On Friday a petition was filed in LA County Superior Court against George Yu’s corrupt little empire, the Chinatown Business Improvement District. You’ll recall George Yu, of course,as the caudillo of Chinatown, the man who screams at people for legally filming his meetings without approval, the man who had me ejected from his glorified strip mall for daring to defy his unlawful orders, the man who smugly admits to serious legal violations on camera because history has taught him that there will be no consequences.
Well, it turns out that he’s also the man who thinks that he can ignore people’s requests for public records for more than a year without even answering. We’re hoping this petition, which is a little different from most of the ones I report on here in that Katherine McNenny and I filed it jointly, will teach him the error of his ways, at least with respect to the CPRA.
The whole thing started in May 2017 when, after it became clear that George Yu had played a central role in the Downtown BIDs’ underhanded conspiracy to torpedo the Skid Row Neighborhood Council subdivision effort, Katherine McNenny requested a bunch of records on this topic from the Chinatown BID.1 He did not even respond, and has not responded yet, which is a clear violation of the law.2
Independently of Katherine McNenny’s requests but for the same purpose, in March 2018 I sent George Yu three requests also, slightly broader than hers but still focused on the SRNC formation effort and George Yu’s role in sinking it. He also ignored these requests. To date he has not even made the initial response required by §6253(c). For reasons I will never understand George Yu3 thinks its better to break the law repeatedly and then pay potentially tens of thousands of dollars as a consequence than to just comply in the first damn place.
And that’s what’s going on with the Chinatown BID. Turn the page for some transcribed excerpts!
Transcription of selections from the petition:
1. This is a petition to enforce the California Public Records Act (‘CPRA’) against Respondent and Defendant (‘Respondent’) the Los Angeles Chinatown Business Council. Petitioners and Plaintiffs (‘Petitioners’) Katherine McNenny and Adrian Riskin submitted various requests for public records to the Greater Chinatown Business Improvement District (‘the BID’), which Respondent administers. These requests asked for access to clearly-identifiable records subject to mandatory disclosure under the CPRA. Despite Petitioners’ repeated attempts to request records by email, certified mail, and telephone. Respondent has failed to respond at all to any of these requests. Respondent has thereby violated the CPRA.
2. Petitioners are seeking records to better understand the BID’s political role in Los Angeles. In particular. Petitioners seek information to understand the BID’s part in opposing the formation of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council (‘SRNC’). The formation of the SRNC, which was at issue in an April 6th, 2017 election, would have allowed the residents of Skid Row—many of whom are homeless, low-income, marginalized on the basis of identity, or otherwise alienated from formal power within the City of Los Angeles—to more easily communicate with the City’s elected leadership and to obtain funding to better meet local needs. Homeless and low-income residents would have had multiple designated board seats on the SRNC, whereas Skid Row has historically been within the jurisdiction of neighborhood councils dominated by business representatives and property-owning stakeholders. Business interests, including a confederation of Business Improvement Districts (‘BIDs’) participating in the organization ‘United Downtown LA, LLC,’ (‘United DTLA’), opposed the formation of the SRNC. United DTLA hired former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo as a lobbyist and endeavored to prevent the formation of the SRNC. After a close and controversial election, which is now the subject of litigation, the SRNC’s formation was defeated. Subsequent to the election, records obtained from various BIDs via public record requests revealed BIDs’ roles in United DTLA and the effort to defeat the SRNC. Records suggest that the Greater Chinatown BID may have been among those BIDs participating in the effort.
3. The public’s access to information is obstructed by Respondent’s repeated and systemic violations of the CPRA. By this Petition and Complaint (‘Petition’) and pursuant to the Code of Civil Procedure §§ 1085, et seq. and Government Code §§ 6250, et seq. Petitioners respectfully request from this Court: a writ of mandate to command Respondent to disclose all non-exempt information Petitioners requested and thereby comply with the CPRA; a declaration that Respondent’s conduct fails to comply with the CPRA; and a permanent injunction enjoining Respondent from continuing its pattern and practice of disregarding public record requests and violating the CPRA.
9. The City of Los Angeles utilizes a citywide system of neighborhood councils, created by ordinance, to assist communities in working with local government to address community needs. There are 97 neighborhood councils across Los Angeles, each receiving public funds to support their activities. The Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (‘DONE’) coordinates with the neighborhood councils and provides operational support.
