A business improvement district that has been in the works in rapidly gentrifying West Adams at least since the Summer of 2018 is finally moving forward and is very likely to be created by the City later this year and begin operations on January 1, 2021. The formation effort is largely backed by supervillainesque developer CIM group, which owns a huge plurality of the commercial property in the proposed district, slated to run along Adams from La Brea to Hauser.1 The formation materials are currently contained in Council File 20-0020.
Recall that a BID is a geographical area within which commercial property owners2 pay extra taxes3 to fund various services. The formal BID creation process begins with a group of property owners4 petitioning the City to allow a BID to be formed. It’s required by the Property and Business Improvement District Act of 1994, which is the authority under which BIDs are created and administered in California, that these petitions represent property owners “who will pay more than 50 percent of the assessments proposed to be levied”5
According to the report placed in the Council File by the City Clerk they received petitions representing $106,034.65 out of a total assessed value in the proposed district of $210,388.90, which is 50.4%. The report doesn’t say how many distinct owners signed petitions nor who they were, but I’m working on finding out. The next stage in the formal process is for City Council to pass a so-called Ordinance of Intention, the draft of which is available here.
Once this is passed the City Clerk will mail out ballots to all the property owners and if enough of them, again weighted by assessment amounts, vote in favor of the BID City Council will pass another ordinance creating the BID. Before this can happen the owners have to know what services their extra taxes are going to fund, which is laid out in great detail in the so-called Management District Plan.6 When a BID is created this document7 is incorporated into the law establishing it and then they can’t spend money for anything not enumerated in the plan. The proposed West Adams BID’s MDP is here.
The West Adams BID’s proposed activities are limited in the MDP to “Sidewalk Operations, District Identity and Placemaking, and Administration Services.” The MDP makes it very clear that the BID is being formed to support gentrification, though, stating that its “services would be needed to accommodate hundreds of new apartments and businesses opening in 2019 and 2020, and these services would be needed by the beginning of 2021.” The surprise omission here is funding for security guards. During the pre-formation process CIM Group’s support-building outreach focused to a great extent on property owners’ perceptions of safety in the area.
And when BIDs get involved with “safety” they hire security guards who harass homeless residents and other people whose presence isn’t compatible with whatever gentrification plan the owners have in mind. When they fund “safety” they’re funding the martial forces of the gentrification machine. We’ve seen this story play out with horrific results in Hollywood, and in Skid Row, and all across Downtown Los Angeles.
Poor people, people of color, the very people who are being and will be displaced by gentrification in West Adams, are exactly the kinds of people targeted by BID security, so it’s good that the West Adams BID is not presently planning to have security guards, although it’s not completely off the table. The MDP can be amended at will with the permission of the City Council, which at least in Los Angeles never refuses its BIDdies anything.8
Sidewalk Operations, according to the plan, encompass various cleaning activities, pressure washing, graffiti removal, and so on. This sounds innocuous, and it’s the kind of thing that both BIDs and the City of LA like to pretend is the quintessential purpose for BIDs to exist. As with every tool that gentrifiers have to hand, though, even cleaning can be weaponized. Scheduled pressure washing provides a pretext for encampment sweeps. Beautification often means the installation of hostile architecture.
Administration goes to staff salaries, office rent, and stuff like that. This also sounds innocuous, but other BIDs have spent administration money on fairly pernicious lobbying projects. I think mostly only the very richest BIDs in LA can afford to do this, though. It’s probably not a threat from this tiny $200K operation.
District Identity is the smallest part of the proposed budget, at about $24K, which is a little more than 11%. The activities proposed in the MDP in this category are worth quoting at length because they’re really good examples of a particular kind of pernicious support for gentrification provided by BIDs across Los Angeles:
The District Identity and Placemaking component of the Special Benefits services strive to build the identity of the “West Adams” district from where it is today. … building a positive identity for the emerging West Adams District is key to increasing commerce, attracting capital and new development, and improving the West Adams District.
The District Identity and Placemaking services would include but not be limited to:
• Creating a new logo to brand the district;
• Creating a new website to promote available retail opportunities, identify properties for lease or for sale, and promote the new programs that the WAPBID will fund;
• Beautify the district in conjunction with the Sidewalk Operations maintenance work;
• Eventually develop a public relations and social media campaign to bring positive attention to the district;
• Fund and install holiday lights and decorations;
• Seek opportunities to partner with new development to create new public spaces in street fronting areas that could be used by the community at large and managed by the WAPBID maintenance staff;
• Other programs that bring a positive light to the WAPBID to benefit the individual parcel owners in the district.
