Miranda Paster is the director of the LA City Clerk’s Neighborhood and Business Improvement Division (NABID), which administers the City’s BID program. Her job description (updated in February 2014) includes among her duties presenting at the conferences of the International Downtown Association:1 …deliver formal presentations, including analyses and recommendations, to the City Council and its Committees and International Downtown Association Conferences…
The story begins in 2011,2 when BIDs gave Miranda Paster $3000 to attend the IDA’s 2011 annual conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Take a look at this collection of emails and records of payments from 2011. These show that less than two weeks before the conference started, Paster was scrambling to get the money together to attend, but that she already had a commitment from the BIDs to pay $3000 (a log of the actual payments is included there). It seems that in 2011, Paster’s attendance at this conference was a new thing for her, as the financing was arranged in such a hurry. I’m guessing that at this point presenting at this conference was not yet part of Paster’s official duties. It’s a rare bureaucracy indeed which will not pay its employees’ expenses to carry out their duties. So the BIDs paid, buying at least a sense of obligation.
Unfortunately, IDA records of the 2011 conference don’t seem to show what Paster did there, but by the 2012 conference, held in Minneapolis, she was a panelist. This is interesting in itself. The panel, moderated by Rena Leddy, now of the Fashion District BID but then of Progressive Urban Management Associates, or PUMA,3 was entitled How Cities Encourage BIDs: Trends and Challenges.4 Here is a copy of a Power Point summary of the session, which is astonishing in its own right.5
Now, you may not be familiar with the story of the destruction and resurrection of the Arts District BID. It began in 2011 when Yuval Bar-Zemer of Linear City development initiated a campaign against the BID based on the theory that BID assessments used for marketing campaigns didn’t benefit assessed property owners in any way allowed under state law.6 A court case ensued, and in May 2013 Superior Court judge Robert O’Brien ordered the BID to dissolve.
Predictably, this threw the City’s elite BID clique into hurricane-level hysteria, with zillion dollar woman Carol Schatz and her maxi-me co-conspirator Estela Lopez leading the propaganda blitz with predictions of a homeless apocalypse and other horribles on parade. They were worried that if an argument like this, which probably applies to many other BIDs in LA, could actually be used to dissolve a BID, maybe all of them could be dissolved. Although it gets very little press, there is significant opposition to BIDs even among zillionaire property owners.7
What actually happened, though, is that the BID-stablishment, friends of Carol Schatz if not Carol Schatz her actual self, got together a proposal for a new BID that avoided, at least on paper, the problems that had led to the success of Bar-Zemer’s lawsuit. At the same time, though, Bar-Zemer and his organization, the Arts District Community Council LA, put together a competing proposal, which they also submitted to Miranda Paster.8 Now, I don’t know of an actual ordinance stating this principle, but it seems to me that the City, which consistently and vehemently claims to have little to do with BID formation, ought to be neutral toward competent competing BID formation proposals. The rule of law seems to require at least neutrality.
But Miranda Paster, she to whom the BIDs had given $3000 in 2011 to attend the IDA conference in Charlotte, didn’t9 see it that way. On September 12, 2013, a mere three days after her September 9 receipt of Bar-Zemer’s application, she emailed Carol Schatz:
Hello. Did you know that one of the consultants, on our list, is pushing the City Atty (Feuer) to allow BIDs/Community Benefit Districts formed using the City’s Alpha Ordinance?
And less than five hours later, Carol Schatz responded:
Let me guess who that is—-I will be sure to discuss that with Feuer.
Evidently Schatz got to Feuer about this and Feuer got to Paster, because less than two weeks later, on September 25, 2013, Paster emailed Bar-Zemer and others to tell them:
We are in receipt of the Management District Plan and Engineer’s Report. We have not started the review of either of the documents. I am waiting for the City Attorney instructions. The standing instruction is that the Ordinance, by which the documents were prepared, is not legal and preempts State Law,10 nor should it be used in light of the lack of cohesion of the Arts District. We do not consider Alpha Ordinance documents for review. I will let you know if any thing changes.
