How does the City of Los Angeles decide which homeless encampments to target for cleanup? How do they decide when to target them? Well, if these two email chains from City Council District 13 about encampment-breaking on Vermont Avenue and Marathon Street in Koreatown are any indication (one and two) they target them when non-homeless people call CD13 and tell them to clean out the homeless people.1 And what do they get out of targeting them? Well, they’re politically savvy enough to turn down free lunches offered in exchange for their dirty work, but they will accept an offer of bused-in political supporters to astroturf the public comments section of a Council meeting. First let’s look at the players involved.
Bryan Kim is a partner in Koreatown based property management company Kim and Casey, which doesn’t seem to have a website.2 They do, however, have a Yelp page. This is notable for having uniformly one star reviews, which include comments like:3
They would tell me I was picky about the filth they’d promised to clean up before I moved in but never took care of it. They wouldn’t accept responsibility and blamed everyone and everything else until they were legally forced to take control of the growing sludge and cesspool that had been forming for I don’t know how many weeks .
Or, even more colorfully:
I had my sink drain burst and when I asked them to fix it they said “NO”. The reason they gave me was that I had a bathroom sink to use and I dint really need the one in my kitchen. … What kind of management company is this? Also, one day as I was looking out my window, I saw one of the three guys who were walking the property from Kim and Casey Kick my neighbors cat at he was walking down the path way. It was the middle aged guy of the three that were walking the property. I don’t know his name and don’t care to know such a scumbag.
So that’s Bryan Kim according to Yelp; K-Town slumlord and associate of cat-kickers if not a cat-kicker himself. The other correspondent is CD13 field deputy Aram Taslagyan, whose bio you can read for yourself. The whole thing evidently began with a disconnected phone call from Kim to CD13 intern Sean Starkey, which resulted in this email:
On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 12:36 PM, c13 intern wrote:
Sorry the call was disconnect.[sic]
Attached is a PDF on how the city currently is addressing a Homeless Encampment.[sic]
Currently the City Council is working on legislation that will help alleviate the problem. Municipal Code 56.11 is what the Council is currently working on. I have attached a little about the Code. Once it become law [sic] it will help us in permanently reducing the problem.
Please do not hesitate to email or call us with any questions you may have. We know it is a frustrating experience having these encampments in our community.[sic]
And Bryan Kim got right back to Sean:
On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 1:56 PM, bryan kim wrote:
Good to speak with you. This is helpful. Can you please forward the policy and procedure documentation along with the timeline for clearing the homeless from the discussed area? Thank you. …
Two hours later Sean Starkey got back to him:
On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 4:05 PM, c13 intern wrote:
Below is [sic] the steps we go through with all homeless encampments. There is not a specific timeline for the process. It all depends on each agency. We do not have an internal report, other than the one I sent you previous [sic] on how we address them.
— Reported to BSS
— BSS assigns investigator to the site who visually inspects the site
— BSS contacts LAHSA
— LAHSA conducts outreach and offers services
— LAHSA makes second visit
— LAHSA signs off
— Public works signs off
— Sanitation allocates days to Council Offices
— Sanitation posts at the site 72 hours prior
— Council Office coordinates LAPD
This is interesting for its explanation of the detailed, well-worked-out procedure for breaking homeless encampments. At this juncture it’s worth reading this post for background on LAMC 56.11. The main point is that the City was pushing the theory that the newly amended version of the law, which by the way the City was enjoined by a Federal Court from enforcing just three weeks after the events I’m recounting occurred, did not in fact criminalize homelessness. In fact, many people advocated for the rather twisted point of view that the more harsh the law the better for the homeless people being removed. These two emails from Sean Starkey seems to belie the City’s whole position, though. He just flat-out says that the new version of LAMC 56.11 is intended to get rid of homeless encampments permanently. He also describes what’s obviously a well-worked-out, familiar procedure for the coordination of encampment breaking by City agencies and LAHSA,4 which suggests strongly that criminalizing homelessness is an intentional rather than an accidental effect of this legal apparatus.
In any case, more emails are exchanged, and Bryan Kim wants a meeting, so Aram Taslagyan is brought into the conversation:
On Mar 9, 2016 4:06 PM, Aram Taslagyan wrote:
I am available on Friday at 9:30am or sometime next week.
