Tag Archives: Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994

Relatively Complete Set Of Records Pertaining To Ongoing San Pedro Historic Waterfront BID Renewal Process Reveals Hitherto Unknown Details About Costs, Hours, Contract Terms, Etc. Heralding Plausible Case Against Edward Henning For Failure To Register As A Lobbyist But Not, Unfortunately, Against The BID Because They’re Not Paying Him Enough

Last month I learned that the San Pedro BID was paying Edward Henning $20,000 to handle their BID renewal process. This discovery was independently interesting, but also important for my ongoing research project of learning everything possible about BID consultancy with the ultimate goal of shopping as many BID consultants to the City Ethics Commission as possible, mostly for violations of LAMC §48.07, which requires that “[a]n individual who qualifies as a lobbyist shall register with the City Ethics Commission within 10 days after the end of the calendar month in which the individual qualifies as a lobbyist.”

In this clause, someone “qualifies as a lobbyist” when they, according to LAMC §48.02 are “compensated to spend 30 or more hours in any consecutive three-month period engaged in lobbying activities.”1 Note that today I’m mostly skipping the argument that BID consultancy qualifies as lobbying activities, but you can read about it in excruciating detail here.

Part of the evidence that I obtained last month were these two invoices from Edward Henning to the SPHWBID. As you can see, they span the time period from March 2016 through December 12, 2016 and bill for a total of 75 hours. That’s roughly 7.5 hours per month if distributed evenly across the billing period. This is not enough evidence to show that Edward Henning was required to register. In fact, if he did work about 7.5 hours a month he would not have been so required.

It’s precisely that issue that today’s document release shines some light on. The other day, San Pedro BID executive directrix Lorena Parker was kind enough to send me over 100 emails to and from Edward Henning.2 At first I thought I’d be able to pick out 3 consecutive months in which Edward Henning was compensated for 30 hours by assuming that the number of emails in a month was proportional to the number of hours worked. This didn’t pan out for a number of reasons, not least because I don’t yet have emails between Edward Henning and the City of LA that weren’t CC-ed to Lorena Parker. I can tell from internal evidence that there are some of these,3 and I have a pending CPRA request for them, but they’re not yet in hand.

Read on for more detail on the unregistered lobbying case as well as a new theory that I thought at first might actually get the BID itself in some trouble rather than just the consultant. I don’t think it’ll work out in this particular case, but it has interesting implications for the future. Bad scene for the BIDdies and lulz4 all round for humanity!
Continue reading Relatively Complete Set Of Records Pertaining To Ongoing San Pedro Historic Waterfront BID Renewal Process Reveals Hitherto Unknown Details About Costs, Hours, Contract Terms, Etc. Heralding Plausible Case Against Edward Henning For Failure To Register As A Lobbyist But Not, Unfortunately, Against The BID Because They’re Not Paying Him Enough

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BIDs Benefit Immensely From Coercive Collection Of Mandatory Assessments And Complain Incessantly About Being Subject To The California Public Records Act. They Can’t Have One Without The Other, Yet Both Are Voluntary, So Why Don’t They Grow Up And Quit Whining About The Consequences Of Their Choices?

A business improvement district (BID) in Los Angeles1 is a geographical area in which the owners of commercial property are assessed an additional fee for various services that aren’t provided by the City. These fees are collected either by the City of L.A. via direct billing2 or, more usually, by the County of Los Angeles as an add-on to property tax bills.

The state law authorizing BIDs requires each BID to be administered by a property owners’ association (POA).3 In the normal course of things these organizations are conjured up by the City at the time the BID is established, although sometimes previously existing nonprofits will end up as a POA. One example of this is the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which serves as POA for the East Hollywood BID, although it predates its existence.

The law requires these POAs to be nonprofits, although it doesn’t specify what kind of nonprofit they should be. For various reasons, at least in Los Angeles, they are usually 501(c)(6) organizations. Because the City is handing over what’s essentially tax money to these POAs,4 they have a great deal of control over their activities and what they spend their money on.
Continue reading BIDs Benefit Immensely From Coercive Collection Of Mandatory Assessments And Complain Incessantly About Being Subject To The California Public Records Act. They Can’t Have One Without The Other, Yet Both Are Voluntary, So Why Don’t They Grow Up And Quit Whining About The Consequences Of Their Choices?

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Yet Another Example Of City Of LA Indifference To Illegal BID Shenanigans: City Clerk BID Analyst Rita Moreno Hands Out (Literal) Gold Stars To BIDs For Minimal Brown Act Compliance But Doesn’t Do Or Even Say Anything To BIDs Who Are Not Only In Violation Of The Law But Have Been Flouting It For Years On End

Yesterday evening, BID-lawyer-to-the-stars Jeffrey Charles Briggs passed along almost 200 emails between Media District BID executive director Lisa Schechter and various people at the City of Los Angeles. These are available en masse at Archive.Org. As always, there’s a lot of chaff in there and a few super-interesting things.1 Perhaps today’s story is an example of the latter.

