A Tale Of Two Lunches! — How Gil Cedillo Invited Then-USC-President Max Nikias To Lunch In 2017 “To Catch Up On All Things” — And They Were Gonna Eat At The California Club — But USC Staffer Catherine Kuriyama Told Cedillo’s Chief Of Staff Debby Kim About Gift Reporting Laws — And Debby Kim Was All Like Don’t Wanna Report That Lunch! — And No Wonder I Guess Since Cedillo Has Accepted More Than $10K In Gifts From Lobbyists During His Time On The City Council — Including Another Lunch With Max Along With Debby Kim And Jay Cortez Which Did Get Reported — Cause Cedillo Only Paid Two Dollars For It

When lobbyists spend money on officials in Los Angeles the LAMC at §48.04 requires them to report it to the Ethics Commission.1 And for any number of reasons lately I’ve been really interested in Gil Cedillo. So here’s a list of all reported expenditures that benefitted Cedillo since he took office in 2013, total $10,229.39.2 Sadly, these disclosure forms don’t require any detail really, so if we want to learn what went on we have to request records.

But, as you know, that’s what we live for around here! It’s a slow process, though, and we won’t understand everything on that list for a while yet. However, I did recently acquire a bunch of emails between CD1 and the University of Southern California, and these shed some interesting light on two lunches enjoyed over the years by Cedillo in the company of then-USC-president Max Nikias, now no-confidenced right out the door.3 One of them is on the disclosure form and the other is not. This is the story of those two lunches.

The first lunch, which took place on September 28, 2017 at the California Club, was instigated by Cedillo himself. The story is told in this extraordinarily disorganized string of emails. And when USC informed Cedillo staffer Debby Kim4 that the lunch was worth $39 and that they would have to report it to the Ethics Commission unless Cedillo reimbursed USC for the food, Kim flipped out to some extent and asked to change the venue to some place where it wouldn’t have to be reported. USC told her that if Cedillo reimbursed them for it they wouldn’t have to report, which she said CD1 would do. Evidently CD1 did, or something, because this lunch doesn’t appear on the disclosures linked to above.

The second lunch, in April 2018, was at the request of Nikias himself, and is revealed in this also-scrambled email conversation. Cedillo planned to bring along Kim and his communications director Jay Cortez. USC told Kim that the lunches were worth $34 each, so that the three of them would be valued at $102. There’s a limit of $100 per calendar year,5 so USC also told Kim that they’d have to pay back $2 to keep it legal. Charmingly,6 neither Kim nor USC wanted to bother Max Nikias with these street-level legalities nor to dirty his august hands with cash money, so that even though Kim brought the money to lunch, no one was there to accept it and she evidently had to mail it in later. This lunch does in fact appear on the disclosure list with a value of $100, so evidently the money did dirty someone’s hands, maybe august, maybe not.

That’s the short version, and turn the page for the long version along, of course, with transcriptions of the essential parts of the conversation, helpfully rearranged into a sensible order for ease of reading!

The story of that first lunch begins on August 7, 2017 when Debby Kim emailed USC Community Relations staffer Janice Hsia with the following news:

Date: August 7,2017 at 2:56:10 PM PDT
To: Janice C Hsia <jhsia@usc.edu>
Subject: Lunch w/CM Cedillo

Hi Janice,

the Councilman would like to have lunch to catch up on all things with Max.

Could you please help me arrange something in the next month?


Debby Kim

And the response from Nikias staffer Joanne Ramirez came just one day later. And she said the magic words which are, evidently, California Club! According to the Wiki, the people who run Los Angeles belong to the Jonathan Club whereas the people who own Los Angeles belong to the California Club. I’m not sure what it means, but it sounds like it just slays them over martinis at 538 South Flower Street!

On Tue, Aug 8,2017 at 4:20 PM, Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu> wrote:
Hello Debby,

Janice Hsia has forwarded me your message regarding scheduling a lunch for Dr. Nikias with Councilman Cedillo as I manage Dr. Nikias’ calendar. Dr. Nikias would also like to include Martha Escutia in the lunch if that is ok with Councilman Cedillo. Will anyone else be joining the Councilman for the lunch?

