A Bunch Of Interesting New Documents: City Attorney, LA Times, And Sanitation Reports From Encampment Cleanups

This is just a quick announcement of some interesting new collections of records, with minimal commentary. First of all, there’s a collection of emails between City Attorney spokesman1 Rob Wilcox and various L.A. Times Reporters. You can get the whole batch here:

Also I have a full set of reports2 from the Bureau of Sanitation on the cleanups of three homeless encampments on March 22, 2016. It took almost three months for them to hand over this material, which won’t surprise anyone who’s been following my recent interactions with them. This is likewise available from:

I don’t presently have much to say about the sanitation reports. At this point I’m collecting as much material as possible in order to (a) figure out what kind of material is available so that I’ll be able to make focused, effective requests in the future, (b) learn what kinds of arguments they make against handing over records so that I can make focused, effective counterarguments against them, and (c) understand all the players in the HE3 game and the roles they’re playing. I hope to be able to synthesize all of this at some point, but meanwhile I want to make the records available because I know smarter people than I are also reading them.

But I do have this and that to say about the emails,4 and after the break you will find commentary and links to interesting individual instances.

  • Here are three email chains from September 6, 2016 between David Zahniser and Rob Wilcox about the Ninoos Benjamin case: 7:31 a.m.9:39 a.m.3:20 p.m. — And here is the story Zahniser filed about it at 6:25 p.m. This is an interesting case study in journalistic practice. Nothing lurid, just solid and amiable professionalism. And is another set from the next day wherein Zahniser follows up looking for some of the depositions. Which sound interesting, and I encourage interested readers to request them. That really is too far off my beat. But if you get them, please share!
  • Kate Mather on September 14, 2016 asking Wilcox and Frank Mateljan for rejection memos or letters relating to a case that the City Attorney declined to prosecute. Unfortunately the part of the correspondence I have is fragmentary. This is interesting to me since Mike Dundas typically will not give me stuff like this, even though he’s been good about telling me which cases are declined. I am working on getting the rest of the discussion here, and perhaps it will help me make more focused requests in the future. Again, as with all of these emails, the tone is as interesting as the content.
  • Zahniser and Mike Dundas on August 28, 2016 discussing the fact that CD14 is ignoring Zahniser’s CPRA requests. I’m super-sympathetic. I made a few requests of CD14 earlier this year and they5 were inordinately intransigent. They are by far the kookiest and least cooperative of any Council District I’ve dealt with in relation to CPRA. However, if you’re interested in CPRA pragmatics and the City of Los Angeles, this set of emails will fascinate.

    In July Zahniser emailed Mike Dundas to complain about how long CD14 was taking to hand over appointment calendars. Mike Dundas, rather blithely, replied: “OK. I will follow up.” Well, see, it has been my impression that Mike Feuer is the City’s attorney, in the sense that the City is Feuer’s client. So why in the world would he or his deputies tell the City in the person of CD14 to comply with CPRA at the request of a private party? He might tell them to comply if he foresaw liability or some such thing, but also if they wanted to not comply, I’m thinking it would be his job to lay out the risks they were taking and then let them decide, not to hassle them every time some upstart6 reporter gets huffy over a mere three month delay.7

    So now August rolls around. At this point Zahniser has been waiting on a CPRA request for three months. He asks Mike Dundas8 “[a]t what point does City Attorney Mike Feuer actually take these types of requests, and the release of public documents, seriously?” I don’t have Mike’s reply or even what Dave Zahniser said next, but about seven hours later, Rob Wilcox emailed him back, stating: “As you know, we provide advice to our clients on the Public Records Act, and we provided advice here, in this case to Councilmember Huizar.”

    Now, I just don’t know what to make of this. On the one hand it’s interesting to know that the City Attorney’s office is willing to intervene on behalf of the public with obstinate City officials. That might be useful information to have. On the other hand, does the tone not seem somewhat winky? Like what did Wilcox and/or Dundas say to Huizar’s office? What happened? Did it happen because of something personal about Huizar? Because I’ve dealt with Mike Dundas in relation to CD13 and he didn’t act winky at all. It was very clear whose side he was on, and if I’d have asked him to intercede on my behalf I would have been prepared to be ignored.9 Did Zahniser get the records? Whose side are these people on? Probably, unfortunately, many of the relevant emails are going to be privileged. In case not, though, I’m looking for more of them. Tah, friends!

  1. Technically “Director of Community Engagement and Outreach.”
  2. Actually I just found out from reading these that Sanitation routinely takes video at these cleanups. Obviously video is a public record, and should have been handed over in response to my original requests, but it never is. I will be asking for it explicitly.
  3. What the cool kids in Sanitation call homeless encampments.
  4. Even though this is pretty far from my usual BID-related purview, it’s not totally unrelated. I got onto it because of the whole Venice Beach BID editorial with the quote from the City Attorney thing. The familiar tone struck in that email intrigued me, and so here we are with about 50 more pages of emails, with lots of additional ones on the way.
  5. I’m looking at you, Rick Coca.
  6. From the City’s point of view, Dave. I don’t think you’re an upstart!
  7. That, of course, is sarcasm. I’m in favor of criminal penalties kicking in at around two months, with a shift to felony at three months.
  8. With a cc to Rob Wilcox and Frank Mateljan.
  9. I don’t get the impression he’s naturally passive-aggressive. Of course silence is a preferred tactic of wily lawyers. We would all do well to emulate them in this.
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