Naturally this flipped out the alternate BID proposers. It seems that they had met with Feuer on August 2, significantly prior to the September 9 submission of their proposal for a new Arts District BID which meeting evidently prompted Paster’s September 12 email (quoted above), to discuss the BID formation and Feuer had at that time evidently not indicated any potential problems:
Further to the meeting that Yuval Bar Zemer and I had with you and your staff in your office on August 2 regarding the Arts District BID, we are now confronted with the discovery that City administrative staff is taking the position that our proposed ALPHA BID will not be considered. I find this very disturbing.
From the e-mail exchange below,11 it is clear that Miranda Paster has been instructed to follow a protocol that effectively insures that the community will not have a choice in choosing a plan that they feel best suits the interest of our neighborhood.
The ALPHA BID management plan that we prepared was submitted to Miranda Paster on September 9. Ms. Paster responded the next day asking for the engineers report. Just today, two weeks later, we have been informed that Ms. Paster will not review the plan based on “standing instructions” that the ALPHA BID is illegal. Ms. Paster had no trouble certifying a competing proposal within 48 hours.
I am not sure if the City Attorney’s office issued instructions to Ms. Paster after our meeting. If that is indeed the case, we would appreciate an explanation of why your office believes the ALPHA BID is illegal when it is clearly codified in law. If your office has not instructed Ms. Paster to reject our proposal, then we would appreciate a statement to that effect and timely instructions to Ms. Paster to remove the obstacle she has arbitrarily placed in our way. We never wanted to litigate this issue in the first place. If Ms. Paster continues to block our ALPHA BID proposal, we will have no choice but to, once again, resort to cumbersome and costly legal redress.
So what happened in the interim? Evidently Carol Schatz did have that talk with Mike Feuer, and evidently Mike Feuer, even though it hadn’t occurred to him in August 2013, evidently told Miranda Paster that ALPHA BIDs were illegal and that therefore the alternate submission should be back-burnered. But don’t forget that the prime mover of this whole process was Miranda Paster via her tales-out-of-school email to Carol Schatz.
Now flash forward to November 2013. On the 13th, Carol Schatz emailed Mike Feuer:
At our recent meeting re: Alpha BIDs and the Arts District BID you asked us to present our arguments, legal & policy, in support of our stated position that Alpha BIDs should not be authorized by the City Attorney’s office.
Enclosed is a memo reflecting the DCBID’s views on Alpha BIDs for your consideration. Once again, thanks for the opportunity to meet and make our case.
Unfortunately I don’t have any material about the “recent meeting” she refers to, but it’s not plausible that it was in September 2013, which would hardly have been recent. Thus even after he told Miranda Paster not to process Bar-Zemer’s BID proposal because the ordinance under which it was submitted was likely illegal, Mike Feuer still hadn’t made up his mind about whether or not it actually was illegal. At that time he was soliciting opinions from Bar-Zemer’s opponents12 about the legality. He evidently solicited more than one, because the next day some lawyer named Steven Shapiro emailed him with another counterargument.13
The record is silent on the fate of these arguments, but we can pick up the story in January of 2014, when the Downtown News reported that the Schatzian group, now known as Arts District Los Angeles, was actually distributing its ballots. Furthermore, Bar-Zemer’s group, the ADCCLA…well, here’s what the Downtown News reported:
The city has not approved the management district plan for Bar-Zemer’s group, said Interim City Clerk Holly Wolcott. She said the petitions the group mailed out for signatures last fall will have to be revised and re-sent.
Not a word from Holly Wolcott about the four-month behind-the-scenes battle over which group’s proposal would even be processed.14 And not a word from the Downtown News or anyone that Miranda Paster had kicked off or at least inflamed the whole mess with her sly email to Carol Schatz. However, the Downtown News did report:
Even Wolcott’s involvement marks a point of contention: She took over for Miranda Paster, a City Clerk division chief who was bumped from the case after ADCCLA representatives accused her of having a conflict of interest. Wolcott said Paster has been removed from the case while the city attorney reviews the allegations.
