Yeah, perhaps you recall that in February 2017 I sent a public records act request to the newborn Venice Beach BID and executive directrix Tara Devine has been conscientiously ignoring it ever since. And so I hired a lawyer. And the lawyer filed this petition in Los Angeles County Superior Court. And served the petition on the BID yesterday.
Of course, this is the same course of action that the Larchmont Village BID recently thrust upon me. I wish there was some way to get these BIDdies to follow the law other than by filing petitions against them but the State Legislature, in its inscrutable wisdom, has made this the only remedy. Sad but true. Stay tuned for more information and turn the page for some excerpts from the petition.
1. This is a petition to enforce the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”) against Respondent the Venice Beach Property Owners’ Association, a.k.a. the Venice Beach Business Improvement District (“the BID”). The BID formed in 2016 amidst controversy and significant community objection. Its contractual obligations began on January 1, 2017. On February 17, 2017, Petitioner submitted a CPRA request for records related to the BID’s operation and formation. More than thirteen months have elapsed and, to date, the BID has failed to provide even a single record in response to Petitioner’s request.
2. As a creature of statute and public contract, the BID has important public obligations, including the obligation to comply with the CPRA. The BID’s operations are a source of significant community concern, and the public has a strong interest in the records the BID has failed to provide. The BID’s continued flouting of the CPRA casts a veil of secrecy over matters as fundamentally public as the BID’s communications with the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department, the BID’s relationship with consultants and contractors, intra-board communications, and the particularly-controversial issue of the BID’s selection of a security provider.
3. Therefore, by this petition and pursuant to the Code of Civ. Procedure §§ 1085, et seq. and Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 6250, et seq., Petitioner seeks a writ of mandate to enforce the CPRA by compelling the Venice Beach Property Owners’ Association to locate and produce the requested records. assisted researchers and the public at large in understanding BIDs. Petitioner has worked with students at U.C. Berkeley School of Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic and documentary filmmakers producing a film on the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition and the Hollywood Media District BID. Petitioner’s work has made a tangible impact on open government and the enforcement of accountability laws. For example, in response to his discovery–via information obtained through public records requests–that private BID patrol operators were not registering with the Los Angeles Police Commission as required by law, the Los Angeles City Attorney resumed enforcement of that provision and a BID patrol was investigated for its use of excessive force. Additionally, Petitioner has empowered the public to use the CPRA effectively in both research and civic activism by publishing a guide to the practical use of the CPRA in the City of Los Angeles. Petitioner is a member of the public within the meaning of §§ 6252(b)-(c).
5. Respondent the Venice Beach Property Owners’ Association is a property owners’ association pursuant to the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994, California Streets & Highways Code §§ 36600, et seq. Respondent contracts with the City of Los Angeles to manage the Venice Beach Business Improvement District. Respondent is subject to the CPRA as a matter of state law. California Streets & Highways Code § 36612.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
6. This court has jurisdiction under Gov’t Code §§ 6258, 6259, Code of Civ. Proc. § 1085, and Article VI, Section 10 of the California Constitution.
7. Venue is proper in this Court. The records in question, or some portion of them, are situated in the County of Los Angeles, Gov’t Code § 6259; the acts or omissions complained of occurred in the County of Los Angeles, Code of Civ. Proc. § 393; finally, Respondent is located in the County of Los Angeles, Code of Civ. Proc. § 395.
The BID’s 2016 formation was controversial and marked by community concern
8. The legal process to form the BID took place in 2016 and, from the start, faced community opposition. The legislative aspect of the process began when, on June 24, 2016, the Los Angeles City Clerk issued a report to the Los Angeles City Council regarding the proposed formation of the BID. The Clerk issued the report after the consulting firm Devine Strategies presented a petition indicating support from property owners representing 52.31% of the BID’s estimated annual assessments. In addition to the petition, Devine Strategies also submitted a Management District Plan it drafted, an Engineer’s Report prepared by Edward V. Henning, and a draft Ordinance of Intention. A true and correct copy of the Clerk’s Report is attached as Exhibit A.
9. The City Council held its first hearing on the matter on June 28, 2016. There, the BID’s formation faced significant opposition. A community coalition–comprised of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, the Los Angeles Human Right to Housing Collective, Venice Community Housing, and others–submitted a letter opposing the establishment of the BID. The coalition stated several grounds for its opposition, including that BIDs in Los Angeles and their security forces have a history of hostility toward homeless and low-income residents, that BIDs privatize public spaces and services by granting control to commercial property owners, and that the formation of the BID was undemocratic. The coalition also submitted a petition opposing the BID which contained well over one hundred signatures. A true and correct copy of the Coalition’s Letter submitted to the City Council is attached as Exhibit B.
10. On June 29, 2016, the City Council adopted the Ordinance of Intention to consider the establishment of the BID.
11. On August 23, 2016, the City Council held another public hearing on the establishment of the BID and announced the results of the “ballot tabulation,” an aspect of the BID formation process. At that meeting, the City Council adopted the Ordinance of Establishment.
