Category Archives: Public Records Act Pragmatics

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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The LA CAN & Catholic Worker Lawsuit Has Cost The Central City East Association At Least $115,000 In Legal Fees And Costs (And How It Took Me Two Months Of Hardcore CPRAfaction To Discover This Fact)

Around these parts we refer to the California Public Records Act as CPRA, pronounced SIP-rah. The methodologies and practicalities of using CPRA are known as CPRAfaction, pronounced SIP-rah-faction.

You may recall that in March, the Central City East Association settled the momentous lawsuit brought against it by the Los Angeles Community Action Network and LA Catholic Worker.1 This was mere months after beloved Los Angeles gadfly Eric Preven and the incomparable ACLU of Southern California won a momentous decision in the California Supreme Court, which ruled essentially that once a legal case was finished the legal privilege exemption to CPRA2 no longer applied. No coincidences around here! So I fired off an email to Estela Lopez as follows:

Good afternoon, Estela, and happy Palm Sunday.

And congratulations on settling that 2014 lawsuit, namely LACW et al. v. Downtown Industrial District BID et al. (2:14-cv-07344-PSG-AJW). I would like to look at copies of all bills from all lawyers who worked for the CCEA on this case.

For the sake of efficiency, and in case you’re not already aware aware of this, here’s a link to an LA Times story on the recent Supreme Court decision declaring that once a case is resolved the bills become public records:

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-court-legal-bills-20161229-story.html

As you can imagine, there was a lot of back-and-forth, with her mostly refusing to hand over the legal bills, until this afternoon, when she did hand them over. The full story of that, with bunches of emails and also a reasonable amount of CPRA nerdview, can be found after the break if you’re interested.

But here are the actual bills to CCEA from their lawyers, Hill, Farrer, & Burrill. I spent a little time adding up the totals and their total legal bills, costs and fees, seem to have come to $89,782.54 over the last three years. Add this to the $25,000 they agreed to pay the plaintiffs in the settlement agreement and their whole bill comes to $114,782.54. This is over slightly less than three years, and the BID’s annual budget is roughly $2,000,000, so it’s relatively not that much.

According to Estela Lopez in 2015 there are more than 2000 homeless human beings living in the CCEA’s territory. Thus this lawsuit cost them a little more than $57 per potential harassment victim. I’m sure this seems cheap at the price. Anyway, that’s the substantive information. Turn the page for the story of how I got my hands on it!
Continue reading The LA CAN & Catholic Worker Lawsuit Has Cost The Central City East Association At Least $115,000 In Legal Fees And Costs (And How It Took Me Two Months Of Hardcore CPRAfaction To Discover This Fact)

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The Fascinating Story Of How It Took Three Months And A Demand Letter From An Attorney To Get Rena Leddy To Disclose That The Fashion District BID Is Paying Steve Gibson Of Urban Place Consulting $215 Per Hour For BID Renewal Consulting, Which Is Less Than Larry Kosmont Gets But More Than Ed Henning

Late last year it occurred to me that BID consultants, who help BIDs with the City processes necessary to establish or renew a BID, are essentially engaging in lobbying activity as defined in the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance at LAMC §48.02 and yet none of them1 seemed to be registered with the Ethics Commission as required by LAMC §48.07(A).

I then spent months piecing together over 100 pages of evidence to show that BID consultant Tara Devine had violated this law. Subsequently it occurred to me that the contracts that the consultants sign with BIDs would provide essential evidence that they’d been acting as lobbyists, so I determined to request these from many renewing BIDs. This led me to the discovery, thanks to the incomparable Laurie Hughes of the Gateway to LA BID, that GTLA’s BID consultant, Larry Kosmont, actually was registered as a lobbyist and had disclosed his BID consultancy as lobbying in his required reporting. The San Pedro BID is also up for renewal, and has recently released a fairly complete set of BID renewal records.

This brings us to the Fashion District. On February 21, 2017 I emailed Rena Leddy to request, among other material:

… all records associated with the renewal process, including but not limited to communications between the BID and the consultant and/or the engineer, contracts with and invoices from the consultant or the engineer, materials prepared by the consultant or the engineer for the renewal process, databases and mailing lists prepared or used by the consultant or the engineer, and also any communications between the consultant and the engineer that aren’t already responsive to the first part of this request.