Noted below are some possible dates in September:

Monday, September 11
Friday, September 15
Thursday, September 28

Dr. Nikias could host Councilman Cedillo at USC or at the California Club. Let me know if the Councilman would have a preference.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Joanne Ramirez

And here’s how Debby Kim responded. Didn’t I say that Ramirez had said the magic words?!

From: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>
Date: Wednesday, August 9,2017 at 11:41 AM
To: Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu>
Subject: Re: Lunch w/ CM Cedillo

Let’s do the 28th @California Club.

Thank you so much for your assistance Joanne,

And then everyone was quiet for a while cause everything was all set up. And then Debby Kim got the following really upsetting note from USC high-level staffer Cathy Kuriyama:

On Wed, Sep 20,2017 at 4:12 PM, Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu> wrote:

Hi Debby,

Regarding the lunch with President Nikias and Martha Escutia, please pass the following note to Councilmember Cedillo.

Please note, if attending this lunch, the food and beverages are reportable gifts.

Cathy Kuriyama (Rubin)

Assistant to the Vice President
USC Government Relations
University of Southern California
3551 Trousdale Parkway
Suite 260

And hoo-boy! Debby Kim did not like the sound of that. Not one little bit!

From: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>
Date: Thursday, September 21,2017 at 10:18 AM
To: Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu>

Subject: Re: Confirmed: Lunch w/CM Cedillo, Thursday, September 28,12 Noon

I’d rather not have it be a lunch that we have to report – is there any way we can move it to a location where this wouldn’t be the case?

Silly Debby! The location isn’t what makes it reportable! Although really really a lot is how much I wish that she were right! Wouldn’t it be something if everyone who ate lunch with anyone at the California Club had to report it? A rule like that would change freaking history! And Cathy Kuriyama didn’t reach the highest heights of stafferdom whereupon she perches by being testy. No, indeed. Which is why she explains calmly to Kim that nope, not gonna happen like that, although there is a loophole, which is that Cedillo can buy his own damn lunch:

From: Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu>
Date: Thursday, September 21,2017 at 10:52 AM
To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>
Cc: Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu>
Subject: Re: Confirmed: Lunch w/CM Cedillo, Thursday, September 28,12 Noon

Dear Debby,

Since USC is a lobbyist employer, when USC pays for a meal or gift that is a benefit to the councilmember, it is reportable. One exception is if he has a speaking role at an event, the meal is not reportable.

PLEASE NOTE: The councilmember can choose to reimburse within 30 days of receiving the gift, in which case, nothing would be reported.

FYI – City officials only need to disclose gifts totaling $50 or more in a calendar year. However, because USC is a lobbyist employer, it must report gifts of $25 or more.

Cathy Kuriyama (Rubin)
Assistant to the Vice President

And then evidently the lunch happened. And evidently no one reimbursed. And there’s a deadline for reporting this stuff! If Cedillo didn’t reimburse within 30 days it goes on the damn report! But see how attentive USC is! Cathy Kuriyama sent a last minute reminder!

Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu>
To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>
Cc: Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu>
Thu, Oct 19,2017 at 5:11 PM

Please pass on to Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo

Dear Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo,

I understand you attended lunch on September 28, 2017. Attendance at this event constitutes acceptance of a reportable gift. The gift value for your lunch was $39.98. As you know the gift limit for city officials is $100 per calendar year. We will report that you accepted this gift on our 3rd Quarter Lobbying Report unless you choose to reimburse this amount by October 28, 2017.

PLEASE NOTE: City officials only need to disclose gifts totaling $50 or more in a calendar year. However, because USC is a lobbyist employer, it must report gifts of $25 or more.

If you choose to reimburse $39.98. we will not report it on the USC 3rd Quarter Lobbying Report. However, you are welcome to accept the gift and not reimburse the amount.

For reimbursement checks, please make check payable to University of Southern California and mail to the University of Southern California, Attn. Cathy Kuriyama, 3551 Trousdale Parkway, Suite 260, Los Angeles, CA 90089.

Please reply to confirm you received this email. Thank you for your assistance with this matter.

And Kim gets back to her but she doesn’t seem to get the urgency, not at all!

Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacityorg> Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 4:24 PM
To: Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu>
Cc: Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu>

Thank you Cathy!!

We will most likely reimburse.

Five days later and Kuriyama is still waiting for the money.

Catherine Kuriyama <<rubin@usc.edu> Wed, Oct 25,2017 at 5:09 PM To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org> Hi Debby, Are you sending a check for $39.98 or is he accepting this gift? Cathy Kuriyama (Rubin)

Two days to go, Debby Kim!

Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org> Thu, Oct 26,2017 at 9.52 AM
To: Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu>

I’m going to send a check.

And you know, I guess she did send the check after all because the lunch didn’t show up on any reports. And ultimately, who freaking cares? Why in the world was Debby Kim so darn adamant that this particular lunch not get reported? Probably we will never know, which is too bad, because that’s the most interesting part of this story! And sheesh! Congrats for making it this far. Now we move on to the lunch that did get reported, all $100 worth of it! The story begins on March 28, 2018:

From: Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu>
Date: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 5:35 PM
To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>
Cc: Janice Hsia <jhsia@usc.edu>, Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu>
Subject: Lunch meeting for Councilmember Cedillo with Dr. Nikias, Tom Sayles and Martha Escutia

Hello Debby,

Dr. Nikias would like to host Councilmember Cedillo for a lunch meeting on Monday, April 23. Also attending will be Tom Sayles and Martha Escutia. Lunch would be at 12 Noon at the University Park Campus in the President’s Dining Room in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. After lunch, Dr. Nikias would like to give Councilmember Cedillo a quick cart tour of campus and the USC Village.

Please advise as to whether Monday, April 23 , works on the Councilmember’s calendar. If it does, I will send along additional information on where to park and arrange VIP parking for him. I will also send a map showing the location of the Entrance to use, the parking area, and the Ronald Tutor Campus Center

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Joanne Ramirez

Special Assistant to the President
Direct dial: (213)740-6701

And then there’s a lot of blather about bounced emails and conflicting events and how this lunch is a priority for the member7 and so freaking on until they finally hash out a damn deal, and then it’s that old-style group autoeroticism of the power elite all round!

Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu> Mon, Apr 9,2018 at 12:14 PM
To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity,org>
Cc: Janice Hsia <jhsia@u$c.edu>, Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu>, Tony Ricasa <tony.ricasa@lacity.org>

Hi Debby,

Wonderful! The lunch meeting is confirmed for Councilmember Cedillo for 12 Noon on Monday, April 23. Attached is a map of the Pardee Way Entrance, located off of Exposition Boulevard. Please ask the Councilmember to enter campus at that Entrance. I will make a VIP parking reservation for him there, I assume he and his Chief of Staff will arrive together, but let me know if two parking reservations will be needed. The map shows the parking area (Childs Way) as well as the location of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center where the luncheon will take place. The Ronald Tutor Campus Center is denoted as TCC on the map. The Councilmember should walk south (left) on Trousdale Parkway after reaching the Fountain that will be on his left. He will see the statue of Tommy Trojan as he approaches Trousdale Parkway. The Councilmember should enter the Tutor Center through the east entrance off of Trousdale Parkway. That entrance will be behind two gigantic Moreton Fig Trees. The President’s Dining Room is the first door on the right after entering the Hallway. The Moreton Fig Restaurant is directly across the Hallway from the President’s Dining Room, Also attending the luncheon are Tom Sayles and Martha Escutia.

Also, Dr. Nikias is hoping to give the Councilmember a tour of the campus and the University Village (by cart) immediately following lunch.

Please let me know if I may provide any additional information. If the Councilmember needs any assistance upon arrival with locating the Tutor Campus Center, he or his Chief of Staff can call me on my cell, (626) 825-9650, and I will walk out of our building and assist them.

Best regards,

Joanne Ramirez

Special Assistant to the President
Direct dial: (213) 740-6701

And then some more chittery-chat about how much everyone just freaking loves everyone else! And then we arrive at day of, just about 90 minutes before lunch starts, it turns out that Cedillo’s twitterer-in-chief, Jay Cortez, is coming along too! And god forbid that Max has to just ask the guy what he does. That, friend, is not how lunch is done at this level!

Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu> Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 10:23 AM
To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>

Hi Debbie,

Thank you. Janice Hsia has just let me know you and Jay Cortez will be attending today’s lunch. Could you let me know what Mr. Cortez’s position is so we can brief Dr. Nikias?

Thank you


And just a few minutes later Cathy Kuriyama weighed in with the hard cold facts of life. More lunch reporting!

Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu> Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 10:49 AM
To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>, Joanne Ramirez <joanner@president.usc.edu>
Cc: Janice C Hsia <jhsia@usc.sdu>, Tony Ricasa <tony.ricasa@lacity.org>

Dear Debby,

I understand that Councilmember Cedillo plans to bring two staffers along with him to the lunch today at USC. Please note that the food/beverages are reportable gifts valued at $34 per person.

According to our records, Councilmember Cedillo has not accepted any gifts from the university so far this year. As you know the gift limit is $100 per calendar year. Therefore , if two staffers attend the lunch today along with the councilmember, this would be $34X3 or $102 which slightly exceeds the limit. Are you attending along with the councilmember? If so, please have $2 ready to pay at the lunch today.

Please CALL ME.

Cathy Kuriyama (Rubin)

Assistant to the Vice President
USC Government Relations

And Kim really makes Kuriyama nervous with her silences, doesn’t she?

Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu> Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 4:01 PM
To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>

Hi Debby,

Did you attend the lunch today?

Cathy Kuriyama (Rubin)

Assistant to the Vice President

One minute later!

Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org> Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 4:02 PM

To: Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu>

Yes — and nobody took $2.

Can I send it to you?

Man! Cannot ask the president of USC to accept $2! That’s so far beneath him that…well, that words fail me! Sure, bribe the CM, but don’t touch the damn money yourself!

Catherine Kuriyama <crubin@usc.edu> Mon, Apr 23,2018 at 4:15 PM
To: Debby Kim <debby.kim@lacity.org>


I apologize I was not there to receive the $2.00 and I did not want to tell President Nikias nor Senior Vice President Sayles nor Vice President Escutia to do this.

If Councilmember Cedillo plans to reimburse for any of it, he can send the check for the total amount that he does not want reported. Otherwise, send a check for $2.00 and we will report that he accepted $100 on our 2 quarter lobbying report.

And that, friends, is the tale of two lunches! These reporting laws sound like such a good idea, and maybe they are, but the reports sure don’t tell the whole story, do they? And this story, like so many these days, has no moral, but at least I found it interesting, and that’s the real mission of this blog.

Image of Gil Cedillo is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and then there was this.

  1. Glossing over some details here, e.g. expenditures are only reportable if they’re $25 or more. Plus there are a lot of highly technical bits about lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers. None of it’s relevant here.
  2. Most of that total comprises a massive gift of $8,849.38 to Cedillo from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce in 2014, paying for a (pretty expensive) trip to China. I can’t imagine what cost so much as Travelocity tells me that I could buy a round trip ticket to Beijing leaving tomorrow, for God’s sake, for only $836. With one week’s notice that goes down to $498. What was the rest of the money for? It wasn’t the hotel, either. The form shows he stayed at the Four Seasons Beijing, at least on the first night. According to Travelocity I could stay there tomorrow night with no reservation for only $237. Unfortunately the disclosures don’t have to be itemized, so probably we’ll never know why a ten day trip to China, airfare about $500, hotel about $2,500, cost almost $9,000. For the dates of the trip see Cedillo’s calendar. It starts on page 168.
  3. As always there’s way more going on in the records than I’m presently writing about, so please, please take a look through the files if the subject interests you at all.
  4. Now CD1 chief of staff. At the time of the first lunch her title seems to have been “senior advisor.”
  5. I’m not sure how this squares with the $8,800+ given by the Chamber of Commerce in 2014. I’m working on this problem now.
  6. Sarcasm, de natch.
  7. So many of these staffers call their bosses “the member.” It really makes me giggle inappropriately! Except in the case of Jose Huizar where it’s probably even more appropriate than using the guy’s real name!

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