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
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?
In September, local activist group Save Valley Village filed suit against the City of Los Angeles and the City Council alleging in their petition that
The Councilmembers of the Los Angeles City Council operate according to an agreement, i.e. The Vote Trading Pact, not to Vote No on any Council Project in another council district and said agreement by its very terms requires reciprocality, also called mutuality, whereby the agreement not to Vote No by one Councilmember is given in exchange for the other Councilmember’s not to vote No on a Council Project in his/her council district.
A couple weeks ago, a group of brave and determined residents of Venice filed a writ petition against the City of Los Angeles and the Venice Beach BID asking the court to set aside the ordinance that created it, to force the City to redraw the BID’s boundaries in accordance with the law, and, most interestingly, to order the City to contest the assessments levied against City-owned properties in the BID. You can read a copy of the initial petition:
Or here — on the new dedicated page, also available through the menu structure above.
Or here — directly from static storage; see the titles better!
They argue that their residential properties will get no special benefits from the BID, which violates the California Constitution. They argue that many of the proposed activities of the BID, specifically the security program, are inherently incapable of providing special benefits. And most interestingly from the point of view of general anti-BID theory, they argue that the City has a duty to its citizens to scrutinize the BID plan to be sure that City-owned parcels included in the BID actually benefit from being in the BID, and that by rubber-stamping the BID proposal, the City has abdicated this duty. If this argument succeeds it will shake the very foundations of BIDs in Los Angeles, which rely to various extents on the automatic yes votes provided by City-owned property. This automatic approval, by the way, was set up in 19981 via Council File 96-1972 which, in pertinent part, includes a directive to:
REQUIRE the City Clerk to sign off on Proposition 218 ballots and support petitions for property-based BIDs, unless the Council directs otherwise.
Last month the plaintiffs in Chua v. City of Los Angeles filed a ton of material asking for the case to be certified as a class action. Today the defendant, the City of Los Angeles, filed a notice of non-opposition to that request. They’re doing it for the most altruistic reasons ever:
…in order to conserve party and Court resources, Defendants hereby state that they do not oppose Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification … at this time.
And what have they given up through their kind-hearted and selfless concern for the resources of the court? Well, pretty much nothing:
Since discovery has not yet commenced, Defendants reserve the right to seek decertification of the classes certified (in whole or in part) should discovery reveal that certification is not appropriate.
Anyway, I wasn’t able to find copies of the complaints online, and the Superior Court charges one dollar per page for PDFs, which is not within our budgetary constraints. But fortunately, the ever-helpful Mike Dundas came charging over the metaphorical hill like the metaphorical cavalry this morning and sent me copies, which I’m now making available to you:
Late last night the plaintiffs filed a searing opposition to last month’s defendants motion to dismiss. Part of the plaintiffs’ argument relies on the fact that the Boardwalk is actually a public sidewalk, and in support of that argument they also filed a request for judicial notice that included a certified copy of the deed by means of which Abbott Kinney gave the boardwalk to the City (of Ocean Park; Los Angeles didn’t get it until 1926). To understand the issues it may be useful to look at the text of LAMC §42.15.
The issue is whether or not the Boardwalk is a public forum. If it is, the First Amendment places a very, very high barrier before the City’s attempt to regulate speech there at all. Sidewalks, as opposed to City-sponsored Disneylandesque bullshit tourist-trap money magnets, are quintessential public forums,1 and this is the heart of the argument:2
The Venice Boardwalk is a traditional public forum long recognized by the City as perhaps the most prominent free speech area in the City. Although called a “boardwalk,” this pedestrian passageway is a public sidewalk, deeded to the City as a sidewalk in perpetuity in 1906. See Plaintiffs’ Request for Judicial Notice and Exhibit 1.
Public sidewalks “occupy a ‘special position in terms of First Amendment protection’ because of their historic role as sites for discussion and debate[.]” They are the locations where people encounter speech they “might otherwise tune out.” “From time immemorial,” public sidewalks have been locations where “normal conversation and leafleting” have occurred as part of the First Amendment’s guarantee of “sharing ideas.” Indeed, public sidewalks are, perhaps, the most important traditional public forum because of their availability at any time at no cost.