The story of what happened after that stretched out over three months and generated many many megabytes of discussion. Read on for a (far too) detailed and exceedingly well-documented narrative recounting, complete with a happy, happy ending!
Continue reading The Fascinating Story Of How It Took Three Months And A Demand Letter From An Attorney To Get Rena Leddy To Disclose That The Fashion District BID Is Paying Steve Gibson Of Urban Place Consulting $215 Per Hour For BID Renewal Consulting, Which Is Less Than Larry Kosmont Gets But More Than Ed Henning

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More than 200 MB Of New Hand-Scanned Documents From Figueroa Corridor BID and North Hollywood BID, Heavily Redacted For No Discernable Reason, But Interesting Nevertheless!

For the last few months I’ve been posting a lot of records from:

But I haven’t discussed the fact that these releases weren’t complete. In each case, Aaron Aulenta of Urban Place Consulting, who seems to be in charge of both of these BIDs, claimed numerous exemptions to the Public Record Act and told me that there was a bunch of material that he was printing out and redacting by hand on the basis of these exemptions.

Well, for various reasons I wasn’t able to get over to the offices of the FCBID to look at this stuff until Tuesday. Aaron Aulenta was kind enough to let me scan it instead of paying the usual outrageous copying fees that BIDdies habitually claim to be allowed to collect, and, after some minimal processing, I’m pleased to announce that it’s now available on Archive.Org. There’s some pretty interesting stuff in there, but it turns out that in this case the most interesting stuff is what’s not in there.

That is to say, the most interesting aspect of this release is what Aaron Aulenta thought that he was justified in redacting. Perhaps you recall that the California Public Records Act only allows for material to be redacted or withheld if one or more of the explicit enumerated exemptions to be found in the statute applies. There’s one exception to this principle, to be found in the infamous §6255(a), which states:

The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.

As you can imagine, BIDdies1 freaking love this last bit. It’s the most abused section of the law, with BIDdies, stoned out of their minds on white privilege and steeped in their delusional2 theory that laws are written and enforced for no better reason than to preserve and augment their power and wealth, claiming randomly that pretty much any piece of information they feel might embarrass them or their lackeys is exempt under this so-called public interest exemption.

For your future reference, there are at least two dispositive signs that this clause is being misused. First, they will refuse to state what public interest they feel is clearly being served by their withholding of the information. You’ll note that the law requires them to make this judgment on the particular facts of the case, which do not, can not, include a vague wave of the hand towards a claim of “I don’t heart that.”

Second, they will state semantically empty summary phrases which purport to refer to actual exemptions but, in fact, do not. Aaron Aulenta’s favorite of these seems to be “the benefit does not outweigh the burden.” It’s not exactly clear what the hell he’s thinking when he says this, and getting my hands on all these redacted documents has made it less rather than more clear, as you will see from the specific examples to be found after the break.
Continue reading More than 200 MB Of New Hand-Scanned Documents From Figueroa Corridor BID and North Hollywood BID, Heavily Redacted For No Discernable Reason, But Interesting Nevertheless!

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In Yet Another Example Of Disdain For The California Constitution, LAPD Internal Affairs Finds “Insufficient Evidence” To Pursue CPRA-Based Complaint Against LAPD Discovery, Leaving ACLU’s April 2017 Lawsuit As Current Best Hope For Reform

Maybe you remember that last October I complained to LAPD Internal Affairs about the fact that the LAPD Discovery Unit, which handles Public Records Act requests, was unbelievably, flamboyantly, egregiously, astonishingly remiss in their legal duty to provide requested records promptly. They routinely take more than 18 months to handle requests if they handle them at all.

The complaint was based on the theory that, since compliance with the Public Records Act is a fundamental constitutional right in California, and since Reverence for the Law is one of the LAPD’s core values, someone in the chain of command ought to be held responsible for LAPD’s flouting of this fundamental constitutional right. Well, a few weeks ago I received a determination letter from Internal Affairs on my complaint. They found sadly, that there was Insufficient Evidence to Adjudicate. So much for that theory!

