Tag Archives: Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

Fashion District BID Sued In Order To Enforce Compliance With The Public Records Act — Noted CPRA Attorney Karl Olsen Co-Counsels With Abenicio Cisneros To See That Justice Is Done In This Egregious Attempt To Withhold Information About, Among Other Crucial Matters, The BID’s Role In Torpedoing The Skid Row Neighborhood Council — Novel Legal Issues Raised Regarding The Effect Of The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance On CPRA Exemptions In Los Angeles

On August 15, 2018, faced with Rena Leddy’s unhinged intransigence and chronic disregard of the law, I was forced to file a petition asking a judge to require the Fashion District BID to comply with the California Public Records Act. Most of the petitions I’ve filed recently have had only to do with BIDs ignoring my requests altogether1 but this one raises interesting and possibly novel issues of how exemptions to the CPRA are to be interpreted in general and in Los Angeles in particular. I’m represented by Abenicio Cisneros and Karl Olson.2

There are four classes of records at issue in this petition. Those are:3

  • Emails between the FDBID and either the South Park BID or DLANC
  • Emails in the possession of BID Board president Mark Chatoff
  • Emails between the BID and Urban Place Consulting
  • Emails in the possession of BID renewal committee chair Linda Becker

Rena Leddy claimed either that such records didn’t exist or that, if they did, the BID could withhold them on the basis of the so-called deliberative process exemption.4 In each of the four cases either there’s independent evidence that responsive records exist or else it defies belief that no records exist. For instance it is not plausible at all that Linda Becker, chair of the BID’s renewal committee, does not possess a single email relevant to the conduct of the BID’s business.5

Thus the petition focuses on debunking the exemption claims as it’s going to be hard for the BID to argue that no records exist. Turn the page for some details and some transcribed excerpts!
Continue reading Fashion District BID Sued In Order To Enforce Compliance With The Public Records Act — Noted CPRA Attorney Karl Olsen Co-Counsels With Abenicio Cisneros To See That Justice Is Done In This Egregious Attempt To Withhold Information About, Among Other Crucial Matters, The BID’s Role In Torpedoing The Skid Row Neighborhood Council — Novel Legal Issues Raised Regarding The Effect Of The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance On CPRA Exemptions In Los Angeles

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Emails Between Studio City BID Director John Walker And Disgraced BID Consultant Slash Civil Engineer Ed Henning Shed Some Newish Light On The BID Renewal Process — E.G. Lawsuits Against BIDs Have Greatly Complicated Matters But Ed Henning Is “In constant touch with the attorneys defending the City BIDs” — The Agreement Between Henning And The BID Sheds A Lot Of Light On The Still-Unresolved Question Of Whether BID Consultancy Is Lobbying

As I mentioned the other day, I recently received a huge set of emails from the Studio City BID.1 This is an interesting time to be looking at their correspondence, because the SCBID is set to renew in January 2020, so the process is just now getting started. And although I haven’t had time yet to prep the whole multiGB release for publication, I did get this set of emails between John Walker and Ed Henning ready, along with all the attachments.

Ed Henning, you may recall, is a civil engineer and popular BID consultant. He recently handled the San Pedro BID‘s renewal. He did the engineering report for the South Los Angeles Industrial Tract BID in 2015, the South Park BID in 2017, and, most famously, for the Venice Beach BID establishment in 2016. His work on that last project was so shoddy that it led to a Venice resident filing a complaint against Ed Henning with the California Board for Professional Engineers.2

And, as it turns out, he is also handling the entire renewal for the SCBID, at an estimated total cost of no more than $18,900.3 And although John Walker’s email conversation with Ed Henning was only tangentially responsive to my CPRA request,4 I got a really good set of records.

The emails contain discussions of Ed Henning’s fees, of the various tasks to be completed in the renewal process, of the wisdom of the SCBID’s adding more territory to their BID, of how various lawsuits against BIDs in Los Angeles have complicated the renewal process and of how Ed Henning is being coached by the defense attorneys in those cases on how to modify his Management District Plans and Engineer’s Reports to withstand challenges, and so on.