10. On November 29, 2016, the Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee submitted a subdivision application to DONE to initiate an election to subdivide existing neighborhood councils in order to form a new Skid Row Neighborhood Council. The committee took special consideration in drafting the proposed SRNC bylaws to guarantee multiple board seats to low-income renters and/or unhoused individuals, as well as to those providing services to those communities. This arrangement is in contrast to other local neighborhood councils, including the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (from which the SRNC would have been subdivided), in which business interests comprise a majority of the governing board under the bylaws and no seats are designated for renters, let alone low-income renters.
11. On January 11, 2017, DONE approved the subdivision application. Subsequently, an election to establish the new SRNC was scheduled for March 29, 2017 to April 6, 2017.
12. At the conclusion of voting, the formation of the SRNC was narrowly defeated, with DONE’s official canvass of votes showing 766 votes in favor of, and 826 votes opposed to, the formation of the SRNC.
29. Information obtained through other CPRA requests demonstrates that records responsive to several of Petitioners’ requests exist and are therefore clearly being withheld by Respondent.
30. As one example, McNenny’s May 28, 2017 request asked for all Respondent’s emails that mention the ‘Skid Row Neighborhood Council,’ and Riskin’s March 23, 2018 request asked for all emails in the possession of anyone on the BID’s staff or board that contain the word ‘Skid.’ Petitioners are in possession of an email chain sent to various individuals, including the BID’s Executive Director George Yu, with the subject line ‘**IMPORTANT UPDATE** Skid Row Neighborhood Council.’ Emails in the chain were sent in March 2017 and April 2017, within the time frames of both Petitioners’ requests. Some emails ask BID representatives to appear at a city council committee meeting to testify about the SRNC election. In other emails, BID representatives are encouraged to send their staff members to pop-up polls, and some email authors state that they would like to only validate parking at pop-up polls for those voting against the creation of the SRNC. These records are clearly responsive to both Petitioners’ requests. True and accurate copies of these emails are attached to this petition in Exhibit F.
31. Records exist which shed light on other important aspects of the BID’s functions, as well. Petitioners are in possession of a June 2, 2017 email from George Yu to Rita Moreno at ‘email@example.com.’ This email discusses Yu’s frustration that his BID officers were required to attend a meeting related to the mandatory registration of their private security guards with the Los Angeles Police Commission. He expresses in this email his belief that enforcement of the registration requirement was precipitated by Riskin’s research and advocacy about the issue as related to BIDs. Riskin’s March 23, 2018 request asked for all emails between BID board members and anyone at lacity.org from January 1, 2017 to the date of compliance. This email is clearly responsive to Riskin’s request. A true and accurate copy of this email is attached to this petition in Exhibit F.
32. Although records responsive to Petitioners’ requests clearly exist, the BID withheld all such records. Respondent thereby maintains these critical records in complete secrecy, thereby frustrating the democratic process and violating the CPRA.
34. Respondent’s pattern and practice of failing to produce public records in response to requests—and, in fact, ignoring requests entirely—effectively makes secret the operations of the Greater Chinatown BID and shields Respondent from public accountability. Particularly given Respondent’s suspected involvement in the defeat of the SRNC, which prevented some of Los Angeles’ most disenfranchised residents from exercising political power, the public interest in the requested public records is great. Judicial action is therefore necessary to enforce the requirements of the CPRA against Respondent.
Image of George Yu is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is based on this lil fellow right here.
- All of these requests are appended to the petition as exhibits. For technical reasons, mostly involving laziness, I’m not linking to them separately here.
- Of course readers of this blog are well aware that the CPRA requires public agencies such as the BID to at least respond within 10 (or 24 under certain circumstances) with some kind of estimate of when the goods will be ready. This is at §6253(c), which states: ” Each agency, upon a request for a copy of records, shall, within 10 days from receipt of the request, determine whether the request, in whole or in part, seeks copies of disclosable public records in the possession of the agency and shall promptly notify the person making the request of the determination and the reasons therefor. In unusual circumstances, the time limit prescribed in this section may be extended by written notice by the head of the agency or his or her designee to the person making the request, setting forth the reasons for the extension and the date on which a determination is expected to be dispatched. No notice shall specify a date that would result in an extension for more than 14 days. When the agency dispatches the determination, and if the agency determines that the request seeks disclosable public records, the agency shall state the estimated date and time when the records will be made available.”
- And a lot of his BIDdie colleagues.