Category Archives: Public Records Act Pragmatics

Massive Document Dump Concerning Shadowy BID Consultant Tara Devine — What Has She Been Up To Since Destroying Venice Beach And How She Is Probably In Way More Trouble Than Anyone Thought With Respect To Not Having Registered As A Lobbyist

Yesterday I took a little trip South on Flower Street to the dark horse Death Star of downtown, the South Park BID, to look over some public records that they’ve been holding out on since January 2017 and only coughed up because my lawyer can beat up their lawyer.1 I found a hot mess of, among many, many problems, bizarrely damaged emails printed to PDF in random order with unintelligible OCR, missing attachments, purposely scrambled pages, and misnamed and poorly divided files. It’s going to take quite a while to put this nonsense into any kind of useful state,2 but I know a lot of my readers are wondering what’s up with shadowy BID consultant Tara Devine,3 so I thought I’d get the information concerning her up as fast as possible, even though it’s not yet in an ideal format.

That’s the big news, and you can turn the page if you’re in the mood for more detail and discussion. Note, though, that I’ll be posting about this material again once I get it revised into a more useful form.
Continue reading Massive Document Dump Concerning Shadowy BID Consultant Tara Devine — What Has She Been Up To Since Destroying Venice Beach And How She Is Probably In Way More Trouble Than Anyone Thought With Respect To Not Having Registered As A Lobbyist

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Remember That Cost Matrix That Rena Leddy And Urban Place Consulting Claimed In March 2017 Was A Trade Secret And Even Hired A Lawyer To Prevent Its Release Under CPRA? Well, Rena Leddy Herself Released It Into The Public Domain In October 2016. The Proper Response Is (a) WTF?! (b) Is Paying Lawyers To Fight Already-Lost Battles An Acceptable Use Of The BID’s Money? (c) All Of The Above

A couple days ago I published a collection of Rena Leddy’s reports to the Board of Directors of the Fashion District BID. This is turning out to be an incredibly rich source of information, revealing, e.g., that a marketing consultant hired by the BID thinks, among other deeply stupid thoughts, that lobster rolls confuse Latinos. And today I have another gem, but, for good or for ill, this one’s more technical although no less interesting.

Perhaps you recall that Urban Place Consulting is working for the Fashion District coordinating the BID’s pending renewal with the City. I obtained UPC’s contract with the BID from Rena Leddy via the California Public Records Act, but she claimed that the chart showing the actual hourly rates of UPC bossboy Steve Gibson and his assorted flunkies was exempt from release because it was a trade secret. Then we spent three months arguing about it and everybody got lawyered up and eventually she gave in and sent me an unredacted copy of the contract showing how much money all the UPC folks were getting paid.

Well, it turns out it was all for nothing. You see, in October 2016, UPC submitted a proposal to the BID for the consulting job. Here is a copy (transcription after the break, as always). And Rena Leddy included this proposal in the November 2016 Board Packet. And the proposal contained an unredacted copy of the cost matrix. To see why this action of Rena Leddy’s obviated our entire subsequent dispute about whether or not the cost matrix was exempt, turn the page, friend!
Continue reading Remember That Cost Matrix That Rena Leddy And Urban Place Consulting Claimed In March 2017 Was A Trade Secret And Even Hired A Lawyer To Prevent Its Release Under CPRA? Well, Rena Leddy Herself Released It Into The Public Domain In October 2016. The Proper Response Is (a) WTF?! (b) Is Paying Lawyers To Fight Already-Lost Battles An Acceptable Use Of The BID’s Money? (c) All Of The Above

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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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