In 2015 Bonin Aide Debbie Dyner Harris Sought To Leverage “Extremely Unusual” Outsized City Assessment For Venice Beach BID Into Voting Seat On Board Of Directors But City Attorney Said No! Freaking! Way! Conflict! Of! Freaking! Interest!

Debbie Dyner Harris, uncaptioned.
I’ve written before on how the City of Los Angeles arranges for itself to be lobbied by BIDs for various reasons. Now it appears that even this usual arrangement wasn’t enough for Mike Bonin and Debbie Dyner Harris at CD11 with respect to the Venice Beach BID. In particular, during the formation process, in December 2015, Dyner Harris emailed Miranda Paster asking if she could have a voting seat on the BID Board of Directors:

Hi Miranda, how are you? I hope all is well. I am checking on something we had discussed a while ago, but I can’t find in my notes. I wanted to confirm whether or not the City, as 1/3 paying member of the BID,1 is allowed to be a voting member on the BID board.

Miranda Paster replied a few days later, stating:

We opt out of sitting on the Board because it may appear to be a conflict of interest. We can sign the petition for a BID and we cast a ballot for the Prop 218 balloting. However, we do not sit on the boards and vote.

Debbie Dyner Harris doesn’t like this at all. She evidently really wants to be on this board!2

Thanks for the information. but
[sic] given that we’ll be a 1/3 member (which I presume is extremely unusual), wouldn’t it make sense to reconsider that for just this instance? I presume we’d have to get City Attorney clearance on that one?

But Miranda Paster isn’t having it. Less than 24 hours later she replies:

I asked. City Atty indicated Conflict of Interest.

And at that point, DDH yields the point. Finally.

Now, it’s not unheard of for City employees to be on the boards of directors of BIDs. For instance, I believe the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance has a standing arrangement for a representative from the LAPD to serve as an ex-officio member of their Board. This can be seen from, e.g., their July 2013 minutes, where then-Hollywood-Division commander Beatrice Girmala is listed as an ex-officio member. It’s also interesting to note that there are two members of the board from the Los Angeles Fire Department listed, neither noted to be ex-officio, and therefore presumably voting members like DDH wanted to be.

Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the HPOA bylaws for some reason, but the bylaws of the Central Hollywood Coalition allow for both ex-officio members and “honorary members.” Ex-officio members are explicitly prohibited from voting, but it doesn’t say whether or not honorary members are restricted. I’m guessing that they can vote, because the fact that the drafters felt it necessary to exclude ex-officio members explicitly shows that they could have excluded honorary members had they intended to do so. It’s not clear from the record if any of these are from the City, but given that the HPOA appoints City employees, it’s not out of the question that the CHC does as well.

It’s not clear what the point of having City employees be officially on the board might be, though. After all, the City and its BIDs work together super-closely already. There’s really no chance that the City is going to ask BIDs to do something and the BIDs are not going to do it. And there’s very little chance that BIDs are going to ask the City for something and the City’s not going to do it.3 So I can’t see why it seemed so important to DDH (and by proxy Mike Bonin) to have an actual voting seat, but the fact that it did makes the issue interesting. It’s also interesting to note that DDH admits that the sheer number of City Parcels in this BID is “extremely unusual.” Of course, it is extremely unusual, but they pretty consistently deny that there’s anything strange about it. Anyway, it’s hard to see what this all means, but it certainly bears thinking about.

Image of Debbie Dyner Harris is a crop of this image, which is a public record. So there!

  1. I’m not sure why DDH says that the City holds 1/3 of the property in the BID. The final figure was about 1/4 instead. I’ve previously reported that CD11 staff originally stated that the City’s BID assessment was to be more than $600,000, which is in fact about 1/3 of the total. Perhaps DDH’s use of the 1/3 figure is based on a previous version of the BID assessment roster.
  2. And obviously she wouldn’t be pushing the issue on her own. Mike Bonin must have wanted a voice on the board himself. Why is that?
  3. Little but not none. The whole street-vending thing is a good example. The City is surely going to approve it over the objections of all the BIDs, and without adopting too many of the BIDs’ proposed restrictions. On matters that are highly visible to the public such as street vending, the City Council has to take account of other points of view. It’s in the hidden technical matters, e.g. tree trimming that BIDs get their way unilaterally. But, of course, most issues are hidden technical issues. Obviously BIDs have learned that in these very rare cases they have to shut up and take one for the team. Tour bus regulation is an interesting borderline case. It’s an ongoing, decades-long obsession of Kerry Morrison’s, and most people don’t care at all, and she was recently just on the very verge of getting her way with this piece of pending legislation, but there were some unexpected public comments from various tour operators, and now the matter seems to be stalled as the Council tries to figure out if the whole thing might be more interesting to the public at large than was anticipated. I mean to write on this in detail at some point fairly soon.

2 thoughts on “In 2015 Bonin Aide Debbie Dyner Harris Sought To Leverage “Extremely Unusual” Outsized City Assessment For Venice Beach BID Into Voting Seat On Board Of Directors But City Attorney Said No! Freaking! Way! Conflict! Of! Freaking! Interest!”

  1. I saw that information too. I am filing a complaint to the board of engineers regarding the VBID Engineers report. Probably won’t do any good but worth a try. Harris & Devine had a heavy hand in its makeup.

    1. I think a complaint is a good idea. I collected all 36 of these reports for the current PBIDS here:

      One thing that’s very clear in reading them all in a row is that the very matters which are supposed to require professional expertise seem utterly random. For instance, the appropriate assessment methodologies are all over the map. I’m thinking off the top of my head they vary across the City’s BIDs by two orders of magnitude. It just doesn’t seem plausible that such variability is based on anything more than the required funding levels and the desire to maximize the voting power of certain constituents, the City itself in the case of the VBBID.

      There are a lot of problems with these reports, and I’m glad you’re complaining. I hope you’ll keep up updated with your progress as appropriate.

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