This is invaluable information for students of the BID consulting process. Turn the page for links, transcriptions, and discussion!
Continue reading Emails Between Studio City BID Director John Walker And Disgraced BID Consultant Slash Civil Engineer Ed Henning Shed Some Newish Light On The BID Renewal Process — E.G. Lawsuits Against BIDs Have Greatly Complicated Matters But Ed Henning Is “In constant touch with the attorneys defending the City BIDs” — The Agreement Between Henning And The BID Sheds A Lot Of Light On The Still-Unresolved Question Of Whether BID Consultancy Is Lobbying

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Worst-Of-The-Bunch Ethics Commission Veep Serena Oberstein, Who’s Paid $87,500 Annually By Her 501(c)(3) Employer Vision To Learn, Both Of Whom Were Poised To Reap Benefit From Version Of Municipal Lobbying Ordinance Revision Pushed Hard By Serena Oberstein, Suspiciously Neglected To Mention This Fact In Any Of The Literally Zillions Of Public Forums Held On The Matter

It hasn’t even been two weeks since the Los Angeles Ethics Commission put our City’s Municipal Lobbying Ordinance in danger of being made meaningless, primarily at the instigation of worst-of-the-bunch Commission Veep Serena Oberstein, with respect to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, so it’s not surprising that all the ramifications of their misfeasance have not yet been completely understood. Along those lines, therefore, here’s another episode from the ethical Twilight Zone in which at least some members of the Commission seem to dwell in these latter days.

You see, Serena Oberstein is not just the City’s most corrupt Ethics Commissioner, what with her sub rosa agenda-pushing for her nonprofit buddies Shyaam Subramanian1 and Nancy Berlin, amongst others, not to mention her refusal to agendize a perfectly reasonable request that her Commission disclose their ex parte communications,2 she’s also the Chief Operating Officer of some Westside do-gooder outfit called Vision to Learn.

And while I had some inchoate notion that her involvement with 501(c)(3) nonprofits might explain at least some of her motivations in the recent fiasco, whereby mostly at Serena Oberstein’s instigation, the Commission ended up recommending to the Council that all 501(c)(3)s with gross annual revenues under $2 million be exempt from registration as lobbyists, I hadn’t taken the time to investigate. But recently it occurred to me to look at Vision to Learn’s3 Form 990s to see how the modifications pushed by Serena Oberstein would affect her employer.4 I published the last few years here on Archive.Org, or you can go directly to the PDFs here:

So take a look at the evidence yourself, or turn the page to see what I found!
Continue reading Worst-Of-The-Bunch Ethics Commission Veep Serena Oberstein, Who’s Paid $87,500 Annually By Her 501(c)(3) Employer Vision To Learn, Both Of Whom Were Poised To Reap Benefit From Version Of Municipal Lobbying Ordinance Revision Pushed Hard By Serena Oberstein, Suspiciously Neglected To Mention This Fact In Any Of The Literally Zillions Of Public Forums Held On The Matter

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Los Angeles Ethics Commissioners Fail To Understand Their Powers And Duties Under The City Charter And Thereby Inadvertently (??) Set The Stage For Exempting Nearly All 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Organizations In Los Angeles From The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

It seems like forever now, although it’s only been two years, that the Los Angeles Ethics Commission has been discussing proposed changes to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance (MLO). At this point I just don’t have it in me to summarize the discussion any more, although you can find links to most of my posts on the subject in this post on the penultimate phase of the matter.

At the Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, which you can watch in its entirety right here (or here on Archive.Org if you prefer), there were only two matters left to settle. One was the issue of detailed reporting of contacts between lobbyists and City Officials. I hope to write on what happened with that later on. The other, and the subject of today’s post, had to do with exemptions from the MLO for 501(c)(3) nonprofits. You can watch the whole discussion beginning here. These organizations enjoy some exemptions now by virtue of LAMC §48.03(E,F). You can read the statute for yourself, but essentially it exempts 501(c)(3)s1 which have “… the purpose of representing the interests of indigent persons and whose primary purpose is to provide direct services to those persons…”

As they are wont to do, the staff, in the persons of Director of Policy Arman Tarzi and Mark Low, head of the lobbying program, provided the Commission with a detailed set of recommendations. There were four different options given that had to do with nonprofits, which you can read in the proposal. Of these, three were developed by staff and the fourth2 was provided by nonprofits and proposed to exempt all nonprofits, no matter what they do, which have gross annual receipts of under $2.5 Million.