Of course, the LAPD has a long and ultimately twisted relationship with both the Constitution of the United States and with the Constitution of California, from the depths of unrecorded history to 1923’s Liberty Hill Strike to the Consent Decree imposed by the Justice Department in response to innumerable instances of appalling misconduct to the long list of killings of unarmed people in the first decades of the 21st Century.
Continue reading In Yet Another Example Of Disdain For The California Constitution, LAPD Internal Affairs Finds “Insufficient Evidence” To Pursue CPRA-Based Complaint Against LAPD Discovery, Leaving ACLU’s April 2017 Lawsuit As Current Best Hope For Reform

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Unidentified Business Improvement District Seeks Free CPRA Advice From First Amendment Coalition, Does Not Get Answer They Are Looking For

The First Amendment Coalition is, in their own words,

… an award-winning, nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to advancing free speech, more open and accountable government, and public participation in civic affairs.

and their mission includes the fairly forthright statement that

The Coalition is committed to the principle that government is accountable to the people, and strives through education, public advocacy, litigation, and other efforts to prevent unnecessary government secrecy and to resist censorship of all kinds.

For instance, in furtherance of this mission, the FAC is presently suing the City of Los Angeles over Tom LaBonge’s immoral and idiotic destruction of records from his time as Councilmember. They were also a friend of the court in the recent momentous California Supreme Court decision making the personal email accounts of public officials open to CPRA for material that relates to the public’s business. This is not an organization that anyone sane would expect to be sympathetic to the whiny, entitled, and clueless complaints of a business improvement district that has been asked to comply with its legal obligations under the California Public Records Act, amirite?

One of the most useful services that the FAC provides is called Asked & Answered. People can send in questions about CPRA and the Brown Act and the FAC’s attorneys from Bryan Cave will answer them publicly and for free if they might interest a wider audience. These questions are usually from people frustrated by inane, self-serving, and illegal government obstructionism in the face of CPRA requests. So imagine my surprise when, a few days ago, this little gem of a question appeared:

Q: As a Business Improvement District, we are an agency of our local gov’t and subject to PRAs. I have submitted countless reports, minutes/agendas, financials and even a record of one full year of emails. Now I have been asked to submit the email database I have developed for communicating with my business members.

I am not comfortable giving this database to the public. While I have no problem disclosing my email correspondence, I do not feel right giving my email database to someone who can then send mass emails to these businesses.

Do I have to submit the database if requested through the CPRA?

Well, given the FAC’s general orientation towards CPRA, you can probably imagine the answer, and you can also read it, with some commentary and the usual uninformed speculation, after the break.
Continue reading Unidentified Business Improvement District Seeks Free CPRA Advice From First Amendment Coalition, Does Not Get Answer They Are Looking For

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Eugene Van Cise Of The Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office Rode Around The Gateway To LA BID On His Bike In July 2016 As Part Of What He Referred To As A “BID Inspection” And Then Complained To Executive Director Laurie Hughes About Litter On 96th Street, Which Raises An Interesting Question About The Clerk’s (Lack Of) BID Oversight

Be careful to faithfully execute your duties, City of LA BIDs! Eugene Van Cise is riding around in your BID inspecting your litter!!
One of the emails in massive dump recently supplied by the Gateway to LA BID Executive Director Laurie Hughes was to her from City BID Analyst Eugene Van Cise. You can read it here for yourself,1 and the full text is available after the break, as always.

The short and long of it is, though, that in July 2016, Eugene Van Cise rode his bike around the Gateway to LA BID as part of what he called “a BID inspection” and then told Laurie Hughes that there was litter on the south side of 96th Street.2 He didn’t actually tell her to get the litter cleaned up, which seems kind of passive-aggressive on the part of Eugene Van Cise, but I suppose that that his the subtext. Now, this is the first time in my many years of intensive BIDological studies that I’ve heard of “BID inspections.” I don’t know if they’re new or have just been under my radar till now. Of course I welcome any kind of oversight of BIDs by the Clerk’s office, and there have been sporadic examples before now, but they’re weirdly inconsistent. Turn the page for details and discussion!
Continue reading Eugene Van Cise Of The Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office Rode Around The Gateway To LA BID On His Bike In July 2016 As Part Of What He Referred To As A “BID Inspection” And Then Complained To Executive Director Laurie Hughes About Litter On 96th Street, Which Raises An Interesting Question About The Clerk’s (Lack Of) BID Oversight

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Pacific Palisades BID Poised To Spend Almost 3% Of 2017 Assessments Fighting My CPRA Requests. Is This Really The Best Use Of Property Owner’s Money?? Also, Rick Lemmo’s Vow To Thwart Me By Proceeding “According To The Strictest Rules Of Law” May Reveal Hitherto Unsuspected Paradox In CPRA!!

