Friends, take a look at the exceedingly fascinating LAMC § 48.04(B). This lovely little slab of ethicalliciousness illegalizes any occasion when a lobbyist might:
Fraudulently deceive or attempt to deceive any City official with regard to any material fact pertinent to any pending or proposed municipal legislation.
And of course, you recall what a lobbyist is, it’s a technical term in this setting.1 Lobbyists are defined in LAMC §48.02 to be:
any individual who is compensated to spend 30 or more hours in any consecutive three-month period engaged in lobbying activities which include at least one direct communication with a City official or employee, conducted either personally or through agents, for the purpose of attempting to influence municipal legislation on behalf of any person.
Well, as you may recall, I spent the last two months assembling a highly detailed argument that Tara Devine met this definition. If that’s right, and I certainly think that it is, she’s also forbidden from fraudulently deceiving Mike Bonin, e.g., about material facts in regard to the formation of the Venice Beach BID which, as I’m sure you know, requires legislation for the BID to be brought into existence.
The argument is that she got everyone to believe that it was required under state law to include commercially zoned properties in the BID, even though not only is this not true, not only did she know it was not true, but her having convinced everyone of this led to more properties being in the BID, which increased the amount of money under the control of her clients, the Venice Beach Property Owners Association. If you’re still interested enough to follow me into the weeds, turn the page!
The key issue has to do with Streets and Highways Code §36632, which gives the City Council the power to place properties into a BID or to remove them from a BID:
36632.(a) The assessments levied on real property pursuant to this part shall be levied on the basis of the estimated benefit to the real property within the property and business improvement district. The city council may classify properties for purposes of determining the benefit to property of the improvements and activities provided pursuant to this part.
(c) Properties zoned solely for residential use, or that are zoned for agricultural use, are conclusively presumed not to benefit from the improvements and service funded through these assessments, and shall not be subject to any assessment pursuant to this part.
And with §36624, which states:
36624. At the conclusion of the public hearing to establish the district, the city council may adopt, revise, change, reduce, or modify the proposed assessment or the type or types of improvements, maintenance, and activities to be funded with the revenues from the assessments. Proposed assessments may only be revised by reducing any or all of them. At the public hearing, the city council may only make changes in, to, or from the boundaries of the proposed property and business improvement district that will exclude territory that will not benefit from the proposed improvements, maintenance, and activities.
Together, these paragraphs say that the City Council has the power to decide which properties will not benefit from being in the BID and to therefore exclude them from the BID. There is nothing in either of these sections that has anything to do with zoning except for §36632(c), which only says that residentially zoned properties can not be included. There is nothing whatsoever in here about any kinds of properties that must be included on the basis of their zoning.
The procedure is that the BID proponents make a case for the inclusion of their list of commercially zoned properties, and then Council is allowed to remove (but not add) properties on the basis of their not benefiting. The Council has full discretion for determining that a commercially zoned property doesn’t benefit. So for instance, when Tara Devine told Bonin staffers David Graham-Caso and Debbie Dyner Harris that “Zoning, not use, is the appropriate criteria [sic]“ for including a property, she’s just flat out wrong. The only criterion for including a property is that the City Council classifies it among those properties which will benefit.
The gist of the complaint is, therefore, that Tara Devine misled everyone, including Mike Bonin, Debbie Dyner Harris, and David Graham-Caso, about this point of law. Furthermore, as I showed recently, Tara Devine knew that this zoning-not-use theory was false. She herself unilaterally removed and then replaced a commercially zoned property. So that’s an element: misleading people when you know the truth is deceiving them.
And obviously the fact of the matter about these code sections is material with regard to the BID establishment ordinance. And discouraging Mike Bonin from removing parcels in order to propitiate angry constituents, which by the end of the horrific approval process he was obviously more than willing to do, increased the amount of money her clients would collect in assessments each year. This is a matter of financial gain. Deception for the sake of financial gain is fraudulent. That takes care of the elements of LAMC § 48.04(B). The last thing to explain is why I sent this to Mike Feuer instead of, as usual, to the City Ethics Commission.
Well, it hinges on LAMC §48.09(C)(1), which states:
Any person who knowingly violates any provision of Section 48.04 shall be liable in a civil action brought by the City Attorney.
See the extra requirement? For the City Attorney to step in, the violation has to be knowing. But Tara Devine has worked at various levels of City government, for such luminaries as Richard Riordan, James Hahn, and José Huizar. Thus it’s pretty hard to believe that she hasn’t taken mandatory ethics training, and would therefore be aware of this law. Hence Mike Feuer, who was famously quoted in the Times a few weeks ago saying “I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to say, ‘It’s not my job,'” ought to step up and say that investigating this Shadowy BID consultant is his job.
Oh, except for one thing! Don’t forget about that brave and determined band of Venice residents who are presently suing the shit out of the City and the VBBID over their contention that their properties get no benefit from the assessment despite the fact that they’re zoned for commercial use. Of course, the City Attorney is going to be defending that suit. How would it look in court if the defense has to argue:
- In the lawsuit, that it was proper to include the properties in the BID even though Mike Bonin already said publicly that he’s willing to remove the properties by rezoning them, thus acknowledging that he was acting on Tara Devine’s “zoning not use” theory.
- In the matter of this complaint, that Tara Devine fraudulently misled Mike Bonin about “zoning not use.”
Obviously these two positions are incompatible, which gives Mike Feuer’s office a strong incentive, or at least the appearance of one, to exonerate Tara Devine. This, of course, is a conflict of interest, which is why I also asked Mike Feuer to appoint an independent investigator and, if necessary, an independent prosecutor.
So what will come of this, of course it’s impossible to say at this point. But at least we know from Mike Feuer’s own mouth that he will “be damned if I’m ever going to say, ‘It’s not my job.’” And now we will discover whether his actions speak as loudly as his words.
By the way, if you weren’t ready to read the complaint before, but you are now, you can get your copy here.
Cartoon image of Mike Feuer started out as a public record and then I messed with it to the point where it is probably able to be copyrighted, but as a gift to my native City I hereby release it into the public domain. As they say, if you love an image, set it free. I believe it goes on from there, but I disremember what it says, if anything.