Let me know if this works
But Bryan Kim wants to meet with the boss as well. Unfortunately this was not to be:
On Wed, Mar 9, 2016 at 5:00 PM, Aram Taslagyan wrote:
We can meet at our District Office located at 1722 Sunset Blvd. … Councilmember O’Farrell won’t be available.
See you on Friday at 9:30.
It’s not clear from the record what happened during the next week, but evidently by March 17, Aram Taslagyan had left Bryan Kim a voicemail:5
On Mar 17, 2016 10:36 AM, bryan kim wrote:
Hope your [sic] having a good week.
thanks for your voicemail, I tried to call you and left a message.
I also appreciate next Tuesday as being a planned date for making a cleaning round on Vermont and Monroe. I’ll await to hear [sic] back on the final word and may be there with you…
And here is the verified cleanup schedule for Tuesday, March 22, 2016, that he’s referring to, which reads in pertinent part:
- Authorization # 2015-00991 Vermont Place @ Vermont Ave (Sidewalk/Parkway on a dead end street, near the Vermont Ave intersection)
- Authorization # 2016-00310 700 N Vermont Ave @ Marathon Ave6 (Sidewalk/Street both sides of the street, POST Entire 700 N Block from Marathon to Monroe Ave7)
- Authorization # 2016-00330 760 N VERMONT AV @ MONROE ST (Sidewalk/Street both sides of the street, POST Entire 700 N Block from Marathon to Monroe Ave)
- Authorization # 2016-00331 776 N VERMONT AV @ 8th St8 (Sidewalk/Street both sides of the street, POST Entire 700 N Block from Marathon to Monroe Ave)
Skipping ahead through some emails about calling in sick, we find that Bryan Kim and Aram Taslagyan are planning to meet at the cleanup site:
bryan kim Mon, Mar 21, 2016 at 10:13 AM
Thanks for the note. Let’s plan a noon time call (same #) tomorrow unless I see you tomorrow in the morning.
Hope you feel better.
And that evidently happened, because the next afternoon Bryan Kim wrote back:
Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 5:41 PM
Good to see you briefly today.
Vermont is cleared but they all moved to Marathon St.
If we can work together to relocate them off Marathon St. that would be great. As tenants have made complaints and neighboring groups are gravely concerned.
Thanks very much.
And Aram, just 8 minutes later:
Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 5:49 PM
Nice to see you as well.
I’ll make sure both marathon [sic] and Monroe are posted as well next time
Sent from my iPhone
And late at night, when inhibitions come down and the truth comes out, Bryan Kim reveals a possible explanation for his urgency, and it’s not compassion and it’s not the complaints of his tenants which, at least as his Yelp page suggests, are not Bryan Kim’s most urgent priority, but rather something much more mundane; an impending inspection:
Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 11:21 PM
Appreciate it, thank you very much. Happy to help, will share insight tomorrow.
As there is a property inspection this Friday, if we can do what ever it takes for a removal this Thursday on Marathon and Vermont. Attached is a pic on Marathon.
this is very important we work [sic] towards a resolve [sic] as timing is key.
With kind regards,
So the homeless people weren’t entirely cleaned out on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, according to the mandated procedure. But it was quite important to Bryan Kim that they be cleaned out, as he had an upcoming property inspection. As Bryan Kim reminds Aram Taslagyan most urgently, “timing is key.” Perhaps this explains in part why, the very next morning, Aram Taslagyan heard from Bryan Kim yet again:
Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 9:48 AM
Good morning, Aram,
Just to share an update from this morning.
The concentration of homeless tents have diminished and looks like it spread out on North end of Marathon.
Lapd was called again this morning9 as one was urinating on sidewalk facing lot 1 and there was a shopping cart blocking sidewalk passage way. They should be arriving before 10:30am to survey.
Can they put signs on Marathon and Vermont to redirect them? Further, I am still exploring a viable shelter option. Many do not have space available.
I will advise any notable updates.
Thanks very much.
Well, ask and you shall receive, Bryan Kim! Just slightly more than two hours later, Aram Taslagyan wrote back:
Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 11:59 AM
It’s all clean now. We will continue to monitor the area, as will LAPD.
