Around the turn of the century, thanks to brave and successful litigation by property owner Aaron Epstein against the demonic forces of Ms. Kerry Morrison and her Hollywood Entertainment District BID, it is the supreme law of California that business improvement districts are subject to the California Public Records Act. It is this fact that, of course, has made possible the very existence of this blog.
Without actual copies of actual records, what credibility would we have? We would we be but yet another gang of basement-dwelling neckbeards ranting about injustice on the internet?1 And the fact that their BIDs are subject to the CPRA drives the BIDdies absolutely wild with rage.
They just cannot understand how it is that every law on the books has been carefully crafted to allow zillionaires and their minions to curbstomp anyone who interferes with their interests, and yet this law seems to work against zillionairity by e.g. exposing them to public mockery and contempt.2 They just cannot believe that the law says what it says. What, they seem to be muttering, have we been paying all those damn legislators for?
And so they have consistently ganged up to fight any improvement3 to the CPRA and to develop and utilize methods for evading their CPRA-imposed duties. We saw this recently when they hired a lobbyist to thwart, gut, and render meaningless AB-1479, Rob Bonta’s modest 2017 proposal to strengthen the CPRA by making it possible to actually sanction violations, a sinister project in which they were aided by the sleazy backroom machinations of would-be Huizar successor Miguel Santiago.
And newly obtained evidence shows that in July 2018 the BIDdies continued these CPRA-thwarting efforts by holding a seminar on my CPRA requests, convened by Rena Leddy, executive director of the Fashion District BID, currently being sued for egregious CPRA violations, keynoted by Carol Humiston, the world’s angriest CPRA lawyer, and attended by circa 35 BIDdie representatives, many of whom are also being sued for egregious CPRA violations, all there to discuss me and this blog and how not to follow the law!
In particular, the records, obtained, ironically, via the CPRA, include a powerpoint presentation given by Humiston and a set of notes taken by one of the attendees.4 The powerpoint thing is tedious nonsense, although it gains some interest from the fact that the South Park BID wouldn’t give me a copy, claiming attorney/client privilege, a stance that’s hard to maintain in the face of the fact that Humiston presented it to 35 people, many of them not her clients. Fortunately not every BID is so moronically mulish.
However, the set of notes is pure gold! It outlines Humiston’s strategies for delaying or obstructing access to records, including suggested bogus fees to impose, when to delete emails to thwart requesters, and so on. Most crucially, though, it reveals that the BIDs have at least discussed changing state law to relieve them from their CPRA duties and hiring a lobbyist to help them do so.
They have also, it states, talked to a legislator, who is obviously that nefarious little twerp Miguel Santiago, who has amplified their wickedness before. This is an essential glimpse into the red, bloody, seething ids of the zillionaire minions who run this City’s BIDs. Turn the page for excerpts, commentary, and finally a transcription of the entire document.
Rena Leddy, Executive Director, Fashion District BID convened the meeting and introduced an attorney (didn’t get her name) who is experienced in the terms of the California Public Records Act. There were 35 people in attendance—all from Downtown BIDs and nearby BIDS.
Her name is Carol Freaking Humiston! Thirty Freaking Five people! All to hear Carol Humiston talk about how I’m ruining everything with my damn CPRA requests! I am, as they say, honored. And convened by Rena Leddy, the chardonnay-swilling scarf monster ED of the Fashion District BID who, in common with a long, long list of her peers in BIDlandia, is famous for having induced a lawsuit against her BID by following Carol Humiston’s advice not to produce emails to and from members of the BID’s board of directors.
When receiving a request under CPRA, BIDs are only required to supply documents, emails, etc. that pertain to BID business. Requests must be “focused and specific.” A request for all emails to or from lacity.org is impossible to fulfill.
Interesting, if Humiston really said that a request for all emails to/from lacity.org is impossible to fulfill. In fact, this is a standard request of mine, and it’s true that in 2017 some of Humiston’s clients, notably the South Park BID and the Historic Core BID, were in the habit of claiming that the request wasn’t focused.
What with the batty little fusspot ED of the HCBID, Blair Besten, inducing a lawsuit due to Humiston’s advice, and SPBID coming closer than they know before pulling back from the brink with the changes made by newish ED Ellen Riotto, it seems that Humiston’s theories can cost her clients quite a bit more than just the hefty amounts on her invoices. But not my business, I suppose.
d) You do not need to save most emails. If you want to preserve important information that was sent by email, print it out, make a copy, and delete it from your computer.
This is another Humiston favorite. At least a dozen BIDs around the City have adopted weirdly strict email retention policies on the basis of this advice. They mostly claim that they delete all BID emails after 30 days. This is a lie, of course. The point is to be able to withhold emails without claiming exemptions and then if I get a copy of the email afterwards from someone else they can tell the judge they deleted it according to their policy.
It’s a pretty effective strategy in many cases, but it also requires a level of diligence that BIDdies, or anyone else for that matter, just aren’t capable of maintaining. For instance, and this has actually happened, they have to make sure they don’t reply to the email after the date when they claim to have deleted it. It seems like it’d be easier for them just to follow the law and not do things they’ll be ashamed of if they come out. But that’s not how they earn their living, I guess.
