Here are eleven pages of emails from 2014 released to me yesterday by Miranda Paster of the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office.1 These provide a unique2 window into the process by which BIDs are created in the City of Los Angeles. It’s clear from these emails that, despite the fact that everyone in the City government denies it, the BID formation process is encouraged, facilitated, and inextricably interwoven with City action at every stage. Of course, this confirms precisely what the California Court of Appeal found in its landmark decision in Epstein v. HPOA: that “by giving the BID the legal breath of life, the City breathe[s] life into the POA as well.”3
Last month Judge Dean Pregerson heard oral arguments on the City’s motion to dismiss this suit, filed by the Venice Justice Committee against the City of Los Angeles in opposition to its ham-fisted attempts to regulate speech on the Venice Boardwalk. Today he filed his order denying the motion to dismiss in part and granting it in part as well. Pregerson’s a lively writer, and the order makes interesting reading. There are three main issues addressed in the order.
First up, the City regulates vending on the Boardwalk in various ways, but contains an exception for soliciting donations and other activities protected by the First Amendment. Plaintiff Peggy Lee Kennedy was evidently told on a couple of occasions by LAPD officers that asking for donations was vending and that she had to stop or face arrest. Everyone agrees that these cops were in the wrong, but the question before the Court seems to have been whether the law “as applied” was unconstitutional. Pregerson found that it was not, and accordingly dismissed the parts of the complaint that had to do with that claim.
Second,1 the Plaintiffs made claims under the Bane Act, which allows people to sue if their constitutional rights were violated maliciously. Pregerson found that even assuming that the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were violated, they weren’t violated maliciously. I’m skipping some details, but that’s essentially why he also dismissed this cause of action.
Shadowy BID consultant Tara Devine, of shadowy BID consultantcy Devine Associates, slithered up out of the depths in which she habitually dwells to make a rare public appearance before the Los Angeles City Council on August 23, 2016, pleading for the Councilmembers to give life to the stitched-up-out-of-corpse-parts monster known as the Venice Beach BID which she’s been nurturing in her subterranean lair for many months now.
Yesterday evening a number of emails protesting the formation of a BID in Venice were added to the Council File. These demonstrate the heartening fact that not every owner of commercial property within the boundaries of the proposed BID supports its formation. The arguments are solid, too. For instance, Kevin Ragsdale says:
At this point, the idea of a VERY small group of property owners who may be handed $1.8 million with NO oversight, even by the City, is frightening and not appropriate unless and until we know more and have some say in the process that may well drastically change the face and character of the Venice we know and love in the name of profit making and creating a private police force. The consequences of this action without careful analysis will be profound and must be discussed in a wider audience of people, who also include the majority of property owners who have to pay and those who have more at stake than a desire to clean up Venice Beach to make more money.
A couple weeks ago the City of Los Angeles phoned in a motion to dismiss Carol Sobel’s lawsuit on behalf of Peggy Kennedy and the Venice Justice Committee. I went out to the Spring Street Federal Courthouse this morning to hear arguments, and it was not a waste of time, although the City still doesn’t seem to be making a serious effort in defending this case. The Deputy City Attorney, Sara Ugaz, didn’t argue so much as read selections from the City’s reply in support of its motion to dismiss. The reply is weak, and so were the selections, even more so for being read verbatim.
You may recall that the City is claiming that linking speech restrictions on the Boardwalk to the time the sun sets is accomplishing some rational purpose. First amendment jurisprudence allows such restrictions, but the purpose must be accomplished by the least restrictive means necessary. Thus it doesn’t portend well for the City, or at least for the fate of the motion to dismiss, that Pregerson repeatedly questioned Ugaz on how using the time of sunset could possibly be the least restrictive means. He mentioned that it occurs at different times during different seasons, for instance. This prompted Ugaz to claim that the City wants to clear the view of the ocean at sunset and that “people are coming home then.”1 The judge noted again that the sun sets at widely varying times, so how does anyone know when people are coming home. This prompted Ugaz to admit that “perhaps that wasn’t the best reason.” Continue reading Further Indication of Lack of Seriousness: City of Los Angeles Sends Attorney to Read Aloud Rather Than Argue its Motion to Dismiss in Venice Justice Committee Case; Judge Pregerson Seems Skeptical→
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.
On Friday, July 1, the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles signed an ordinance of intention to establish a Venice Beach BID. It seems that this isn’t final, and there will be a hearing on August 23, 2016 at 10 a.m. “to determine whether to establish the District.” Please mark it on your calendars and come put the integrity of our City Council to the test. After all, if 169 signatures below one of the most eloquent anti-BID statements I’ve ever had the good fortune to read didn’t sway them, I don’t imagine that a huge public outcry will do much. But that’s no reason for remaining silent.
You can read a description of the boundaries of the proposed BID in the ordinance, although it’s a little hard to follow even for someone who grew up out there. The District seems to be bounded roughly by the Boardwalk on the West, by North Venice Boulevard to the South, by Pacific Avenue to the East, and by Rose on the North. Now, I don’t know how much you know about the history of race relations in Venice, but it’s essential to an understanding of the deep politics of this BID1 to know that the area roughly bounded by Electric Avenue, North Venice Blvd., Lincoln Blvd, and (maybe) Brooks Avenue, known as Oakwood, was originally the only area of Venice that non-white people were allowed to own property in. Thus ownership of commercial property in the area encompassed by the proposed BID, like most such areas in Los Angeles, was restricted to white people only until sometime in the late 1960s, and then only as a matter of law. There is no question that the huge majority of that property is, even now, due to the way that commercial property is passed down in families, owned by white people. Continue reading A Dark Day in Los Angeles: Venice Beach BID Ordinance Approved by Council on Friday. Final Hearing August 23 at 10 a.m. in Council.→