Please let me know if it starts up again at any level.
So what happened here? Remember above when Sean Starkey explained the detailed 10 step procedure for destroying homeless encampments? Part of that process is getting an authorization. Look again at the list of authorizations. They all cover Vermont Avenue and its intersections with Monroe and Marathon Streets. There’s nothing there about Marathon Street itself. And yet, somehow, perhaps because of Bryan Kim’s impending inspection, within two hours of his email on Wednesday, March 23, a bunch of homeless people were removed from Marathon Street as well.
And recall Sean Starkey’s careful statement that “[t]here is not a specific timeline for the process. It all depends on each agency.” Unless there’s an upcoming property inspection, it seems, in which case there is a specific timeline, and the specific timeline is now. And there is not much explanation forthcoming from Aram Taslagyan, although, of course, there is an invitation to Bryan Kim to give him a call “if it starts up again at any level. That’s constituent service!10 No wonder Bryan Kim was so grateful he tried to bribe Aram Taslagyan:
Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 12:13 PM
Wonderful, thank you so much! Would you have time this Friday 12pm for lunch?
Mr. Lawrence and I would like to treat you and other key people (LAPD officer) you would recommend and like to invite to perhaps Korean food/Korean Barbecue?
Gwang Yang BBQ
3435 Wilshire Blvd #123
Los Angeles 90010
Thanks very much,
But Aram Taslagyan’s not getting caught that way:
Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 1:07 PM
Happy to be able to help with the situation and LAPD has been great on these matters, also. But, there’s no need for lunch and I must respectfully decline the invitation at this time. I’m sure you understand.
Rightly so, Aram Taslagyan! Even leaving aside the unseemly nature of accepting free lunches in exchange for normal constituent services, in this particular case it’d be even more unseemly than usual. Just imagine Bryan Kim, Aram Taslagyan, and a bunch of cops sitting around eating unlimited banchan and laughing it up over having cleaned out a bunch of homeless people. Unseemly is an understatement. Bryan Kim says he understands, but it doesn’t seem as if he actually does:
I do understand. We only wish to express our gratitude. Perhaps we can schedule a future lunch gathering with Councilman Mitch in the future.
How would one give credit or recognition for great work in your department?
Should this materialize, I would be happy to inform. Thank you again.
Would you know names of officers who helped clean up today?
Thanks very much.
This Aram Taslagyan can deal with:
Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 10:59 AM
We can work with David Cano to set something up in the future.
The officers who helped us and do so throughout the area are Senior Lead Officer Matt Zeigler, Senior Lead Officer Vic Gutierrez, Sergeant Miller and his team — all from the LAPD Rampart Division.
And then the quid pro quo manifests! Aram Taslagyan can’t accept lunch, because it’s too obvious. But one hand does wash the other, as it has since politics was invented. Just 21 minutes after he punted on an offer of a free lunch for “Councilman Mitch” by kicking it into some future to be determined by CD13 scheduler Dave Cano, he’s back with something Bryan Kim actually can do to show his appreciation:
Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 11:20 AM
I just found out that the City Council is set to hear Ordinance 56.11 amendments on Tuesday the 29th. Meetings start at 10am. If you are interested, you have the opportunity to attend and speak during the session, during public comment.
And Bryan Kim’s quite aware of what’s happening:
Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 12:47 PM
Agreed, I will contact David Cano and advise. Thank you for the names of officers I will follow up with.
Yes, we would be interested to attend. Would there a website [sic] or further information as I can invite others surround the area of Vermont/LACC & Marathon.
So the payoff was requested and the deal was signed. Unfortunately, Bryan Kim didn’t keep his word, as you can see from the speaker cards, on which his name does not appear. But it’s the thought that counts.
Finally, it’s interesting to note here that Aram Taslagyan’s boss11 claims that he “… has built a solid reputation of improving the quality of life for constituents in the 13th Council District.” This word, “constituents,” is bandied gleefully about by politicians and their staffies, but its meaning is rarely made explicit. So I thought I’d look it up in the OED:
2a. One of those who elect another to a public office, esp. as their representative in a legislative assembly; an elector; more widely, any inhabitant of the district or place so represented.
