You may recall that Edward Henning is an engineer who works with a number of BID consultants on BID establishment and renewal, writing the engineer’s reports required by Streets and Highways Code §36622(n). I’ve previously reported, e.g., that he seems to get paid about $9,000 for writing these things.1 Well, TIL that Ed Henning is also a BID consultant his own self!
The story begins with Lorena Parker, executive director of the San Pedro Historic Waterfront BID, sending me the contract that Ed Henning and her BID signed for consulting services, along with some ancillary information:
Henning’s proposal to the BID — This is actually incorporated into the contract by reference. It’s important because it contains a detailed description of the services to be performed and the timeline for performance.
You may recall that the Los Angeles Municipal Lobbying Ordinance requires qualified lobbyists to register with the City Ethics Commission and also disclose a bunch of interesting information about their clients and their income. Also, the process of establishing or renewing a BID is fairly complex, and most property owners’ associations1 hire a consultant to guide them through the process. These consultants are regulated and recommended by the City Clerk’s office.
The process of getting a BID established or renewed, it turns out, looks an awful lot like the definition of lobbying activity to be found at LAMC §48.02, which is essentially preparing information and discussing it with City officials as part of influencing the passage of municipal legislation. The law requires anyone who’s paid for thirty or more hours of this over three consecutive months to register as a lobbyist, and it’s generally extremely hard to prove that someone’s met this criterion. You may, e.g., recall that earlier this year, in order to make a reasonably convincing case that Venice Beach BID consultant Tara Devine had passed this threshold, I spent months piecing together more than a hundred pages of evidence regarding her BID consultancy work.
But recently it’s occurred to me that these consultants have contracts with the BIDs they service, and that at least in the case of BID renewals, the contracts will be accessible via the Public Records Act.2 The contracts will contain some information about how much time the consultants spend on the project, and thus should be useful as evidence in reporting consultants to the Ethics Commission for lobbying without a license.
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.
Well, since the first of the year, I have been obsessively checking the contract search tab of the City Clerk’s Council File Management System for any sign of an agreement between the City and the Venice Beach Property Owners Association, as that criminal conspiracy between Carl Lambert and his unindicted co-conspirators Mark Sokol and Steve Heumann is known to the world, for the administration of the Venice Beach BID. The CFMS1 is an essential tool, but its built-in search engine is freaking horrible, and it seems even horribler2 when searching contracts. So the fact that no contract popped up day after day after day didn’t exactly fill me with confidence in the theory that no such contract existed.
But today, after two freaking months with no sign of it, I finally emailed the ever-helpful3 Shannon Hoppes to ask if there was a contract or not. She answered quickly and told me that there was not yet any such thing. Well, hope springs and so on. Into my head sprang joyous visions of Carl Lambert and his infernal BID-buddies Mark Sokol and Steve Heumann being so overwhelmed with the furor and pushback called into being by their infernal BID that they took their BID-ball and went home. They are being sued, their shadowy BID consultant, the Divine Ms. Tara Devine, has as shaky a grasp on the law and also on the truth and also on basic human decency as her freaking clients, and maybe the pressure was all just too much for them, mused I.
We’ve been discussing BID consultants a lot recently because of shadowy BID consultant Tara Devine and the fact that it looks so much like BID consultancy satisfies the LAMC’s definition of lobbying that it’s very likely that she broke the laws requiring registration, causing me, in the throes of a well-developed sense of civic duty, to report her transgressions to the Ethics Commission and then again to report some associated transgressions to Mike Feuer. What will come of these matters no one can now know, of course, but one aspect that troubled me slightly is the apparent novelty of the charges. That is, all the BID consultants I knew of at the time weren’t registered. This doesn’t mean they don’t have to register. After all, consider what happened with BID security and the Police Commission as a result of our reporting. But nevertheless, one never wants to be the first to make an argument if it’s possible to avoid it.
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.
As Karl Marx so wisely pointed out once upon a time1 crime is a career like any other. One reason is that there’s a learning curve. It takes some experience to be able to make crime pay. And the same, it seems, is true for unregistered lobbyists like our perennial subject, shadowy BID consultant Tara Devine. I reported last week that I had turned Tara Devine in to the Ethics Commission based on exhaustive research that indicated that she had spent more than 30 compensated hours over three consecutive months in 2016 lobbying for the Venice Beach BID without having registered with the City.