I recently wrote in excruciating detail about how everyone involved with the BID formation process denies, almost certainly wrongly, that they have any power at all over which parcels are included in a BID. Thus, e.g., did Tara Devine inform unhappy property owner William Kuel in this email from August 2016 that his property, which is zoned commercial but used for residential purposes, must be included in the Venice Beach BID. She went so far as to tell him explicitly that “neither the Engineer nor I can remove your parcel from the proposed BID.” This phenomenon has been hugely controversial in the formation of the Venice Beach BID, and is the basis of a lawsuit filed against the City by Venice residents upset over the inclusion of their property in the BID.
So what a surprise it was to find, buried amongst thousands of pages of nonsense in this latest pile of emails between Tara Devine and various employees of the City Clerk’s office, this June 30, 2015 missive from Tara Devine to a bunch of people, stating that she was unilaterally removing a commercially zoned property from the BID for, seemingly, no particular reason:
I will also re-send the database as we made one tiny change. After a discussion with Ed, we removed the federal USPS parcel (Venice post office.) It was on the edge of the BID and was not required for a contiguous boundary, so we just removed it from dbase and other docs.
Leaving aside the evident fact that Tara Devine doesn’t know the difference between contiguous and continuous, isn’t this interesting? She “just removed” a piece of property from the BID. And then a year later she was telling property owners that she didn’t have the power to remove parcels, and some of those property owners are now suing the City partially on the basis of this claim she1 has been pushing about her powerlessness. It will be interesting to see if this turns out to be evidence in the lawsuit!2 It’s extremely interesting to see that she told a bunch of City Clerk employees that she’d done this and not one of them questioned her ability to do it, which is in stark contrast to Holly Wolcott’s 2016 assertions that no one was empowered to remove properties.
One of the most contentious issues in the very, very contentious formation of a business improvement district in Venice has been the existence of properties with commercial zoning that are used solely for residential purposes that were included in the BID and therefore assessed. This is the basis of a recently filed lawsuit against the City as well as a significant number of other protests against the BID.
For instance, in May 2016, Venice homeowner1 Louis Traeger wrote to the City protesting the inclusion of his home in the BID. On June 1, 2016 Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott answered him, stating:
In address of your request to remove said property from the proposed Business Improvement District, the City Clerk does not have the authority to remove or add properties in a Business Improvement District. However, we will forward your request and this information to the Engineer conducting the survey and analysis for the creation of the Venice Beach Business Improvement District.
Further, you requested notice of any hearing concerning the approval of the Venice Beach Business Improvement District in order to submit your written opposition. If your property is ultimately included within the Business Improvement District boundaries, a notice of the City Council hearing date will be mailed to you. At the hearing, an opportunity will be provided to protest the establishment.
As far as I can tell2 what Holly Wolcott says is the truth and it’s nothing but the truth, but it is in absolutely no way at all the whole truth. Her statement that “the City Clerk does not have the authority to remove or add properties in a Business Improvement District” is true. When she follows it up with a statement that she will “forward your request and this information to the Engineer conducting the survey and analysis” she is certainly creating the impression that ONLY the engineer is empowered to remove properties. This is not true. It’s really badly not true, as I will demonstrate below.
A couple weeks ago, a group of brave and determined residents of Venice filed a writ petition against the City of Los Angeles and the Venice Beach BID asking the court to set aside the ordinance that created it, to force the City to redraw the BID’s boundaries in accordance with the law, and, most interestingly, to order the City to contest the assessments levied against City-owned properties in the BID. You can read a copy of the initial petition:
Or here — on the new dedicated page, also available through the menu structure above.
Or here — directly from static storage; see the titles better!
They argue that their residential properties will get no special benefits from the BID, which violates the California Constitution. They argue that many of the proposed activities of the BID, specifically the security program, are inherently incapable of providing special benefits. And most interestingly from the point of view of general anti-BID theory, they argue that the City has a duty to its citizens to scrutinize the BID plan to be sure that City-owned parcels included in the BID actually benefit from being in the BID, and that by rubber-stamping the BID proposal, the City has abdicated this duty. If this argument succeeds it will shake the very foundations of BIDs in Los Angeles, which rely to various extents on the automatic yes votes provided by City-owned property. This automatic approval, by the way, was set up in 19981 via Council File 96-1972 which, in pertinent part, includes a directive to:
REQUIRE the City Clerk to sign off on Proposition 218 ballots and support petitions for property-based BIDs, unless the Council directs otherwise.