Really? The homeless people living in CD13 on Vermont Avenue and Marathon Street whose removal Bryan Kim brought about are constituents? And Bryan Kim is not a constituent? That’s interesting! So yeah, as Sean said, it’s “a frustrating experience having these encampments in our community,” but how much more frustrating is it to Mitch O’Farrell’s constituents to have the Councilman whipping up non-constituent support for illegal ordinances like LAMC 56.11? How much more frustrating to the homeless people who were removed at Bryan Kim’s behest, and who actually are Mitch O’Farrell’s constituents, unlike Bryan Kim. Why isn’t the CM arranging for them to come speak to the City Council regarding this law? They’d certainly add a more useful perspective than whatever Bryan Kim’s going to say, e.g. “I had an upcoming property inspection and CD13 almost didn’t have time to remove all the homeless people from the street. I support this new law because it will make it easier to scrape homeless detritus away from my property more quickly when it’s due to be inspected or appraised.”
I remember learning in civics class12 that elected representatives are meant to push the agendas of their constituents, but it seems that what’s actually going on here is that Mitch O’Farrell has heard from his big-money donors, like the BIDs and their staff and Board members,13 and other important people, like Bryan Kim and his cat-kicking ilk, and crafted a law that serves their purposes, with very little input from his actual constituency. And his next step isn’t to find out what his constituents want generally. The next step is to get his staff, like field deputy Aram Taslagyan, to whip up enough astroturf public comments so that when Mitch O’Farrell votes for the law over the cogent, heartfelt objections of dozens of supporters of human rights, homeless rights, he can dissociate his self-regard from his actions sufficiently to be able to continue to believe that his claim that he “… has built a solid reputation of improving the quality of life for constituents in the 13th Council District” is more than just the expedient bullshit that episodes like this one reveal it to be.
The image of the cheerful cat-kicker was assembled in house from these two very freely licensed images: Black Cat and Soccer Playing Boy, both of which I obtained from the absolutely essential Open Clipart dot org. Image of Aram Taslagyan is a public record.
- These two fairly lengthy email chains have a significant amount of overlap, so I apologize for having to include both of them, but the differences are essential. Also, the order of the emails is scrambled in a non-standard way, so pay close attention to timestamps while you read.
- For reasons that seem fairly evident after reading their Yelp page.
- Screenshots of Yelp reviews are necessary because they don’t allow linking into non-recommended reviews and their algorithm switches the status of reviews frequently.
- LAHSA is a joint-powers authority run by the City and the County of Los Angeles. This technical distinction has some interesting and tragic consequences, not least of which is that LAHSA Commissioner Kerry Morrison is exempt from a number of City ethics laws to which commissioners of purely City agencies are subject, a loophole of which she takes full advantage.
- And, intentionally or not, placed that part of the narrative outside the reach of the Public Records Act.
- This is an error. Marathon is a street rather than an avenue.
- Another error. Monroe is also a street.
- This is a complete mystery, or a copy/paste artifact. Of course 8th Street is nowhere near any part of North Vermont Avenue.
- Ah, the passive voice! Useful indeed for when you call the cops on a bunch of homeless people, thereby fucking up their lives even more than they’re already fucked, and really don’t feel like acknowledging responsibility.
- Although there’s no particular reason to think that Bryan Kim is a constituent of CD13. More on this issue below.
- It’s part of the Council District jargon that staff members refer to the Council member as “my boss.” It’s a fascinating linguistic twist that solves a social problem most of us never experience, which is roughly how one is to refer deferentially to someone as all-powerful in their sphere as a Los Angeles City Council member whose at-whim employee one happens to be without displaying the open sycophancy which must be fatal to anyone who’s also tasked with preserving a seemly display of democratic equality. This may sound dismissive, but I surely don’t mean it to be. Jargon is a lovely thing, and reverse-engineering jargon is an endlessly fascinating exercise.
- This is a rhetorical flourish. I don’t actually remember anything from civics class. I don’t even remember if I took a civics class.
- This isn’t an idle accusation. Search here for your favorite BID employees and Board members to see just how much money they pour into City elections. Start with Kerry Morrison for a really illuminating example.