Never content to leave well enough alone, these hyperorganized nonprofits presented the Commission with a so-called “Option 5,” which they circulated at the meeting. This option proposed to modify LAMC §48.03(E) to exempt from the MLO:

E. Any organization exempt from federal taxation pursuant to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that:
1. Provides assistance, such as food, clothing, shelter, child care, health, legal, vocational, relief, educational, and other similar assistance to disadvantaged people for free or at a significantly below-market rate; OR
2. Has gross receipts of less than $2.5 million.
This exemption also applies to the organization’s employees and board members while engaged in official duties. This exemption does not apply when an organization is seeking funding, property, or a permit from the City on its own behalf.

Continue reading Los Angeles Ethics Commissioners Fail To Understand Their Powers And Duties Under The City Charter And Thereby Inadvertently (??) Set The Stage For Exempting Nearly All 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Organizations In Los Angeles From The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

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Ethics Commissioner Serena Oberstein’s Undisclosed Ex Parte Communication With Lobbyists Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin In Hallway Fifteen Minutes Before Ethics Commission Meeting Casts Some Doubt On Everyone’s Commitment To Transparency

Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin talking to Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein in the hallway before Tuesday’s Ethics Commission meeting. She thanked them for giving her language, presumably to do with the MLO, and actually took notes on it in her phone. Click to enlarge.

In August the Ethics Commission continued the multiyear discussion about revising the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The next stage in the process was three interested persons’ meetings held in September, and then on to more discussion at yesterday’s Ethics Commission meeting. The meeting was essentially interminable,1 and I recorded the whole lobbying discussion. You can watch it either on Archive.Org or on YouTube:

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV •.

Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein taking notes on “language” provided to her by lobbyists Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin. Click to enlarge.

I hope to write about the outcome of the discussion as soon as possible, although things are ultra-busy here at MK.Org secret headquarters. The short version is that the Commission accepted most of what staff recommended with a few changes and two items to be discussed even more at the December meeting. In any case, it turns out that the most interesting part of the meeting, and I don’t think this is so uncommon in City Hall, took place in the hallway fifteen minutes before the call to order.

There, I was lucky enough to witness lobbyists2 Shyaam Subramanian of Bolder Advocacy and Nancy Berlin of CalNonprofits engaged in an intense conversation with Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein about proposed revisions to the MLO involving nonprofit corporations, whose interests both of them are compensated to represent to the City. At one point she even thanked them for giving her “language,” presumably having to do with their preferred outcome in the upcoming meeting, and went so far as to take notes on it in her phone!
Continue reading Ethics Commissioner Serena Oberstein’s Undisclosed Ex Parte Communication With Lobbyists Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin In Hallway Fifteen Minutes Before Ethics Commission Meeting Casts Some Doubt On Everyone’s Commitment To Transparency

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How I Reported Fashion District BID Executive Director Rena Leddy To The Ethics Commission For (a) Failing To Register As A Lobbyist And (b) Failing To Recuse From A DLANC Vote For Conflict Of Interest

As you may already know quite well, in the City of Los Angeles, people are required by the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance to register with the Ethics Commission if they’re compensated for 30 hours of lobbying activity over three consecutive months.1 This year I’ve been working on reporting BID consultants to the Ethics Commission for failure to comply. So far I’ve filed two complaints, both against Tara Devine, one for her work on the Venice Beach BID and another for her work on the South Park BID.

But consultants aren’t the only BID people who spend their time trying to influence municipal legislation.2 BID staff actually spend a huge amount of time on this as well, and they never ever register as lobbyists. Also, they have never, in the entire history of Los Angeles, ever been called to account for failing to register. In fact, they’ve fought vigorously against the very idea that their work is even subject to the MLO.3

Consequently I’ve been working on expanding my unregistered lobbyist reporting project to BID staff as well. I kicked off the modern era of this project4 today by filing a complaint against Rena Leddy, executive directrix of the Fashion District BID, for failing to register and also for violating conflict of interest laws. You can read the whole complaint if you wish, and there’s a detailed discussion after the break.5
Continue reading How I Reported Fashion District BID Executive Director Rena Leddy To The Ethics Commission For (a) Failing To Register As A Lobbyist And (b) Failing To Recuse From A DLANC Vote For Conflict Of Interest

