The Fashion District BID in Downtown Los Angeles is set to expire at the end of 2018. This means that they’ll be collecting petitions roughly in the first quarter of 2018 and going to City Council approximately in the Summer of 2018. The process is complicated for property-based BIDs and usually requires a consultant, and the consultant has to start early. The Fashion District is using Urban Place Consulting.1 Work began on the process in January 2017.
Thanks to the competence, kindness, and evident commitment to transparency of the Fashion District BID’s executive director, Rena Masten Leddy,2 we have copies of (at least most of) the FDBID’s contract with UPC3 as well as the first three months worth of invoices. You can get these:
Crucially, the contract reveals that the Fashion District will pay UPC more than $55,000 over the course of the two year process. The contract is supposed to include a schedule of hourly rates and the invoices are supposed to include an hourly breakdown, but, at least so far, they do not.
Apart from the general interest created by the essential role that BID renewal plays in the life cycle of BIDs, this kind of data is also crucial to my ongoing study of the intersection between the BID renewal process in Los Angeles and the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. Turn the page for a brief discussion of those issues as well as a brief outline of the renewal process itself.
First, the renewal process. Everybody is super-hung-up on the fact that BIDs are temporary entities.4 Thus, not only does the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994, which is the legal framework under which BIDs operate, contain a number of ways to get rid of a BID once it’s in place,5 it also limits the existence of a BID to five years, or ten on renewal.6 As I mentioned above, the renewal process is complex and requires City Council to pass two separate ordinances, which are sent up by the City Clerk’s office. Thus, in practice, the process seems to include about 18 months of the renewal consultant working with the Neighborhood and Business Improvement District Section of the Clerk’s office to package the proposal for consideration by the Council.
But, in Los Angeles, if one is going to get paid to package and advocate for muncipal legislation, it’s required under certain circumstances, to register with the City Ethics Commission as a lobbyist. If you’ve been following my study of this subject, you may remember that some BID consultants have registered with the CEC on the basis of their BID consultancy work. On the other hand, most have not registered.
In order to be required to register, it’s necessary that the consultant be paid for 30 hours of work over three consecutive months, and this work must include at least one contact with a City official.7 As you can imagine, it’s incredibly difficult to prove such a thing, although, one hopes, not impossible. I spent more than two months recently assembling more than 150 pages of evidence and argument to prove that Tara Devine qualified to register as a lobbyist for her work as a consultant on the Venice Beach BID.
However, because consultants have to contract with BIDs, and because BIDs are subject to fairly strict financial oversight by the City,8 it’s recently occurred to me that it may well be possible to prove that unregistered lobbying activity is taking place by collecting contracts between BIDs and their consultants. My first attempt at this, with the Gateway to LA BID, led to the crucial discovery that their consultant, Larry Kosmont, actually was registered with the City on the basis of his BID renewal work.9
The present project seems pretty likely to yield some interesting results. In its favor are the facts that Rena Leddy seems committed to following the law, and she’s incredibly competent. Furthermore, in this case, there are uniquely many channels for gathering information. Not just via the BID itself, as is always the case, but here Urban Place Consulting is not just a BID consultant, they also manage two BIDs in LA. This makes them independently subject to the Public Records Act. Also, as usual, the City Clerk is subject to CPRA as well. Being able to request materials from multiple sources, which have overlapping but not identical requirements for document production, ought to allow the assembly of a much more complete picture of what’s going on than is usually possible. We shall certainly see!
Image of UPC logo is either not subject to copyright or, if anyone thinks it is, it’s kind of too bad, cause I clipped it from a public record, which I think makes it a public record itself. And if it doesn’t, it’s fair use, friends!
- Which is also known to readers of this blog as the company which manages the day-to-day operations of two of our fair City’s minor BIDs, to wit North Hollywood and also Figueroa Corridor.
- From whom some people ought to take a freaking lesson in how to operate within the law.
- Leddy spent five years as a VP of UPC at some point in her career. One wonders if this is a reason for the FDBID’s choice of consultant? Well, of course it is. Is it suspicious? Obviously. Is it ethically challenged? Possibly. Is it illegal? Not as far as I can see. Just to end this footnote with a lighter touch, note that Leddy also has a Twitter feed! Woo fricking hoo, amirite??
- This probably has something to do with the fact that BIDs collect extra taxes from property owners but via various loopholes they’re not subject to as strict scrutiny as taxation usually is in California. This is too complicated of a topic for me to go into here, and I don’t yet understand it fully anyway. It’s interesting that BIDs do not seem at all temporary from the outside. They seem like established, never-to-be-abolished, parts of the City government. However, to people inside the BID-world it may possibly be different. I was once told, in a personal conversation, by the ED of a major BID (whose name I’m not sharing here in order to preserve and reward the confidence, that they’re worried all the time that they may be dissolved.
- At § 36670.
- This is at § 36622(h). These are maximum terms. Some BIDs renew for fewer than ten years. I’m not sure why this is.
- I’m skipping over an incredible amount of detail here. To understand the meanings of these seemingly ordinary words, it’s necessary to read LAMC §48.02.
- This is in theory only. The sad fact is that even though the City has extensive oversight powers granted by the contract that BIDs sign, it rarely uses these powers now. In the past, the City did audit BIDs and did require them to follow normal financial standards, they do not do so now. However, what is required and/or possible in theory can often be made actual in practice via hard work and legal coercion, so there’s some hope.
- My second attempt, ongoing, with the horrific little tinpot regime known as the South Park BID, is meeting resistance at every stage. This is likely going to end in tears, and not for me. Stay tuned for information, but don’t hold breath. Such matters take fricking forever to arrange, unfortunately.