It began on February 28, when Rita Moreno, newly of the Neighborhood and Business Improvement Division of the City Clerk’s office, the unit that’s meant to oversee the operations of BIDs and make sure that they follow the law and stuff, emailed a bunch of BIDdies to introduce herself and note that only a few of them had their meeting times posted on their websites. Of course, the Brown Act explicitly requires BIDs to notice their meetings on their websites,2 but that’s actually not why Rita was on about this. She was just trying to find out when they met so that she could attend. In fact, it’s not even clear that Rita Moreno knew about the Brown Act requirement.

However, the very next day, our old friend Lisa Schechter of the Hollywood Media District BID, who is not generally known for her law-abiding behavior but who has by now been educated by years of our intense scrutiny to the point where, I hope, she’s beginning to realize that it’s just easier to follow the law,3 wrote back to Rita Moreno, fishing for praise from this unlikely authority figure:

Dear Rita:

Just to reiterate, all of our meetings are posted in accordance with the Brown Act (Committee as well as Board) – Further you have been placed on our automatic distribution list which triggers and [sic] email directly to you for all of our meetings. If you should require any further information please do not hesitate to contact myself or our operations manager, Jim Omahen.

And, a couple hours later, Rita Moreno replied:

Yes…you got a star


And if you’re new to BID studies, you’re probably wondering why this puerile exchange is not just idiotic, sycophantic, and moronic, but also deeply offensive and discouraging to anyone who cares about the rule of law in Los Angeles. Well, read on!
Continue reading Yet Another Example Of City Of LA Indifference To Illegal BID Shenanigans: City Clerk BID Analyst Rita Moreno Hands Out (Literal) Gold Stars To BIDs For Minimal Brown Act Compliance But Doesn’t Do Or Even Say Anything To BIDs Who Are Not Only In Violation Of The Law But Have Been Flouting It For Years On End

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February 2, 2017 Email From Eugene Shin Of The LA Police Commission To Nicole Shahenian Of The East Hollywood BID Confirms Continued Progress Of BID Patrol Registration Project But Leaves Unanswered Question Of Whether Or Not The EHBID Has A BID Patrol

You may recall that late last year, on the basis of my complaint to the Police Commission, the City of LA resumed enforcement of LAMC 52.34 against BID security forces.1 Since then it’s been possible to track the progress of this massive project via various CPRA requests. So in November 2016 the Police Commission informed all BIDs of the registration requirement and, at the same time, told them that their BID patrollies would be subject to arrest if they didn’t submit. In December 2017 the Police Commission told the BIDs to quit whining about it because the law is the law.

Well, just yesterday, as part of a larger release of records from the East Hollywood BID, I discovered a February 2017 email from Eugene Shin to Nicole Shahenian. Eugene Shin, as you may recall, is the Police Commission investigator that’s heading up the registration project. Nicole Shahenian is the Executive Director of the East Hollywood BID. The email confirms that not only is registration still ongoing, but that the Police Commission is pursuing it fairly aggressively. Turn the page for a transcription and some discussion.
Continue reading February 2, 2017 Email From Eugene Shin Of The LA Police Commission To Nicole Shahenian Of The East Hollywood BID Confirms Continued Progress Of BID Patrol Registration Project But Leaves Unanswered Question Of Whether Or Not The EHBID Has A BID Patrol

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Urban Place Consulting Set To Earn $55,712.20 For Dealing With The 2017/2018 Fashion District BID Renewal Process According To Contract, Which May Also Shed Light On The Intersection Between BID Consultancy And L.A.’s Muncipal Lobbying Ordinance

The Fashion District BID in Downtown Los Angeles is set to expire at the end of 2018. This means that they’ll be collecting petitions roughly in the first quarter of 2018 and going to City Council approximately in the Summer of 2018. The process is complicated for property-based BIDs and usually requires a consultant, and the consultant has to start early. The Fashion District is using Urban Place Consulting.1 Work began on the process in January 2017.

Thanks to the competence, kindness, and evident commitment to transparency of the Fashion District BID’s executive director, Rena Masten Leddy,2 we have copies of (at least most of) the FDBID’s contract with UPC3 as well as the first three months worth of invoices. You can get these:

Crucially, the contract reveals that the Fashion District will pay UPC more than $55,000 over the course of the two year process. The contract is supposed to include a schedule of hourly rates and the invoices are supposed to include an hourly breakdown, but, at least so far, they do not.