Well, I asked the City Attorney for records relating to this, and, not unexpectedly, the ever-helpful Mike Dundas told me that they were all exempt due to attorney/client privilege. Although, one wonders, is that what they told the people who accused her? Something like “we reviewed your allegations and we can’t tell you anything about it because of attorney/client privilege”? If that’s the case, I wonder how the City Attorney could act both as her attorney and as an impartial investigator. And it certainly does look like she had a conflict of interest. They did give her that $3000 to go to Charlotte, after all. And that’s no small thing.15
In any case, by February, Jose Huizar’s office had worked out a compromise between the contenders in which the size of the Board would be increased and Bar-Zemer’s group would get four seats and local condominium owners would get three. Since these Boards are generally self-perpetuating, they certainly wouldn’t have been able to get on without an agreement like this. Unless, however, it’s written in the bylaws16 they’re not going to be able to keep the seats, precisely because the Board is self-perpetuating. Maybe it’s not.
This finally brings us back to the International Downtown Association and Miranda Paster’s official duty to present at their conferences. The last conference that I can prove she presented at was in September 2014 in Ottawa, just after all this Arts District nonsense had presumably settled down. And what, you may ask, did she present on? Why, it was the Arts District BID debacle:
Birth, Death and Resurrection of the Los Angeles Arts District
Thursday, September 4 at 12:30pm, NL/Nova Scotia, 4th Floor
The Los Angeles Arts District was formed by property owners working with Urban Place Consulting Group in 2006. The District was renewed and expanded geographically in 2011. The expanded Arts District included a property owner who opposed being in the District. This is the story of that property owner, and how and why he spent over $100,000 in legal fees to avoid paying less than $3,000 in annual assessments. It is also the story of one court and one judge and the process and legal ruling that led to the court dissolving the Arts District. Finally, it is the story of a small and determined group of property owners working with Urban Place Consulting to resurrect the Arts District Los Angeles.
Steve Gibson, President, Urban Place Consulting Group, Inc.
Miranda Paster, Division Manager, City of Los Angeles
Of course, mature adults know that victors write history, and that’s why even the abstract of this talk is full of lies and misrepresentations.17 For instance, they represent Bar-Zemer, unnamed in what passes for tact amongst these people, as one dissatisfied crank when he had a number of people working with him. They represent his motive as avoiding paying his assessment, when obviously it was a combination of moral indignation and a desire to have some say in the fate of a neighborhood in which he was heavily invested, both financially and emotionally. They represent the monolithic Schatzian horror-show of professional BID managers who were fed useful information behind the scenes by Miranda Paster, who should have been neutral rather than sneaking around favoring one proposal over another, as a “small and determined group.” I’m amazed they didn’t use the old “grass-roots” moniker (or maybe they did in the session itself). And on and on and on.
NOTE: This is Part 2 of an informal series about the influence of Miranda Paster and Holly Wolcott on how BIDs function in Los Angeles, with a particular emphasis on how the office of the Clerk, which according to former controller Laura Chick and according to the Clerk’s own propaganda, ought to be providing oversight for BIDs and also making sure they perform their contracts, instead has been captured through gifts and flattery by the very BIDs they’re meant to regulate.
Image of Holly Wolcott is a public record and I got it from here.
- This may have been part of her official duties prior to 2014. I don’t yet have copies of her earlier job descriptions. As you’ll see, though, she certainly was presenting at these conferences at least since 2012 and possibly earlier than that.
- At least as much of it as I have evidence for.
- And even more interestingly, prior to that of Urban Place Consulting Group, which masterminded the formation of the Arts District BID, which plays a significant role in the later chapters of the story I’m telling. See below.
