The Los Angeles Unified School District Evidently Voids All Its BID Establishment Petitions By Adding A Limiting Clause — They Seem To Add The Same Clause To Their Actual Ballots But Evidently It Does Not Void Them — It’s Not Clear What’s Going On Here But Probably Something Is

I recently received almost a thousand pages of emails between the Los Angeles City Clerk‘s office and correspondents at various BIDs. You can obtain the whole pile here on Archive.Org. Among these was this interesting little exchange between Clerk staffie Dennis Rader and notorious outlaw BID consultant Aaron Aulenta of Urban Place Consulting.

This post is dedicated to exploring the issues raised by this email. It’s unavoidably technical, so you may want to skip it. On the other hand, at least I’m not going to call anyone nasty names, which I know will please a certain perennially disgruntled audience segment. Boring or not, though, it touches on essential and little-explored issues of BIDology. The exchange began on May 7, 2018, when Aaron Aulenta emailed Dennis Rader:

I know you’re probably swamped at the moment with the ballot mail-out this week, but I had a quick lausd question. Do you know if they returned a petition for either Hollywood or Fashion without hand writing in the ‘approval conditioned upon’ phrase? In other words, did they return a petition that was officially counted?

First, recall that the process of establishing a BID involves two voting processes. Before the City is allowed to move forward with the process the BID proponents must submit petitions in favor of the BID from property owners representing more than 50% of the value proposed to be assessed. This is required by the Property and Business Improvement District Law at §36621. These are the “petition[s]” mentioned by Aaron Aulenta.

Next, after all the details of the BID are finalized via the management district plan and the engineer’s report, the City sends out ballots to the property owners in the potential BID. This is required by the PBID law at §36623(a), which merely states that the balloting process in Government Code §53753 applies. These are the ballots in the “ballot mail-out” that Aaron Aulenta refers to.

So naturally I’m interested in what Aaron Aulenta is talking about with respect to these LAUSD petitions. Unfortunately, at this time, I only have one set of petitions available to me right now,1 which is the Venice Beach BID petitions. This BID does include an LAUSD parcel, and the LAUSD did submit a petition, which you can read right here. It’s not altered in any way, though, so it doesn’t shed any light on the phenomenon under discussion.

On the other hand, thanks to the efforts of some determined CPRA activists, we have access to many, many sets of ballots. In particular, there are the Venice Beach BID ballots, and this set of miscellaneous ballots, and this other set of miscellaneous ballots. Among all these are the ballots for the Hollywood Media District BID‘s 2014 renewal,2 which contains this LAUSD ballot right here.

As you can see from the original PDF or from the image which appears somewhere near this sentence, the ballot is adorned with a sticker qualifying the yes vote, which says “Approval conditioned upon assessment calculated per the attached pay rate for public schools.” This must be what Aaron Aulenta is talking about when he mentions “the ‘approval conditioned upon’ phrase” in the above email.

It’s pretty clear from Aaron Aulenta’s remarks that when the LAUSD writes in that phrase on petitions it voids the petitions. And there’s nothing in Dennis Rader’s response that contradicts this: “Aaron, neither BID tally shows a tallied petition from LAUSD.” As I said above, I don’t (yet) have any way to check whether these petitions with their hand-inserted conditions get rejected or not.

But it turns out that I am in fact able to see what happens with modified ballots. This is possible for two interlocking reasons. First, we’ve3 obtained a lot of sets of ballots from the Clerk’s office. Second, in order to establish a BID, the City Council must pass an ordinance of formation. In Los Angeles, anyway, this necessitates the creation of a Council File, and the Council File contains a detailed tally of the ballots received.4

The Council File for the Media District BID is CF 12-0963 and the ballot tabulation is here. Of particular interest is page 9, which shows that the three LAUSD properties listed on that ballot voted yes and that those votes were counted.

The conclusion seems to be that the LAUSD habitually modifies both its petitions and its ballots when its properties are included in a proposed BID. For reasons that I don’t yet understand it seems that this modification voids the petitions but it does not void the ballots. I’ll keep looking into this matter, of course, because understanding it seems like a worthy if possibly minor open question in BIDology.

Image of Austin Beutner, if that’s even the guy’s real name, is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org. It’s kinda sorta based a lil teense on this old thing.

  1. This isn’t strictly true. I recently got a huge set of emails from the Arts District BID, which is presently renewing. These include executive director Miguel Vargas’s regular emails to the City Clerk transmitting petitions on a daily basis. There’s a huge amount of information to process in this set, and I’m not close to finished with it yet. Perhaps something relevant to this discussion will turn up therein.
  2. There are certainly other examples in this fairly vast collection of ballots, but I didn’t search exhaustively as I was just looking for one example.
  3. Here “we” means “the people of the City of Los Angeles.”
  4. It’s generally possible to find the council file for a given BID via the Clerk’s BID page. However, this page is pretty unreliable. Many BIDs have multiple associated Council Files with various matters, like e.g. the annual planning reports, which also require ordinances to be accepted, seemingly randomly distributed among them. It’s easy to attribute this to a conpiracy of obscurity, but it may just as well be caused by indifference.

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