Tag Archives: Open Letters

Since 2016 The City Of Los Angeles Has Paid Out More Than $1.7 Million To Settle Public Records Act Litigation — Most Of Which Could Have Been Avoided By Taking Compliance Seriously — This Is Not Only A Betrayal Of The Public Trust But It’s A Huge Damn Waste Of Money — If Only There Were A City Official Charged With Reducing Waste Who Could Look Into This — Oh Wait Of Course There Is! — The City Controller! — So This Morning I Sent Him A Letter Asking Him To Use His Audit Power To Evaluate The City’s CPRA Policies — And Assess The Risk And Liability Created By Noncompliance — And Recommend Ways To Avoid This Waste In The Future — Including The Creation Of A Centralized CPRA Coordinator For The City — And You Can Read That Letter Here! — Along With A Bunch Of Other Nonsense!

As you may well know, the City of Los Angeles has a really, really hard time complying with its obligations under the California Public Records Act. And as you may also know, the only remedy for noncompliance provided by the Legislature is to file a lawsuit against the violators. If the requester prevails1 the law requires the judge to award litigation costs and lawyers’ fees to the requester.

And, it turns out, the City of Los Angeles not only has a hard time complying with the CPRA but they get sued a lot over it. And they usually settle quickly but when they don’t they lose. A lot. And they pay a lot of money to requesters’ attorneys. In fact, since 2016 they’ve paid off in 26 cases to the total tune of more than $1.7 million. Here’s a list of all of these cases, both as a PDF and in the original XLSX.

Probably some of these cases involve legitimate controversies over the City’s decision to withhold records from release, but as you know if you follow this blog, most of them are due to very little more than the incompetence, indifference, or intransigence of City departments. Most of these cases could have been avoided if the City had just released records that they ended up releasing anyway as a result of the suit. Many could have been avoided if someone had just explained to a few City staffers what their obligations under the law actually were.

So not only does the City’s continual, habitual flouting of the CPRA deprive citizens of our constitutionally guaranteed right to access public records promptly,2 but it also costs the City an immense amount of money. All of which is wasted since had the City just followed the law in the first place they wouldn’t have had to pay any of it. Or to pay the salaries of the Deputy City Attorneys who had to handle these cases after they were filed.3

The City doesn’t even have a CPRA compliance policy, but if it did and if it followed it, none of this money would be wasted. The City of San Diego, it turns out, has a very similar problem, which I only found out about because they have an officer called the City Auditor. He recently investigated San Diego’s CPRA practices and policies and made recommendations for improvement.

Which reminded me that here in Los Angeles there is a also City official whose charge includes the right to audit and investigate the expenditures of City departments and to recommend policy changes to stop money wasting. This, of course, is the Controller, whose powers and duties are defined by the City Charter at §260 et seq. and which include the ability to “conduct performance audits of all departments and may conduct performance audits of City programs, including suggesting plans for the improvement and management of the revenues and expenditures of the City.”4

So he’s empowered to look into this matter, but of course, how’s he going to know to do that unless someone brings it up? Thus did I write Galperin a letter this morning asking him to get on it and audit the City’s CPRA compliance and policies and make recommendations. In particular I asked him not only to consult with requesters about needed policy changes, but also to consider recommending that the City create a central CPRA coordinator whose job would include receiving, processing, and assigning requests to departments and then tracking and ensuring compliance. Read on for a transcription and stay tuned to find out if anything comes of it!
Continue reading Since 2016 The City Of Los Angeles Has Paid Out More Than $1.7 Million To Settle Public Records Act Litigation — Most Of Which Could Have Been Avoided By Taking Compliance Seriously — This Is Not Only A Betrayal Of The Public Trust But It’s A Huge Damn Waste Of Money — If Only There Were A City Official Charged With Reducing Waste Who Could Look Into This — Oh Wait Of Course There Is! — The City Controller! — So This Morning I Sent Him A Letter Asking Him To Use His Audit Power To Evaluate The City’s CPRA Policies — And Assess The Risk And Liability Created By Noncompliance — And Recommend Ways To Avoid This Waste In The Future — Including The Creation Of A Centralized CPRA Coordinator For The City — And You Can Read That Letter Here! — Along With A Bunch Of Other Nonsense!

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Open Letter To The Los Angeles Ethics Commission Asking Them To Consider Adopting A Policy On Disclosure Of Ex Parte Communications

I reported last week that Serena Oberstein, Vice President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, had engaged in undisclosed ex parte communications with a couple of (unregistered) lobbyists regarding a proposal to revise the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. Of course, at present, there’s no requirement for any City commissioners, except Harbor Commissioners, to disclose such communication.

However, the example of the Board of Harbor Commissioners shows that it is possible for City commissions to adopt more stringent requirements than the rest of City government is subject to. Given the role of the Ethics Commission in defending the public interest in transparency and disclosure, it seems like a natural candidate for such a policy.

Hence, as promised, I’ve written a letter to the Commission asking them to put an item on the agenda for December 19 asking the staff to draft a policy proposal for such a requirement. Here’s a copy of the letter, and you can read a transcription after the break. If you’re moved to write about this yourself, you can, as far as I know, send communications to the Commission at ethics.commission@lacity.org.
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My Letter To The Ethics Commission On Proposed Revisions To The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

As you may already know, the City Ethics Commission is in the process of proposing revisions to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The full proposal is here. They’ve been holding meetings to solicit input and, given the anti-regulatory stance adopted by a significant number of the Commissioners recently, it’s essential that right-minded people get their comments in to ethics.policy@lacity.org soonest.