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Video Of Third Interested Persons’ Meeting Now Available, Featuring Among Other Things Some Exceptionally Whiny Non-Profits Whose Whole Argument Against Regulation Seems To Be That The Ethics Commission Is Strapping Extra Pianos To Their Back Just Like Donald Trump Does To Poor People, Conveniently Forgetting The Fact That Nonprofit Status Is A Huge Freaking Public Subsidy

No doubt you recall that the Los Angeles Ethics Commission is presently working on proposing revisions to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance (MLO) and that part of the process has been to hold a bunch of meetings to gather input. I recorded the first of these, which turned out to be quite interesting. The second focused on neighborhood councils and I’m working on obtaining an audio recording of it.

The third meeting focused on nonprofit organizations that lobby the City. I wasn’t able to make it, but fortunately for all of us, it was recorded by Bobby Buck, a brave citizen journalist. He posted his recording on YouTube for all to watch and listen. The main issue under discussion here is which 501(c)(3) organizations will be exempt from the registration and disclosure requirements of the MLO. Currently the law at §48.03(E) presently exempts 501(c)(3)s from the requirements if they receive:

… funding from any federal, state or local government agency for the purpose of representing the interests of indigent persons and whose primary purpose is to provide direct services to those persons, if the individual or individuals represented by the organization before any City agency provide no payment to the organization for that representation.

The Ethics Commission staff is proposing1 that this be tightened up to exempt only:

501(c)(3) organizations that receive government funding and are created primarily to provide basic life assistance to disadvantaged clients at a rate that is significantly below market (and their employees engaged in the same activity).

The meeting is more than 90 minutes of the usual bitching and moaning, and I’ll write on various episodes as I have time. Tonight’s installment concerns these comments by yet another genius, this one from the Inner City Law Center, who thinks that just because he claims to be doing good in the world no one really has the right to question anything he says or does, let alone subject his organization to any kind of registration or disclosure requirements.2 Turn the page for a transcription of some of his remarks and some commentary.
Continue reading Video Of Third Interested Persons’ Meeting Now Available, Featuring Among Other Things Some Exceptionally Whiny Non-Profits Whose Whole Argument Against Regulation Seems To Be That The Ethics Commission Is Strapping Extra Pianos To Their Back Just Like Donald Trump Does To Poor People, Conveniently Forgetting The Fact That Nonprofit Status Is A Huge Freaking Public Subsidy

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Experimental CPRA Request To San Francisco County Supervisor Aaron Peskin For Emails To/From Union Square BID Director Karin Flood On A Subject Found In Her Lobbying Disclosure Demonstrate The Utility Of Detailed Contact Reporting By Registered Lobbyists

One of the major issues in the currently ongoing process of revising this City’s Municipal Lobbying Ordinance has to do with the level of detail about their contacts with City officials that lobbyists should be required to disclose. Currently they don’t have to disclose much, but there’s a proposal on the table to require them to disclose each contact with a City official including which issue was discussed.

Naturally, the lobbyists hate this idea. Their big argument against it, which has, to their everlasting shame, been echoed by a number of Ethics Commissioners, is that this level of disclosure would require so much work that the entire lobbying industry in Los Angeles would be driven into bankruptcy. This, of course, is ridiculous, not least because, just for instance, our silicon-addled redheaded step-cousins up North in the City and County of San Francisco require precisely this information on their disclosure forms without, obviously, having driven the industry into the ground. It’s fascinating to look at these disclosures, by the way. Check out San Francisco’s lobbyist directory for links to all of it.1

And one of the major arguments in favor of requiring lobbyists to disclose each contact with a City official and the issue discussed is that it would facilitate requesting records of the City via the California Public Records Act, and thus promote transparency. This is a great argument in the abstract, but concrete arguments are always more persuasive.2 Oh, I forgot to mention it, but in San Francisco, BID staffers register as lobbyists, unlike in Los Angeles.3 So, in keeping with the blog’s BID theme, I thought I’d try out my little test on Karin Flood, executive directrix of San Francisco’s Union Square BID. Turn the page to find out what happened!
Continue reading Experimental CPRA Request To San Francisco County Supervisor Aaron Peskin For Emails To/From Union Square BID Director Karin Flood On A Subject Found In Her Lobbying Disclosure Demonstrate The Utility Of Detailed Contact Reporting By Registered Lobbyists

