid by each client. This time they actually did list United DTLA1 and it turns out that they were paid a stunning total of $45,010.40 to lobby against the SRNC. And this is just for Q2.2 It’s likely, or at least possible, that when the Ethics Commission gets around to investigating my complaint they’ll find that Liner was paid even more in Q1.

Oh, and check out the address that they put on the form for United Downtown. That’s Liner’s address. Full-service anonymization going on. That this much money was spent to stop a neighborhood council suggests that the NC system is really badly broken somehow.
Continue reading United Downtown LA Paid Liner LLP More Than $45,000 To Lobby Against Skid Row Neighborhood Council In Q2 2017. Payments From First Quarter Are Still Undisclosed

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Video Of MK.Org Presentation At The LA Poverty Department, Bad BIDness In The City Of Angels, Now Available

This is just a quick note to announce that video of Tuesday’s presentation at the LAPD is now available for your viewing pleasure. Here are the options:

  • On Archive.Org — best for desktop viewing and downloading in full resolution.
  • Part 1 and also Part 2 — On YouTube, which is best for mobile.
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MK.Org At The LA Poverty Department Tomorrow Night, 7:30 PM! Bad BIDness in the City of Angels: Business Improvement Districts, Lobbying, and Class Warfare.

Hey, friends! I’m speaking tomorrow night at the Los Angeles Poverty Department. The title of the talk is Bad BIDness in the City of Angels: Business Improvement Districts, Lobbying, and Class Warfare. It’s at 7:30 p.m. at 250 S. Broadway. Here’s a link to the Facebook event if that’s more convenient for you. This PDF contains somewhat more than I’m going to talk about. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

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