If BIDs Are Such A Good Good Thing For The City Then Why Is Everyone Involved In Their Creation So Darned Secretive?

Laura McLennan, Mike Bonin's Deputy Chief of Staff, who has her story about BID formation and she's sticking to it.
Laura McLennan, Mike Bonin’s Deputy Chief of Staff, who has her story about BID formation and she’s sticking to it.
Ask anybody who’s making bank off BIDs. Ask the BID Consortium. Ask the freaking State Legislature, who has incorporated their findings in the freaking Streets and Highways Code at Section 36601(e)(1). Every zillionaire in the state of California and every zillionaire lackey legislator at every level will tell you that the flipping RAND Corporation Report on BIDs proves that they’re better for the health, wealth, and eternal salvation for the people of the Golden State than the the forthcoming resurrection of Jesus, Mary, and all 12 of the apostles.1 And yet when it comes to finding out who’s behind creating them, everybody lies, everybody hides.

Here’s the story. The City creates BIDs. This is no secret. When Aaron Epstein changed the world with his lawsuit the court found that yes, the City of Los Angeles created its BIDs. Read through the records from the years of work Jackie Goldberg dedicated in the 1990s to forming a BID in Hollywood. And yet if you ask anyone at the City for any records to do with the preformation of a BID, they will trot out their official story, which is a lie, that BIDs are formed by a spontaneous movement of property owners.2 This is what Laura McLennan, Mike Bonin’s Deputy Chief of Staff, told me this morning after I asked her for a copy of the list of property owners in the forthcoming Venice Beach BID. She also told me that CD11 didn’t have the list and that I should ask the City Clerk.

I don’t know if that was meant as bitter sarcasm or was just a symptom of ignorance (although I’d hope that someone as intimately involved with the VBBID formation process as Bonin’s senior staff must be would not suffer from the requisite level of ignorance), but actually I’d already asked the Clerk yesterday, been denied at multiple levels, and that’s why I was asking CD11.3 Staff members of the division that oversees BIDs told me that they didn’t have the list, that they didn’t have anything to do with the list, that the list didn’t have anything to do with the City, and that I could ask the shadowy private consultant who’s running the private side of the process, Tara Devine, for the list. I did ask Devine, even though it was obviously a waste of time to ask someone like Devine for anything she wasn’t obligated to provide by law. And it was a waste of time.

And then I asked Holly Wolcott to ask Tara Devine,4 and she also told me that the City had nothing to do with the list and that she wouldn’t ask Devine for it. The reason she gave is that Devine is a private consultant doing private things. Now, the Public Records Act has a fairly robust definition of records, and it states explicitly that they don’t need to be owned by the government agency, they just have to be used by the government agency in order to be subject to the law. Of course, the Supreme Court of California has ruled that the City forms BIDs, so the documents used by the private consultant who’s forming the BID are being used by the City, so they’re public records. But the City’s story is STILL that they don’t have anything to do with BID formation. In fact, this is another thing that Laura McLennan told me this morning. That the impetus for the formation of the VBBID came from the property owners alone.

Not that I expect anyone at the City to even bother trying to get their stories to be consistent when they’re talking about BIDs, but take a look at these DISTRICT FORMATION ACTIVITY GUIDELINES, published by the Clerk. In case the owners are too broke or too stubborn to hire a consultant, the City Clerk’s office will play the role of a consultant:

In order to successfully complete these steps without a consultant, the group should be well-organized and at some stage of consensus regarding the overall project objectives. The group will receive guidance from staff in each of these areas. In this scenario, City Clerk staff members may serve informally as the consultant and assist with the tasks as outlined.

So yeah, consultants are private, but if there is no consultant then the City will do the work that the consultant does. In that case, the materials prepared in advance of the BID formation would be public records and subject to disclosure, including the freaking list of property owners that no one will make public in this case. This must mean that these documents are public records even when a private consultant prepares them. After all, they play the same role in the City’s work.

In any case, these arguments can’t be won without a lawsuit, and no one around here has the time or the resources for that. The point is that if BIDs are as great a thing as everyone involved with them says they are, why does everyone deny that they have a role in creating them? The cynical point of view is that the City’s denials allow them to withhold essential records, such as the list of property owners involved, to prevent anti-BID organizers from contacting them and convincing them not to support the BID.

This is the problem that anti-BID organizers in Venice are having:

Prior to the hearing, engage in these actions: As we do not yet have a full list of property owners, contact Tara Devine, the BID’s consultant, who has been identified as the point person for information. The BID ballot mailing list was requested from her, with no response. Email her to request the mailing list and/or list of owners: tara@devine strategies.com. Attached is a partial list of property owners that we do know to date. If you know others, please contact them and send the contact information back to us.

As an aside, it’s heartening to see the unprecedented level of opposition to BIDs in Venice. It’s not entirely unexpected, but it’s good to see nonetheless. Of course, energetic dedication, while necessary for success, sadly isn’t sufficient.

So that’s probably why the secrecy. Interestingly, the Clerk’s office did supply me with the petitions submitted in favor of the VBBID (these are huge PDFs, so for now they’re just on Archive.Org). So these people can be targeted for mind-changing. But the property owners who are opposed to the BID can’t for now be located to help defeat it. Which results from a suspiciously convenient and suspiciously consistent misconstruction of the public records act by every involved City agency. Which is unfortunately no longer surprising.

Image of Laura McLennan is a public record and I got it from here.

  1. The 13th is already here, serving on the City Council. We’re not saying from which district. Pretty much all of them.
  2. And correlatively that the documents involved are not subject to the CPRA.
  3. With whom I have an extensive CPRA request about the BID pending. They’re supposed to hand over the goods on August 19, a mere four days before the Council is scheduled to rubberstamp the BID even in the face of what’s sure to be vigorous and articulate opposition.
  4. Holly Wolcott is one of the most responsive high-level City officials I deal with. She never agrees with me and she never does anything I ask and I kind of think she’s not really reading my emails super-carefully, but she always, always answers me. That’s not much, but it’s a lot more than most of them at her level, the ones who aren’t forced to answer by their job descriptions.

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