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More Scenes From The First Interested Persons’ Meeting — Über-Lobbyist Bill Delvac Reveals That His Clients Tactically Report Their Opponents In The Land Use Wars To The Ethics Commission As Unregistered Lobbyists But No Action Is Ever Taken — Heather Holt Corrects Him With Provocative Obliquity: “Perhaps No Public Action,” Quoth She

Oh dear, CPRA material from various BIDs, fascinating stuff, is pouring in as usual and just piling up on my metaphorical desk while I write post after post after post about the Ethics Commission‘s ongoing effort to revise the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. Well, it can’t be helped, because the MLO is essential.1 Part of the process is holding a bunch of meetings to seek input, the first of which took place last Thursday.2 I’ve also posted my take on the various proposals. I’ll get to the BID stuff as soon as possible, friends, but meanwhile, here’s yet another MLO post.3

If you’ve been following the conversation you’ll know that the lobbyists opposing the proposed revisions have argued consistently that the City doesn’t need more regulations imposed on lobbyists who, according to them anyway, desperately want to follow the law but instead needs to register the herds of unregistered and unregulated lobbyists swarming around City Hall.4

They’re not wrong that there are far, far too many unregistered lobbyists. Turning these people in to the Ethics Commission is one of the main purposes of this blog and I have, uncharacteristically, to agree with the registered lobbyists that there are an awful lot of unregistered lobbyists haunting 200 N. Spring Street and that the ease with which they can be detected is astonishing.5

Where they are wrong is in their claim that there’s some kind of dichotomy between registering the unregistered and revising the laws. Mostly the people pushing this idea, that somehow revising the law and registering the unregistered are mutually exclusive, seem to be doing it only to distract everyone’s attention from how badly the present law needs revision and, possibly, how badly their subterranean activities might be exposed were the law to be revised.

At least that’s how it sounded in last week’s meeting when John Howland, late of the CCALA but more recently employed by Arnie Berghoff and Associates, broke out with the same old routine, of which I’ll spare you a transcription, because it’s essentially content-free. However, at that same meeting supervillainesque land use attorney Bill Delvac also had quite a lot to say, most of which, in contrast to the self-serving contributions of his fellow flacks in the so-called regulated community, was quite interesting.

On the subject of unregistered lobbyists, for instance, Bill Delvac asserted that not only were there bunches of them, but that many of the lawyers who professionally oppose development projects are engaged in lobbying, and that essentially none of them are registered. He also, surprisingly to me, revealed that many of his clients had reported such lawyers to the Ethics Commission but that no action had been taken. Heather Holt, executive director of the Commission, corrected him, saying “perhaps no public action.”

And turn the page for some comments on the more technical parts of what Bill Delvac had to say, including the only colorable argument I’ve ever heard against a compensation-based definition as the main criterion for registration as a lobbyist.6 There is also, as usual, a transcription of all relevant remarks.
Continue reading More Scenes From The First Interested Persons’ Meeting — Über-Lobbyist Bill Delvac Reveals That His Clients Tactically Report Their Opponents In The Land Use Wars To The Ethics Commission As Unregistered Lobbyists But No Action Is Ever Taken — Heather Holt Corrects Him With Provocative Obliquity: “Perhaps No Public Action,” Quoth She

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My Letter To The Ethics Commission On Proposed Revisions To The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

As you may already know, the City Ethics Commission is in the process of proposing revisions to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The full proposal is here. They’ve been holding meetings to solicit input and, given the anti-regulatory stance adopted by a significant number of the Commissioners recently, it’s essential that right-minded people get their comments in to ethics.policy@lacity.org soonest.

I’ve been working on a letter for a few weeks now,1 and yesterday I finally finished it. You can get a copy of the PDF or read a transcription after the break. Please feel free to use any part of this to guide or inspire your own letters, which, as I said, I really hope you will send in as soon as possible.

The next Commission meeting is on October 17, and I’m told by staff that all comments received by a few days before then will be distributed to the Commissioners. If you can get your comments in pretty soon, though, they’ll also be discussed by staff prior to finalizing the proposals, which may be a good thing.
Continue reading My Letter To The Ethics Commission On Proposed Revisions To The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

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