Hollywood BIDs flout the Brown Act (updated)

I attended my first meeting of the Sunset-Vine BID and Hollywood Entertainment District Joint Security Committee meeting this morning.  It was held in a restaurant called “Cleo” located in The Redbury Hotel.  I’ll have more to say about the actual content of the meeting later.  For now I’ll just talk about scandalous violations of the Brown Act, a California law regulating public meetings.

When I arrived, Kerry Morrison, Executive Director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance (I’m not sure what that is), asked me for my name.  The Brown Act guarantees the public “the right to attend and comment at public meetings without signing in or identifying themselves.” When I wouldn’t say, she seemed to get quite agitated. After a whispered conference with committee co-chair Monica Yamada, Monica came over to me to introduce herself and also asked for my name. Politely (I hope) I refused to tell her. She told me I’d have to sign in when the sheet came around. I told her that I didn’t think I had to. She told me that if I were planning to comment I would certainly have to identify myself. I told her that I wasn’t planning to comment. Monica wondered why I wouldn’t want to identify myself if I weren’t up to something “sinister.” There was nothing in that for me. Anyway, the signup sheet came around and I passed it along without signing. It was on a plain yellow pad. The Brown Act requires that “if an attendance list, register or similar document is posted at or near the entrance to the meeting room or circulated to attendees , it must state clearly that signing is voluntary.” This sheet did not.

After the call to order and the public comments, Steve Seyler of Andrews International Security gave a report on behalf of his company (more on that in another post). He read from a long document which was distributed to the entire committee. After the meeting I asked Steve if I could have a copy and he said “I only have the one.” I asked Kerry if I could have a copy or look at one and she said that I could not. It was intended only for the committee members and contained secret information. I told her that I would be making a Public Records Act request for the document and asked if I should direct it to her. She said that I should, gave me her card, and told me that the report would have to be redacted before I could have a copy. Note that the Brown Act requires that “all materials distributed to a majority of the legislative body in connection with a matter to be discussed at a Brown Act meeting are public records, and must be available for inspection and copying ‘without delay.'”

For shame, yes? If you’re going to have a committee the whole purpose of which is to conspire to coerce nasty dirty homeless people away from your neighborhood by charging them with even very minor violations of the law you ought to comply with the law yourself, I would think. Imagine a world where the clean, pleasant businessmen and women on this committee were forcibly arrested on sight for breaking laws so wantonly. Furthermore, there was an awful lot of talk at this meeting about the broken windows theory, in which a bunch of ivory tower criminologists give permission to municipal authorities to behave badly by telling them that if they consistently arrest people for sitting on the sidewalk the rate of major violent crimes will decrease. Maybe, maybe not. But it’s at least plausible that if we stop public bodies like the BID Joint Security Committee from committing minor violations of the Brown Act, perhaps we will also discourage them from committing major ones.

UPDATE (October 10, 2014, 7:32 AM PDT): The Brown Act requires covered bodies to announce their meetings on their web sites at least 72 hours in advance of the meetings (54954.2.(a)(1)). On October 8, 2014, the “Meetings” page of the Entertainment District BID web site stated that the next meeting of the Joint Security Committee was in September 2014. By October 10, 2014 the page had been updated ex post facto to announce the “next meeting” on October 9, 2014. Interestingly, the updated version continued to state that the meeting would be held in the Library Bar of the Redbury Hotel when in fact it had already taken place in the Cleo Restaurant. So they didn’t even manage to cover up the violation. Maybe they’ll get it right in the next covert revision. How the lessons of history are ignored. The coverup is always worse than the crime in politics. As Pete Seeger used to ask so plaintively, when will they ever learn?

Note: Some of the language in this post describing the Brown Act was taken from a very useful document by Eileen Monaghan Teichert, erstwhile city attorney of Sacramento. That document is available here.

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