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 email@example.com.
This morning, however, I discovered that that infamous Schatzian horror show, the Central City Association of Los Angeles, was also involved in the lobbying effort against the SRNC. It’s not possible from the evidence to tell when they entered the fray, but amended registration forms filed with the City Ethics Commission prove that it was no later than April 28, 2017.1 Here’s the documentary evidence, and you’ll find more detailed descriptions along with some discussion after the break:
Well, I stared and stared and stared at those two forms just trying to figure out what had changed. Eventually I noticed that the original form had January 31, 2017 as the date they’d qualified as a lobbying entity3 whereas the amended version had January 1, 2017 as the day of qualifying.
There’s a lot of information on the forms, though, and I didn’t feel confident that the difference I’d noticed was in fact the only difference. I wasn’t sure what do to until this morning, when it occurred to me that if I put both pages into the GIMP, superimposed one on top of the other, and then faded the opacity up and down I’d be able to notice what changed.4 And it turns out that in fact, it’s correct that the only change was the date of the Hollywood Chamber’s qualifying as a lobbyist.
In the ordinary course of events, BONC posts audio of their meetings on the open internet, but, for whatever reason, when I took a look a few weeks ago, the March 20 meeting did not appear. After a few weeks worth of pleasant emails with various City employees, though, the audio has now been posted. I also published it on Archive.Org along with a copy of the minutes so you can follow along if you wish.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, some of it inspiring, most of it horrifying in that special spine-tingly manner that glimpses into the seething caucasian-hot liquid id-core of the local politics of resentment are wont to horrify. I plan to write occasionally on episodes from this meeting, as the mood strikes, and today’s story concerns comments by Scott Gray and Debbie Welsch of shadowy zillionaire real estate conspiracy Capital Foresight,1 and shadowy lobbyist-to-the-zillionaires, John Howland.2
The gist of the matter is this, though. Debbie Welsch and Scott Gray told lie after lie, some of them beyond surreal in their fundamental disconnect with reality. On the other hand, John Howland, who at the time of the meeting was employed as a registered lobbyist with CCA, mostly, although he is quite an evil fellow indeed, told the truth. This is arguably less due to his inherent honesty than it is to the fact that registered lobbyists are required to sign a form upon registration acknowledging that they are aware of LAMC §48.04(B), which states that:
No lobbyist or lobbying firm subject to the requirements of the Article shall…[f]raudulently deceive or attempt to deceive any City official with regard to any material fact pertinent to any pending or proposed municipal legislation.
One requirement that the Property and Business Improvement District Law places on BIDs, found at §36650, is the submission of annual planning reports (“APRs”) to the City Council:
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. … The report shall be filed with the clerk … The city council may approve the report as filed by the owners’ association or may modify any particular contained in the report and approve it as modified.
And it seems that the BID isn’t allowed to spend money on stuff that’s not discussed in the APR, so it’s not a trivial matter.
The way this piece of code plays out in Los Angeles is that, first, a BID director submits the APR to the Clerk along with a formulaic cover letter. For instance, here is the one submitted by Nicole Shahenian on December 30, 2014 to accompany the East Hollywood BID’s APR for 2015. This is essentially the same letter submitted by all BIDs:
Dear Ms. Wolcott:
As required by the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994, California Streets and Highways Code Section 36650, the Board of Directors of the East Hollywood Business Improvement District has caused this East Hollywood Business Improvement District Annual Planning Report to be prepared at its meeting of December 29, 2014.
And don’t forget that state law requires the City Council to adopt the report either with or without modifications. In Los Angeles this part of the process is initiated by the Clerk sending another form letter to City Council, recommending that they adopt the BID’s APR. It’s my impression that the Clerk doesn’t recommend modifications to the report at this stage. These seem to be handled by Miranda Paster before the APR is submitted to Council, as in this example involving the Media District BID. Anyway, take a look at Holly Wolcott’s January 14, 2015 recommendation to City Council with respect to the East Hollywood BID’s APR. Like every such document, this states:
The attached Annual Planning Report, which was approved by the District’s Board at their meeting on December 29, 2014, complies with the requirements of the State Law and reports that programs will continue, as outlined in the Management District Plan adopted by the District property owners.
And it goes on from there to recommend:
That the City Council:
FIND that the attached Annual Planning Report for the East Hollywood Property Business Improvement District’s 2015 fiscal year complies with the requirements of the State Law.
ADOPT the attached Annual Planning Report for the East Hollywood Property Business Improvement District’s 2015 fiscal year, pursuant to the State Law.
Friends, take a look at the exceedingly fascinating LAMC § 48.04(B). This lovely little slab of ethicalliciousness illegalizes any occasion when a lobbyist might:
Fraudulently deceive or attempt to deceive any City official with regard to any material fact pertinent to any pending or proposed municipal legislation.
And of course, you recall what a lobbyist is, it’s a technical term in this setting.1 Lobbyists are defined in LAMC §48.02 to be:
any individual who is compensated to spend 30 or more hours in any consecutive three-month period engaged in lobbying activities which include at least one direct communication with a City official or employee, conducted either personally or through agents, for the purpose of attempting to influence municipal legislation on behalf of any person.