Another Rick in the wall, part 97: Rick Lemmo, who is Rick Caruso’s senior VP for some kind of nonsensical crap, explains the zillionaire’s view of law-abiding high finance.
For a brief moment this morning, I was worried that it’s a bad thing that my coverage of the Pacific Palisades BID, initiated mainly because of a confluence of my interest in CD11 and the fact that the criminal intransigence of Mike Bonin’s staff has made it essentially impossible for me to get records directly from them, is tending fairly unexpectedly towards the navel-gaze, self-reference, point-is-to-understand-the-world, nerdview rather than towards the outward-looking, the-point-is-to-change-it focus which is somewhat of an ideal around here. That anxiety took me about 35 seconds to get over, so we’re going meta again this morning sans apologia.1

In any case, whatever her manifold faults as a CPRA client may be, Laurie Sale, executive directrix of the Palisades BID, is at least a reliable source of minutes and agendas. You may recall that she was previously kind enough to send me the PPBID’s 2016 minutes and agendas, and this weekend she sent me the 2017 minutes and agendas through February. There’s some interesting stuff in there, primarily about street vending, which I will write on quite soon. The minutes also suggest that CD11 field deputy Sharon Shapiro2 is an actual member of the PPBID’s Board of Directors. I’ll be looking into this, not least because it’s reminiscent of Debbie Dyner Harris’s ill-fated attempt to nab a voting seat for CD11 on the Board of the Venice Beach Property Owners Association, which was slapped down ignominiously by City Attorney Mike Feuer as a conflict of interest.

But never mind that for now. The text for today’s sermon is this little slab of nonsense, found in the BID’s minutes for February 1, 2017:

BID received requests for public records – copies of meeting minutes, agenda, emails back and forth within the City, etc. from a gentleman who is requesting this from many BIDs. Elliot made a motion to retain attorney not to exceed $4,000. Rick seconded, all approved, motion carried. In the event that this person wants copies made, then we need to request payment. Rick motioned: “we don’t want to make it difficult for him, but to rather provide him every access to public records according to the strictest rules of law so that it doesn’t provide any financial detriment to the property owners of our business improvement district.” Susan seconded. Unanimously approved, motion carries.

Continue reading Pacific Palisades BID Poised To Spend Almost 3% Of 2017 Assessments Fighting My CPRA Requests. Is This Really The Best Use Of Property Owner’s Money?? Also, Rick Lemmo’s Vow To Thwart Me By Proceeding “According To The Strictest Rules Of Law” May Reveal Hitherto Unsuspected Paradox In CPRA!!

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In Which I Use The Palisades BID As A Test-Case For A New Tactic In The Neverending Quest To Find Some Way To Force Business Improvement Districts To Comply With The California Public Records Act Without Having To File Yet Another Freaking Writ Petition

Laurie Sale is a sympathetic character, no doubt, but if we start letting our personal feelings towards people stand in the way of enforcing the law then anarchy will follow as surely as the night follows the day, so we’re not gonna do that! Plus even sympathetic characters, if they’re lawless, can still pose to be dangerous!
Here’s the short version of this post: Laurie Sale of the Palisades BID has been telling me for months that she is too busy to work on my CPRA requests. Yesterday she turns out to be too busy to send copies of emails in a reasonable format. She continues to be too busy to provide an estimated date of production even though CPRA requires it. She keeps telling me she only works half-time. BIDs sign a contract with the City which requires them to maintain staffing adequate for the completion of required work in a timely manner. CPRA compliance is required work. Being too busy to do it is not doing it in a timely manner. Too busy for CPRA, BIDs?? Breach of freaking contract!!

And here is a quick recap of how we got to this place. About 80% of the staff of this website grew up in Venice, so we all got really interested in the Venice Beach BID. Unfortunately, CD11 staffie Chad Molnar took offense at the use I made of the fruits of a couple CPRA requests and stopped complying with the law altogether, forcing me to turn him in to the City Ethics Commission. That’s going to take forever to resolve, though.