Apart from the general interest created by the essential role that BID renewal plays in the life cycle of BIDs, this kind of data is also crucial to my ongoing study of the intersection between the BID renewal process in Los Angeles and the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. Turn the page for a brief discussion of those issues as well as a brief outline of the renewal process itself.
Continue reading Urban Place Consulting Set To Earn $55,712.20 For Dealing With The 2017/2018 Fashion District BID Renewal Process According To Contract, Which May Also Shed Light On The Intersection Between BID Consultancy And L.A.’s Muncipal Lobbying Ordinance

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It Appears That East Hollywood BID Director Nicole Shahenian Lied To Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott About The Circumstances Of The Preparation Of The EHBID’s 2015 Annual Planning Report And, As Shahenian Was A Registered Lobbyist At The Time, Thereby Violated LAMC 48.04(B)

Nicole Shahenian, you got some splainin’ to do!
The background to this post is unavoidably technical and lengthy. If you’re already familiar with the Annual Planning Report process for BIDs as mandated by Streets and Highways Code §36650, you may want to skip directly to the report I submitted to the City Ethics Commission this morning.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. ADOPT the attached Annual Planning Report for the East Hollywood Property Business Improvement District’s 2015 fiscal year, pursuant to the State Law.


But there are a number of problems with this story. First, it appears that the East Hollywood BID Board of Directors did not actually meet on December 29, 2014. In fact, it appears that they did not meet at all in December 2014. Of course, it’s notoriously difficult to prove a negative, but I’m going to give it a go.
Continue reading It Appears That East Hollywood BID Director Nicole Shahenian Lied To Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott About The Circumstances Of The Preparation Of The EHBID’s 2015 Annual Planning Report And, As Shahenian Was A Registered Lobbyist At The Time, Thereby Violated LAMC 48.04(B)

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The Story Of How The Central City East Association Evidently Violated City Ethics Laws Restricting Campaign Contributions, Gave Illegally To Mitch O’Farrell and Marqueece Harris-Dawson In 2015, Lied About It On Their Tax Form, And I Turned Them In To The IRS And The Ethics Commission

CCEA: The truth may be out there but it’s not out there on our tax forms.
This story begins with the fact that the Central City East Association, which runs the infamous Downtown Industrial District BID, contributed $700 each to two City Council candidate campaigns in 2015. The money was given to Mitch O’Farrell of CD13 and Marqueece Harris-Dawson of CD8. You can see the record at the City Ethics Commission and also if it’s more convenient, here is a PDF of the same information.

This turns out to be a huge problem for a number of unrelated reasons. First and most simply, the CCEA is a nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization. Unlike the more famous 501(c)(3) organizations, 501(c)(6) groups are allowed to engage in lobbying, but it’s unclear whether they’re allowed to support candidates for office.1 However, irrespective of any restrictions on donations, there are very clear reporting requirements.

Take a look at the CCEA’s 2015 tax form. In particular, take a look at question 3 of part IV, found on page 3 of the form. It asks unambiguously:

Did the organization engage in direct or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office?

And, as you can see in the image that appears somewhere near this paragraph, the CCEA unambiguously stated that they did not. It’s hard to imagine a less ambiguous form of direct political campaign activities than giving actual money, amirite? Hence I turned them in to the IRS and also to the Franchise Tax Board for this lacuna. Stay tuned in case anything happens!

And it turns out that there are some more subtle, but potentially equally serious, problems with these two donations involving various municipal laws. Turn the page for the highly sordid but highly technical details!2
Continue reading The Story Of How The Central City East Association Evidently Violated City Ethics Laws Restricting Campaign Contributions, Gave Illegally To Mitch O’Farrell and Marqueece Harris-Dawson In 2015, Lied About It On Their Tax Form, And I Turned Them In To The IRS And The Ethics Commission

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BID Consulting Engineer Ed Henning Seems To Earn $9,000 For A BID Renewal/Establishment. Also A Bunch Of Board Minutes From The Historic Core Reveal … Nothing! But We Have ‘Em Anyway!

Blair Besten of the Historic Core BID — a colorful character, to be sure, but somewhat repetitive…
Earlier this week, not-so-shadowy BID consultant Susan Levi, who among other things serves as the Executive Director of the South Los Angeles Industrial Tract BID, sent me a copy of the SLAIT BID’s transactions by vendor from January 2013. The most interesting item, or at least the item I’m presently most interested in right now, appears on page 3, under “Edward Henning & Associates.” Edward Henning, of course, is a consulting engineer and seems to have made something of a career of preparing the engineering reports which are mandated by the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994 at §36622(n) for BID establishments.1 A little arithmetic reveals that the SLAIT BID paid Henning $9,000 for their 2015 renewal. This is roughly 10% of the approximately $80,000 which the consultant seems to earn. There’s no moral to this story, at least not yet. It’s merely the latest datapoint I’ve collected in my attempt to understand the finances of BID establishment and renewal.