12. The BID remained controversial at that hearing. On the following day, August 24, 2016, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles submitted a letter to the Los Angeles City Attorney regarding the previous day’s hearing. The letter asserted that the City Council limited public comment and prevented many individuals from speaking–the majority of whom opposed the BID–and that when attendees vocally protested the decision to conclude the public hearing, the Council threatened to clear the chambers. The letter argued that the Council’s actions in limiting public comment violated the BID’s enabling statute (Streets and Highways Code § 36623), and that the violation could not be cured by simply permitting additional testimony at a new hearing. The letter stated, in part:
There was no reason to close the public hearing before members of the public were allowed to be heard on this issue. Stakeholders who otherwise have no voice in the creation of a BID and the regulation of public space were present for hours, waiting to be heard. The relevant statutes gave them a right to testify, and under those statutes, the Council’s failure to allow them the opportunity to exercise this right renders the balloting process invalid.
13. On September 2, 2016, in response to the letter from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Attorney submitted a report to the City Council in which the City Attorney advised the City Council to repeal the original Ordinance of Intention and the Ordinance of Establishment, to adopt a new Ordinance of Intention, and to conduct a legally adequate public hearing. Find a true and accurate copy of the City Attorney’s Letter attached as Exhibit D.
14. On the same day, further evincing the public interest in the BID’s activities, the LA Times Editorial Board published an editorial titled, “Cleaning up the Venice Boardwalk is good; shooing off the homeless is not.” While the editorial did not explicitly endorse or oppose the formation of the BID, it expressed concern that the well-funded BID would deploy a “de facto private security force” to “hassle the homeless in an effort to move them pointlessly from corner to corner or to push them out of the neighborhood so that they become another jurisdiction’s problem.” Find a true and accurate copy of the LA Times Editorial attached as Exhibit E.
15. On November 8, 2016, the City Council held another public hearing and ballot tabulation at which it considered a new Ordinance of Establishment. As per the law, ballots are weighted by property value. Thus, while the majority of property owners opposed the BID, the weighted value of the “Yes” ballots outnumbered that of the “No” ballots. In addition to the majority opposition of property owners’ ballots, the City Council received a petition with six hundred and fifty two signatures opposing the BID. Despite this opposition, the City Council approved the new Ordinance of Establishment. As per the Ordinance, the BID’s operational period began on January 1, 2017, and the BID’s total annual assessment for its first year was estimated to be $1,871,119. Find a true and accurate copy of the Clerk’s Report concerning ballot tabulation, the official Council Action form approving the Ordinance, and the Ordinance attached as Exhibit F.
16. On February 17, 2017, Petitioner submitted a CPRA request to the BID for records related to the formation and ongoing operations of the BID. Specifically, the request asked for communications between the BID and the City of Los Angeles (including the Clerk’s office, City Council District 11, and the Los Angeles Police Department); for communication between the BID and anyone at Devine Strategies (including its subcontractors such as Ed Henning); for intra-board communications relating to BID business; and, for all records related to the BID’s choice of a security provider. Find a true and accurate copy of Petitioner’s February 17, 2017, CPRA request attached as Exhibit G.
17. The BID failed to respond to Petitioner’s request with a determination of disclosability within the ten-day deadline mandated by § 6253(c). On March 8, 2017, Petitioner sent a follow-up email inquiring as to the status of the request. Find a true and accurate copy of Petitioner’s March 8, 2017, email attached as Exhibit H.
18. On March 21, 2017, having still received no response, Petitioner sent an additional follow-up email to the BID. Find a true and accurate copy of Petitioner’s March 21, 2017, email attached as Exhibit I.
19. On October 14, 2017, after having received no response for nearly eight months, Petitioner sent another follow-up email to the BID. In this email, Petitioner also clarified a time scope for the request. Find a true and accurate copy of Petitioner’s October 14, 2017, email attached as Exhibit J.
20. On October 20, 2017, the BID, in the person of Tara Devine, responded to Petitioner’s email. The BID’s response did not make a determination of disclosability, nor did it provide an estimated date of production, nor did it provide any records. Rather, it merely stated, “[t]hank you for your CPRA request. We are reviewing our records to determine any records responsive to your request.” Find a true and accurate copy of the BID’s October 20, 2017, email attached as Exhibit K.
21. On November 3, 2017, Devine sent another response from the BID. This response, too, made no determination of disclosability, provided no estimated date of production, and provided no records. Rather, it indicated that records would be provided, “at [the BID’s] earliest opportunity” and that “at a minimum” the BID would provide an “update” by Thanksgiving. Find a true and accurate copy of the BID’s November 3, 2017, email attached as Exhibit L.
22. Petitioner responded the same day and informed the BID that the law requires an estimated date of production and that records be made available promptly, which the BID failed to do. Find a true and accurate copy of Petitioner’s November 3, 2017, email attached as Exhibit M.
23. On November 22, 2017, two hundred and seventy-eight days after Petitioner submitted the request, Devine emailed another response from the BID. As before, the BID made no determination of disclosability, and provided no records. Instead, the BID indicated that it expected to provide “at least partial records” in December. Find a true and accurate copy of BID’s November 22, 2017, email attached as Exhibit N.
24. The BID failed to provide records in December, partial or otherwise. On January 1, 2018, three hundred and eighteen days after Petitioner submitted the request, and a full calendar year after the BID became operational under the terms of its ordinance, the BID again emailed Petitioner. While the BID assured Petitioner it was “continuing to work on” the request, once again, the BID failed to provide a determination of disclosability, an estimated date of production, or records. Find a true and accurate copy of the BID’s January 1, 2018, email attached as Exhibit O.
25. The BID sent no further response. As of this writing, more than four hundred and fifteen days have passed since Petitioner submitted the request. The BID has failed to provide even a single record.
Image of VBBID conspirators is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is modified from a screenshot from here.