I’ve been working on a letter for a few weeks now,1 and yesterday I finally finished it. You can get a copy of the PDF or read a transcription after the break. Please feel free to use any part of this to guide or inspire your own letters, which, as I said, I really hope you will send in as soon as possible.

The next Commission meeting is on October 17, and I’m told by staff that all comments received by a few days before then will be distributed to the Commissioners. If you can get your comments in pretty soon, though, they’ll also be discussed by staff prior to finalizing the proposals, which may be a good thing.
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Open Letter To Holly Wolcott And Miranda Paster Regarding Nicole Shahenian’s Violation Of LAMC 48.04(B) In 2014

Here’s a letter I sent this morning to Holly Wolcott and Miranda Paster about the fact that East Hollywood BID Director Nicole Shahenian appears to have violated LAMC 48.04(B) by stating that the EHBID’s 2015 Annual Planning Report had been prepared at a Board meeting on December 29, 2014, when in reality no such meeting took place. Also maybe look at the actual complaint I filed with the Ethics Commission.

The main points are that the Clerk ought to institute some kind of oversight to make sure that this nonsense stops happening. The Ethics Commission will rule on Nicole Shahenian’s violation of the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, but that only applies because she was coincidentally registered as a lobbyist in 2014. Most BID directors are not registered lobbyists,1 but many of them apparently lie about the APR approval process. This could potentially create dire consequences due to the fact that, e.g., BIDs can actually be disestablished for such transgressions, whether or not the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance is involved. Anyway, as I said, here is the letter as a PDF, and turn the page for a transcription.
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Open Letter To Holly Wolcott and Miranda Paster Concerning Tara Devine’s Misleading Everyone With Her Discredited “Zoning Not Use” Theory

Holly Wolcott in her bully pulpit, explaining it all to you!
Here’s a letter I sent this morning to Holly Wolcott and Miranda Paster about Tara Devine misleading everyone with respect to the question of whether commercial properties were necessarily included in the Venice Beach BID. There’s a transcription after the break, as always, for the PDF averse.

This is a fairly serious matter, and actually illegal if it turns out to be the case that Tara Devine was required to register as a lobbyist last year, as I have alleged that she was. The point is that since the Clerk’s office is supposed to oversee BIDs, they ought to oversee BID consultants as well, and since both honesty and integrity are explicit criteria for qualifying as a BID consultant perhaps these two ought to look into whether Tara Devine is actually qualified. Turn the page for a transcription.
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Open Letter To Holly Wolcott And Miranda Paster Concerning The Question Of Whether BID Consultants Qualify As Lobbyists And What The Proper Course Of Action Might Be If They Do

A pseudo-artistic computer-modified image of Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott.
Here’s a letter I sent this morning to Holly Wolcott and Miranda Paster concerning the question of whether BID consultants qualify as lobbyists for the purposes of complying with the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. My feeling, of course, is that they do qualify, they ought to register with the City, they should be punished for the fact that they have not done so, and the City staff who work with them without insisting that they register ought to be busted for aiding and abetting. But since evidently this has never occurred to anyone before, I thought it would be decent to give everyone involved a chance to assess their own risk in choosing a course of action. Hence this letter. There’s a transcription with live links after the break if you don’t want to deal with a PDF.
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Open Letter to City Council Asking For Postponement of Venice Beach BID And A Moratorium On New BID Formation


Honorable Los Angeles City Councilmembers,

I’m writing to urge you to postpone consideration of the proposed Venice Beach business improvement district and to think about placing a moratorium on the formation of new BIDs until we as a City can have a much-needed, long-delayed conversation about their proper role. A major problem is that as they’re now constituted, there is no way for anyone not on their Boards of Directors to have any influence over property-based BIDs in Los Angeles. They have effectively isolated themselves from every one of the City’s means of contractor oversight. People who live in or near BIDs are directly impacted by their activities in many ways but have no effective means of influencing them. Since the property owners associations that administer the BIDs are mostly controlled by self-perpetuating Boards there aren’t even effective ways for the property owners in BIDs to influence their policies. Property-based BIDs also covertly and perhaps inadvertently perpetuate racist policies from the past in unexpected ways.
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An Open Letter to Mitch O’Farrell Regarding Signal Box Art in the Hollywood Entertainment District

Thus it’s hard to understand why it’s not good enough to appear on the signal boxes of Hollywood.
Thus it’s hard to understand why it’s not good enough to appear on the signal boxes of Hollywood.

See here and here for the background to this post.

Dear Councilmember O’Farrell,

As you may already be aware, the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance is presently holding a competition to choose artwork to adorn signal boxes in the Hollywood Entertainment District, which they contract with the City of Los Angeles to administer. As you know, the L.A. Department of Transportation requires your approval for this project to move forward. I am writing to ask you to withhold your consent from the HPOA’s plan pending a revision of their stated rules which, regardless of the intent, have the effect of significantly lowering the chance that Latino artists working in some of our most vibrant local traditions will be chosen for this honor.

The problem is that the BID’s stated requirements for submissions include the proviso that “NO Cartoon Images or Graffiti work of any kind will be considered.”1 Graffiti art and cartoon styles are associated in L.A. with Latino, especially Mexican-American artists. Work by Los Angeles artists in these genres has brought world renown, not just to the artists themselves, but to our City. Thus it’s hard to understand why it’s not good enough to appear on the signal boxes of Hollywood. The mystery only deepens when one considers that the HPOA’s requirements also state that “Text Art” will be given full consideration, as if Graffiti art were not also “Text Art.”
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