Also recently I received a bunch of minutes from the Board meetings of the Historic Core BID, and you can turn the page for a link and some brief comments.
Continue reading BID Consulting Engineer Ed Henning Seems To Earn $9,000 For A BID Renewal/Establishment. Also A Bunch Of Board Minutes From The Historic Core Reveal … Nothing! But We Have ‘Em Anyway!

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CPRA Goes Meta: Holly Wolcott Refuses To Release Some Records But Ends Up Releasing Advice Email From Deputy City Attorney Mike Dundas Authorizing Her Refusal

Holly Wolcott reimagined as a child of the 60s, chanting the Nam Myoho Renge Kyo of her people, which goes like this: “CPRA does not obligate me to answer questions. Only to provide records. CPRA does not obligate me to answer questions. Only to provide records.” HEY HOLLY!! CPRA also does not obligate you to not answer questions…
Perhaps you remember the long and winding narrative of how I spent almost half of last year trying to get the City Clerk’s office to cough up mailing addresses for the property owners in the Venice Beach BID, which they finally did do. There is a reasonable summary with links right here. Today I can reveal a little behind-the-scenes episode in that story.

A few weeks ago, in the middle of about a thousand pages of emails that the City Clerk’s office finally handed over, only about six months after I asked for them, I found this little gem of an email chain. Most of it is me hassling various Clerk staffies for the list of addresses, but right in the middle of it all, there’s an interlude between Holly Wolcott and Deputy City Attorney Mike Dundas, who’s evidently some kind of CPRA specialist over there in City Hall East.1

The TL;DR is that she goes: “Mike, do I gotta give him the goods?” and Mike’s all: “Nah, Holly, you don’t gotta because reasons.” It’s also interesting that the reasons he gives her are specious, providing, among other things, yet another example of how the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994 (which makes BIDs subject to CPRA) seems not to be understood so well over at City Hall. You will find some discussion after the break, along with quotes if you’re PDF-averse.
Continue reading CPRA Goes Meta: Holly Wolcott Refuses To Release Some Records But Ends Up Releasing Advice Email From Deputy City Attorney Mike Dundas Authorizing Her Refusal

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Shadowy BID Consultant Tara Devine Seems To Get Paid About $80,000 For Establishing A BID, Which I Managed To Discover Despite The Fact That She’s So Darned Secretive

Shadowy BID consultant Tara Devine looks fate’s oncoming train straight in the eye.
There’s an unresolved problem in the application of the California Public Records Act to business improvement districts. The thing is that the Property Owners’ Associations which administer the BIDs are, in part, subject to CPRA because §36612 of the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994 makes them so, stating that:

“Owners’ association” means a private nonprofit entity that is under contract with a city to administer or implement improvements, maintenance, and activities specified in the management district plan. … an owners’ association shall comply with the California Public Records Act … for all records relating to activities of the district.

The problem is that the Owners’ Association doesn’t seem to be required to comply with CPRA until it actually is under contract with the City. This, if accurate, means that the activities of the POA before the BID is approved are largely opaque to scrutiny. And this has been a severe problem in the case of the Venice Beach BID, where a number of people, not just me, have had the experience of CD11 staff,1 City Clerk staff, and even freaking Holly Wolcott herself, falsely denying that the City is involved in the BID formation process at all and telling members of the public that they should therefore seek information from shadowy BID consultant Tara Devine. Tara Devine, of course, ignores all requests for information from anyone who seems to be even a little skeptical about the benefits of BIDs.

None of this is the final word on the matter. The only reason that the legislature even made BIDs subject to CPRA is that Aaron Epstein, a brave and determined property owner, sued the living shit out of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance2 in the 1990s and the Courts determined, in a stunningly righteous decision, that BIDs were subject to both CPRA and the Brown Act. It’s quite possible, perhaps even probable, that if the courts were asked whether or not POAs were subject to CPRA before the contract was signed, they would find that they were. However, that’s not a struggle in which I presently have the resources to engage, so alternative methods of information collection are required.

Fortunately,3 Tara Devine is not a one-BID woman. See, in 2015 the South Park BID was up for renewal.4 The process of BID renewal is essentially the same as the process for BID establishment, with the huge difference that it’s carried out by a POA that’s already under contract with the City, and is thus subject to CPRA. And thus was it possible to gather surprisingly much information about how Tara Devine conducts her dangerous business!5
Continue reading Shadowy BID Consultant Tara Devine Seems To Get Paid About $80,000 For Establishing A BID, Which I Managed To Discover Despite The Fact That She’s So Darned Secretive

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