Recommended wording from California Downtown Association, California League of Cities … which included the following: “We will extract the data but must hire somebody to do that @ $250/hour (insert actual cost). Estimated time: 10 hours (insert actual estimate).
I have gotten the craziest estimates from BIDs for this kind of thing. The CPRA forbids public agencies like BIDs from charging for access to records, with one notable exception. According to §6253.9(b) they can charge if ” The request would require data compilation, extraction, or programming to produce the record.” This is meant to refer to running scripts against a database or other such genuine programming tasks. It certainly does not apply to e.g. entering terms in a search field. Mostly the BIDs have given up making this kind of claim, and it’s lucky for them that they have.
There is an Adobe program that redacts meta data automatically once a document has been saved.
Believe it or not, she’s talking about Adobe Acrobat Pro, the famous PDF editor. In the wake of the egregious Court of Appeals decision in National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward, which, at least for now, authorized agencies to charge for redacting videos, Humiston decided she would tell her clients to tell me that they had to purchase Acrobat for $500 in order to redact putatively exempt metadata from emails.
I would point out to them that emails came in EML files, not PDF files, and EMLs are just text. They can be redacted with a text editor. But none of the BIDdies knew what I was talking about, and Carol Humiston is either making stuff up on purpose or she doesn’t know what she’s talking about,5 so we’d go back and forth over that. BIDs have mostly dropped this bizarro theory, not sure why, but again, it’s good for them that they did.
DON’T RETAIN NON-ESSENTIAL DOCUMENTS. MAINTAIN A TIGHT WINDOW OF RETENTION (90 days or less). PRINT OUT THE ONES YOU THINK ARE IMPORTANT (Don’t keep them in your inbox.)
Like I said above, this is a common tactic. What’s not mentioned here but is surely intended, is that it doesn’t even matter if the BIDs actually delete the emails, as judges will believe that they did if they have such a policy in place. This wouldn’t be the only instance of Humiston telling or hinting to her clients that they can tell certain kinds of lies and never be called out by a judge.
BIDs may seek a legislative solution and have spoken to State Assemblymember about the situation. One idea proposed was to pool resources to hire a lobbyist.
This is the real kicker. See, having public agencies comply with the CPRA is a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Constitution of California in Article I Section 3. The right to compliance can’t be changed by legislation, it can only be changed by changing the constitution. They probably think it’s somehow possible to exempt BIDs from the CPRA via legislation, but clearly it’s not, given that the California Supreme Court has already ruled on this. But they can certainly dream, I suppose.
Why are [they] taking these actions? Both (and perhaps others) are trying to build a case against the City of L.A. Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) who they feel rigged the election to defeat the formation of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council.
Hello, BIDdies! DONE and you all did in fact rig the election to defeat the formation of the SRNC! It’s fine to think you’re justified, but don’t go moaning about the fact that not everyone in the world loves you for your creepiness. If you don’t like people saying you stink then don’t go wallowing in the depths of zillionaire depravity, mmmK?
[Mike] publishes a blog in which he regular defames BID leaders.
Closing with this here. It’s interesting that in California, anyway, if a non-lawyer states that someone broke some law it’s not defamation because it’s automatically assumed that non-lawyers are at best capable of expressing their opinion on this subject, and statements of opinion aren’t actionable. On the other hand, if Carol Humiston goes around telling people that I defame BID leaders, which I don’t, then because she’s a lawyer, it actually is defamation. Interestingly, I can accuse her of defaming me because I’m not a lawyer, but she can’t falsely accuse me of defaming her BIDdie clients because she is a lawyer. In closing, you might wonder how I know I don’t actually defame the BIDdies? Well, obviously, if I did, they would have already sued me for it! QFED!!6
So that’s the story of the absurd lengths that the BIDdies of Los Angeles are willing to go to avoid just following the law, even if they do get mocked for their troubles. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that that’s just how it is when you’re working for the public in a public agency with your salary paid with tax money.7 They aren’t required to collect money by force, they choose to. If they choose not to they would no longer be subject to the CPRA. Which makes their whining, scheming, holding seminars, hiring lobbyists, and so on, all fairly unbearable, but I guess that’s how it’s gonna be!
Image of Rena Masten Leddy is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org.
- As opposed to what we are now, which is yet another gang of basement-dwelling neckbeards ranting about injustice on the internet but with actual documentary evidence in the form of public records! And that has made all the difference.
- They feel the same way about the Brown Act and about the First Amendment. These are the three most hated laws in all of zillionairedom. Which is evidence for their great value, clearly.
- Improvement as seen from the point of view of human beings.
- The original powerpoint thing is also available. I don’t have powerpoint, so I’m not sure why the formatting is messed up. I tried importing it to Google Docs but it was messed up there too, so possibly it’s just messed up. No way to know at this point.
- Or, obviously, both could be true.
- Quod Freaking Erat Demonstrandum!!
- Come at me, bro! It’s tax money.