On January 12, 2021 Raquel Beltran, newish boss of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, paid a visit to a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. She spoke for a long, long time, about a wide range of topics, one of which was the California Public Records Act. Beltran doesn’t like this law at all, by the way. It’s overwhelming to her.1
Her rambling slo-mo rant starts here, but I’m much more interested in this little bit over here. Some random DLANC director asks Beltran why DONE can’t do CPRAs for NCs because they’re overwhelmed and ignorant.2 Beltran goes on and on about how she wanted to do this but there’s just no money for it.3 Then we get to the key bit. The director has a followup question!
…in many cases the requester knows more about the process than the neighborhood council does and this could, this could really ensue [sic] a liability issue.
And oh, boy, does Beltran ever bite at this morsel! She’s off and running, folks!
Well, we know of a couple of people that do it as a racket and then they collect the fines, and they’ll target you. It’s unfortunate it’s just, it’s just because you’re volunteers that’s kind of mean but we give you support as best we can we’ll probably still try to pursue that [having DONE handle CPRAs for NCs] and you know maybe through the city council…
So Beltran is actually just lying here. The CPRA imposes no fines on anyone for anything. Agencies who illegally withhold records have to pay the requester’s attorney’s fees if they prevail in court, but none of that money goes to the requester.4 Requesters cannot profit financially from the CPRA. Therefore she5 just made that whole story up. Or, you know, someone made it up. Irresistible, isn’t it? To find out what the heck Beltran thinks she’s talking about? So naturally the very next day, on January 13, I fired off some CPRA requests to DONE:
Also records showing any amounts of money stemming from “fines” that have been “collect[ed]” by “people who do it as a racket,” where the intended referent of the word “it” is as described above..
And behold! After a mere 12 days, because they love to run out their clock over there 200 N Spring Street, DONE responded and told me: The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment has no documents pertaining to your request. So much for Beltran’s credibility, eh? But that wasn’t the only request I made!
Wanna guess what happened? Probably too easy: The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment has no documents pertaining to your request. It’s important to be thorough, though, and these two requests don’t answer every possible question. Maybe Beltran got her ludicrous theories instilled in her in a way not caputured by these two requests. Hence the third:
And their response? Getting silly at this point, is it not? The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment has no documents pertaining to your request.
So that, friends, is the story of how Raquel Beltran lied about the CPRA and had her lies exposed by the CPRA. But no one who follows DONE will be surprised by this. She’s a terrible department head and really her only qualification is that she’s not as batshit insane as her predecessor, Grayce Liu.
This, sadly, is not a really exclusive quality of hers. Most people have it, and like most things that most people have, it’s not worth that much.6 DONE is badly broken, and a lot of people I really respect think the only solution is to abolish it and its damnable neighborhood councils as well. I disagree, though.
I’m thinking we ought to give some real power to the NCs, including the power to elect the members of BONC from among their own numbers, and with it the power to hire and fire DONE leadership. This will take a charter change, as will abolishing them, and it’s not so easy to change the charter. But people are changing things that seemed unchangeable even as late as February 2020. Maybe this will change too, and then bye bye Beltran!7
- Sometimes, says Beltran, DONE has to produce as many as 300 pages! In a PDF! The raw horror of Beltran’s professional life is not to be mocked, of course, because all suffering matters. But nevertheless I think it’s morally safe to smirk just a little here. 300 pages?!!?!
- I summarize, of course, but it’s close enough. Watch it yourself if you’re suspicious.
- This is one of the rare cases when I actually agree with a DLANC director about anything. DONE ought to do CPRAs for NCs. Fewer people to argue with means more time in my day!
- Unless the requester paid the attorney anything up front, in which case they ought to be reimbursed by the lawyer, but that’s a private matter and not addressed in the law.
- I’m taking her “we” as the royal form of the word. I mean, look at her!
- This last sentence is false, it’s obviously false, it’s stupidly false, but it’s rhetorically attractive to me right now, and that’s the sole basis for its inclusion here. Fight me, but not on whether the statement is true. It’s not.
- Not the biggest change we’ll see, but a particularly satisfying one.