In general, the District Identity and Placemaking component is designed to promote the image of West Adams Boulevard and to attract and increase pedestrian traffic. This program helps meet the goals of business and service attraction and retention, and increased commerce.
Now, you know, and I know, that West Adams already has a “positive identity” in many, many circles. From the days when it was the capitol of black Hollywood and at the center of the fair housing revolution through to Jasmyne Cannick’s proclamation that it was the City’s black gay mecca, and just in general among people who care about and think about Los Angeles as something more than raw material for their real estate fueled money mills there has never been a time when no one understood, gloried in, the “positive identity” of West Adams, when it had no “positive attention” at all.
But of course, this isn’t the audience the BID is playing to here. From the BIDdie point of view the wrong people are paying positive attention to West Adams. The BIDdies want to please and comfort all those new people that CIM Group is moving in to live in all its new mixed use monstrosities, the techies who can’t afford to live in Culver City and so on.
This is an example of a particular role that BIDs play in the gentrification process in Los Angeles, that is making gentrifying neighborhoods culturally more comfortable for the colonizing forces. We’ve seen this in Hollywood, where e.g. the BID suppresses Latino public art and other expressions of community. In Highland Park, where the BID is complicit in erasing Latino murals.
In Hollywood again where the BID conspires with LAPD to shut down minority-serving nightclubs and to promote venues where young rich white kids feel at home. In the Fashion District, where the BID paid an idiotic consultant a ton of money to advise them on how to make hipsters feel at home. It goes on and on. There are even companies getting paid to artificially construct street scenes for BIDs for precisely this reason.9
So as innocuous as this District Identity nonsense may sound, superficially nothing more than empty words of a certain flavor, it’s actually something much more dangerous than that. It doesn’t seem possible to stop a BID in Los Angeles once the City has made up its mind to create it. But it is certainly possible to subject it to intense scrutiny, to make sure it follows every applicable law, and to shame its participants for their villainy. All of which, of course, we’ll be doing for this West Adams BID starting less than a year from now!
Image of West Adams sign is ©2020 MichaelKohlhaas.Org.
- Earlier records had the Western boundary of the BID as Genesee Avenue, but Hauser is what they ended up going with.
- This is true for so-called property-based BIDs, or PBIDs. Some BIDs are created and funded by business owners rather than property owners. The proposed West Adams BID is not one of these. There are a few of these so-called merchant BIDs in Los Angeles, but the City disfavors them and I won’t be mentioning them again in this post. There’s a third type of BID having to do with tourism which I’m also not mentioning here.
- This is a fighting word in BIDdie circles. They will insist that no taxes are involved, only assessments. This probably has to do with some technical distinction that invokes loopholes to Prop 13 and other tax revolt legislation which has made it exceedingly difficult to create new taxes in California, but evidently if one calls them assessments and casts a few other dark necrosemantic spells it’s much easier to do. Please note that I don’t actually know any of what I just wrote to be true, but I’m pretty sure it is true. Please let me know if I’m wrong and/or what’s really going on if you know. I’ve been putting off figuring this out for sure for years now.
- Technically BIDs are supposed to be initiated by a group of property owners but in many cases in Los Angeles the City itself recruits the property owners kind of as a front group. In the case of the West Adams BID, though, I don’t think that’s what happened. Here I think CIM group put the whole thing together.
- At §36621(a). In other words in the BID formation process it’s one dollar one vote.
- The legally required elements of the Management District Plan are in the PBID law at §36622.
- As edited by the City Council if they want to, although they very rarely change it, if ever.
- The amendment process is described in the PBID law at §36636. That section requires a public hearing to finalize amendments, but it’s also possible to amend the MDP without a hearing, that is without any kind of hearing more formal than any ordinance up before City Council receives, once a year by announcing it in the so-called annual planning report. This process is described at §36650. The point is that just because the West Adams BID isn’t proposing to fund security now doesn’t mean much of anything for the future. In what looks like an editing error, by the way, the MDP’s introduction does say that the BID will fund safety, but since no funding is allocated in the budget it’s not going to happen in this round. It says “The purpose of establishing this Property and Business Improvement District (PBID) is to provide and manage supplemental services and improvements for this important, historic, and growing business center, including landscaping, sanitation, beautification, marketing, streetscape, safety, and administration services, programs, and improvements.”
- One of the big ones is Haines & Co. If you’re familiar with what the Hollywood BID did to Cahuenga Blvd between Franklin and Sunset, that was Haines’s work. They also did a similar job for the Fashion District BID that I don’t yet know the details of. They’re presently working for the Westwood Village BID on the same kind of thing, which I have not yet had time to write about but I will soon!