Thus thwarted in my attempts to learn about the inner workings of Mike Bonin’s weirdo little empire directly, I have turned to requesting materials of all the BIDs in his district, which are Westchester Town Center, Brentwood Village, Gateway to LA, and last, but never ever least, the Pacific Palisades BID,1 which was explicitly called out by Mike Bonin himself on the floor of the Council Chambers as one of the good BIDs. I have received some material from these halfwits-by-the-sea, which provided raw material for our most popular post in the month of January, but mostly their executive directrix, Laurie Sale, keeps telling me that she’s too damned busy to send stuff in a timely manner.

And finally, yesterday, she condescended to transmit a bunch of emails to me by forwarding them, with her own typed annotations prepended. I had asked for them in native format,2 and providing them in native format is required by CPRA.3 It’s important to get emails this way because it preserves the integrity of the headers and also it ensures that attachments arrive in precisely their native formats as well.4 I habitually request emails in native formats and most BIDs have figured out how to comply with this requirement. So I told Laurie Sale that her forwarded emails weren’t acceptable and could she please figure out how to send them in the right format. I can tell from her headers that she uses Outlook, so I sent her a link to Microsoft Support which explains how to export emails to a PST file. It’s not hard.

But she was having none of it. She fired back this cranky little number, stating:
Continue reading In Which I Use The Palisades BID As A Test-Case For A New Tactic In The Neverending Quest To Find Some Way To Force Business Improvement Districts To Comply With The California Public Records Act Without Having To File Yet Another Freaking Writ Petition

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A Recent Contribution By Blair Besten To The Downtown Homelessness Discourse Briefly Reviewed Along With A Less Brief Discussion Of Why The Review Is So Brief

A recently discovered Roy Lichtenstein portrait of Blair Besten, Executive Directrix of the Historic Core BID and newly confirmed member of some nonsensical City Council sinecure funded by the homeless-industrial complex. It’s not discussed in this post, but one of Blair Besten’s favorite reasons for ignoring the statutory requirements of CPRA is that she’s just too freaking busy to deal with it.
When I set out to write this blog, I never imagined that the actual mechanics of the California Public Records Act would become such a big topic. However, it has indeed turned out that way, and for a number of reasons. Mostly it’s because I got really interested in the way the law works as well as in the benefits it provides. It turns out, also, that a lot of people read this blog because they’re interested in CPRA as a thing-in-itself. And finally, it turns out that my victims the objects of my attention, both BIDs and City, have become a whole lot more stubborn about handing over the goods, which leaves me to fill what might otherwise be holes in my publishing schedule due to sporadic document-production gaps by discussing their stubbornness.1
Blair Besten seems to have had some trouble understanding the law…

Anyway, somehow or another I learned of a workshop that BID-buddy Blair Besten‘s BID, the Historic Core BID, once co-sponsored with a bunch of LAPD and County DMH flunkies about craziness amongst the homeless downtown.2 So I asked Blair Besten to send me the goodies, and some time later, she sent me this set of 16 pages of emails. It turns out to mostly not be that interesting, although Blair Besten’s idea of what ought to be redacted is pretty cracked. For instance, you can see in the image that she redacted some guy’s whole name and then didn’t redact his first name in the very next paragraph. Is her hiding the fact that some guy named Andrew emailed her so much in the public interest that it’s obviously exempt? If so, why didn’t she cross out the very next instance of it?

And, as you can see, for whatever reason, Blair Besten has made a dedicated pseudonymous email address for responding to CPRA requests. It’s publicrecords@historiccore.bid, and she and her flunky Paola Flores use it interchangeably.3 This turn to pseudonymity seems to be a common instinct amongst those feeling hassled by their duties under CPRA. South Park has done it, the HPOA has done it, CD4 did it, and even the City of Los Angeles has flirted with the idea. It’s important for the sake of maximizing interhuman communicativity to identify one’s correspondents and converse with them under their actual names. Fortunately for the sake of meeting this goal, CPRA actually forbids anonymity under some circumstances. Take a look at §6253(d), which states in pertinent part:4
Continue reading A Recent Contribution By Blair Besten To The Downtown Homelessness Discourse Briefly Reviewed Along With A Less Brief Discussion Of Why The Review Is So Brief

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