How to Destroy a Business Improvement District in California: A Theory

This would be an effective, emotionally satisfying, and poetically just way to get rid of business improvement districts, but I'm hoping for something a little more environmentally friendly.
This would be an effective, emotionally satisfying, and poetically just way to get rid of business improvement districts, but I’m hoping for something a little more environmentally friendly.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a lawyer. But I’m friends with some lawyers. More than zero of them did not laugh out loud at the idea you’re about to read. That’s all I got.

Business improvement districts in California are made possible by the Property & Business Improvement District Law of 1994.1 It’s worth reading, or at least skimming through, because there’s gold in them thar hills! For instance, consider Section 36670(a)(1), which states:

36670.(a) Any district established or extended pursuant to the provisions of this part … may be disestablished by resolution by the city council in either of the following circumstances:

(1) If the city council finds there has been misappropriation of funds, malfeasance, or a violation of law in connection with the management of the district, it shall notice a hearing on disestablishment.

Do you see the potential in that statement? The fact that it’s a tool for laying waste the BIDs of Los Angeles like so many Philistines? It’s a little hard to understand statutes, but here’s a clue: when they say “shall” they mean “must,” not “can.” Now turn the page to find out why this little statute, if not more powerful than Doug Henning and his sparkly rainbow suspenders as pictured above, is possibly as effective a BID repellent but much, much more emotionally satisfying than mere poofsly-woofsly magical annihilation.

My colleagues and I have pointed out before that BIDs in Los Angeles are white supremacists. They’re heirs of a long tradition of white supremacy in Los Angeles. They maintain and reproduce a century long tradition of white supremacism, and, as a bunch of privileged white supremacists, they cannot help but break the law. They violate the Brown Act on a regular basis.2 They violate the California Public Records Act on a regular basis.3 They commit years-long serial civil rights violations. They violate the ethics laws of the City of Los Angeles.4 They couldn’t follow the law if they tried, because privilege has burnt out their moral senses, assuming they had moral senses to begin with.

The method is essentially the broken windows theory for white collar BID crime. Pay attention to the BIDs. They will break the law. Turn them in for every possible law they break just like they do to homeless people who they’re targeting for forced relocation. We’re targeting the BIDs for forced relocation.

Eventually some agency somewhere will see through their magic-zillionaire-pixie-dust5 and make an official determination that they’ve broken the law. This will make it hard for the City Council not to find that there has been “…a violation of law in connection with the management of the district.”6 Then they will have to “…notice a hearing on disestablishment.” Repeat if necessary.

BIDs are elected by means of a weirdly distorted weight-by-property-value system that violates majority rule and leaves an awful lot of property owners feeling disaffected with the BID.7 The members of the City Council, on the other hand, are elected by majority rule. Their political instincts will force them to listen to the majority, not the zillionaire few. Disestablishment of the BID, while not certain, is at least possible.8 Even if this doesn’t get rid of the BID, repeated disestablishment hearings will put pressure on everyone. It might actually work. Let’s find out!

Image of Doug Henning poofing BIDs out of existence is licensed for noncommercial reuse according to the Google, and I got it from here.

  1. This is oversimplifying. There’s also a BID Act of 1965 and another of 1989. They’re probably relevant somehow, but the details are overwhelming. The 1965 one is in the California Streets and Highways Code Section 36000 et seq. and the 1989 one is at Section 36500 et seq. Good luck sorting through it all.
  2. Here I’m thinking of the Downtown Industrial District BID, run by the organized criminal conspiracy known as the Central City East Association (and to some extent the South Los Angeles Industrial Tract BID, which doesn’t have a website). I haven’t had time to write on these egregious and habitual violations yet, but I will. I did have time to turn the SLAIT BID in to the LA County DA for Brown Act violations, and if they’re found guilty, they may be the first test of the theory I’m introducing here. Stay tuned.
  3. Here I’m thinking of every single BID of whom I have ever made a CPRA request. The only one so far that comes close to dealing with me on a pure good-faith basis is the Fashion District BID, to whom I was recently moved to award the Excellence in BID Transparency Prize. For a while there it looked as if the South Park BID was going to stay on the right side of the law, but recently they’ve sold their soul to the Devil like all the rest.
  4. Here I’m looking mostly at the HPOA, and the CHC, Kerry Morrison, Lisa Schechter (of the Media District BID), Carol Schatz and the despicable Downtown Center BID, and possibly the Fashion District BID and its former director Kent Smith. I haven’t written on most of this because my complaints are mostly still pending at the City Ethics Commission, but you may hear plenty about it soon enough.
  5. This is that ephemeral yet hyperpotent substance that makes zillionaire criminals look beautiful and admirable and poor criminals look like outcasts and fiends. This is the stuff that got that Stanford boy rapist a three month sentence.
  6. This is a weak spot in the system, that the Council has to find that there’s been a violation. If people were to just go to the Council and say “look! They broke the law!!” such a finding would clearly be discretionary. On the other hand, if a court or a law enforcement agency found a violation, it seems as if the Council’s hands would be tied. We can hope so, anyway.
  7. This is another topic for the future. A BID can be established or renewed even if a majority of the property owners vote against it or don’t vote. It’s really warped and has been the subject of serious but ultimately (so far) unsuccessful legal challenges in other states.
  8. And this possibility means that BIDs are risking more than ordinary government agencies do when they violate CPRA with such abandon. If, e.g., Council District 14 ignores every possible part of CPRA (I’m looking at you, Rick Coca), the only risk they face is that someone will sue them and they’ll have to pay fees. But they’re loaded and there are no consequences beyond paying out some money. BIDs, on the other hand, would seem to be putting their very existence at risk. They seem so eager to do this, I wonder if this theory has occurred to their lawyers. You might argue, and the argument would seem to have merit, that the fact that their lawyers aren’t worried about this means my theory is bogus. It might be. But their lawyers might just be stupid. I have concrete evidence that at least one of them is stupid, anyway. We shall see what we shall see, I suppose.

3 thoughts on “How to Destroy a Business Improvement District in California: A Theory”

  1. Hello, would love an update. We are dealing with BID development in Chattanooga. I am in opposition, not getting anywhere and City Council is voting on it the 23rd through the 30th of July 2019.

    1. In general I would recommend reading TN state law authorizing BIDs really carefully. It can be effective to try to force BIDs and the cities which create them to follow the laws and rules as strictly as possible. In California at least these are widely violated just because until the last few years very few people have been paying attention. I just don’t think anything I know about can help you much, though. The laws are so, so state-specific. Good luck in your battle, though! And please keep us updated.

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