- I wish I had time to discuss everything to do with this session. Check the description: The post-recession landscape for our downtowns has been a precarious one. In some cases, polarized political and economic climates have made improvement district creation and oversight strenuous. The combination of decreased City services and increased demand on districts to expand their deliverables has resulted in turmoil. New leadership doesn’t necessarily understand the purpose of improvement districts. How do BIDs demonstrate their value and maintain their relevance during these challenging times? It’s a classic example of BID whining about how cities can’t do anything right, BIDs do everything, and no one understands them. That Miranda Paster is speaking in this session is astonishing. The City of Los Angeles is obviously and somewhat paradoxically heavily invested in this narrative of its own incompetence. Of course they benefit greatly from it. It gives them a universal excuse for not doing anything for poor people (“oh, gee, sorry, we’re too incompetent to provide safe clean neighborhoods”) while doing everything for rich people (“oh, gee, we’re incapable of providing services, but hey, rich people, have a bunch of additional assessments on City property to pay for privatized services that are free from public oversight which we will then use to evade the political process!”)
- Again, it’s fascinating, and I don’t have time to deal with it in this post. I hope to write on it in some detail soon. Take a look at it, though. See that, amazingly, Miranda Paster admits explicitly that the City encourages BIDs to lobby elected officials. How is any of this OK?
- I’m oversimplifying a complicated issue here. The theory is important, but it’s not so important for this story.
- The fact that this successful theory has not yet been used again in litigation is probably only a matter of time.
- This proposal relied on a section of the Los Angeles City Charter known as the Alpha BID law, which provided a different process for BID formation than the one allowed by State law. One advantage it has over the State-mandated process is that it allows for BID formation with only 30% approval rather than the 50% required by the Streets and Highways Code. The Alpha BID ordinance, in the opinion of the LA City Attorney, was pre-empted by State law and is no longer used. BIDs formed under this law, which included the South Los Angeles Industrial Tract BID and the Highland Park BID, are required to reorganize under the State law as they expire. This seems to have happened most recently with the SLAIT BID, and as far as I can see, Highland Park is the last Alpha BID in the City.
- And probably still doesn’t.
- She means that it’s preempted by State law, rather than that it preempts State law.
- Quoted above.
- And possibly from Bar-Zemer and his proponents as well; as I said I don’t have a complete record of this part of the story.
- I don’t have time to go into the details of these solicited counterarguments, but they’re worth reading. One interesting aspect is that neither of them puts forth any support for Paster’s early version of what was putatively Feuer’s argument that the Alpha BID ordinance was preempted by State law. The one from Schatz’s lawyer argues that the 30% approval threshold in the Alpha BID law would make such BIDs more vulnerable to legal challenge (it’s possible that this is a veiled threat that Schatz and her minions would sue if they didn’t get their way). The one from Shapiro argues that certain technical requirements of the law weren’t met. If Feuer’s argument about preemption was so clear, why didn’t either of these presumably brilliant zillionaire’s lawyers pick up on it at all? If it wasn’t so clear, why was the City relying on it to confound the efforts of Bar-Zemer and friends?
- These sorts of shenanigans provide yet another reason why the City Clerk ought to be an elected position in Los Angeles. It’s perfectly possible to do that. Many cities around the State, both charter (like LA) and general law, have elected Clerks. That we do not makes me pretty sure that it’s because Carol Schatz and her zillionaire ilk prefer that we do not.
- And after all this stuff simmered down, the BID establishment continued, and continues, to give Miranda Paster extraordinary support. I’ll be writing about this in detail at some point, but, e.g., at one point the City Council was thinking of moving BIDs out of the Clerk’s office and over to somewhere else and the BIDs all rallied around to tell Council that they would absolutely oppose any such proposal unless Miranda Paster and her whole department would move unaltered. That’s just one instance.
- I don’t have any information on whether or not it is.
- Here is the Power Point from her presentation, although it’s not that enlightening. That would seem to be the only publicly available record of the content apart from the already-quoted abstract.