CPRA victories against Los Angeles-area Business Improvement Districts.
In three separate recent cases, the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered Business Improvement Districts to comply with the California Public Records Act, Cal. Gov Code § 6250, et. seq.
Business Improvement Districts – or “BIDs” – are non-profit corporations that contract with cities under state law to perform certain services. Under the CA Streets and Highways Code, cities collect assessments from property or business owners and transfer that money directly to the BIDs. BIDs like to tout their work decorating for the holidays, picking up trash, or promoting shopping areas. But BIDs also function as local lobbying forces to push the interests of property owners, and often maintain armed security personnel used to harass poor residents. For example, a UC Berkeley Law study titled “Homeless Exclusion Districts” found that BIDs use “policy advocacy and policing practices to exclude homeless people from public space.”
In another instance, a confederation of Los Angeles BIDs worked to defeat the efforts of Los Angeles Skid Row residents to form a neighborhood council, which would have increased poor residents’ access to City resources.
While BIDs are non-profit corporations, rather than public agencies, they are explicitly subject to the CPRA and the Brown Act under California Law. (CA Streets and Highways Code § 36612.)
In three recent cases, the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered BIDs to produce records under the CPRA. All three cases were brought by my office, along with co-counsel in some instances, on behalf of Adrian Riskin, a Los Angeles-area blogger and open records activist who publishes the blog MichaelKohlhaas.org covering the activities of Los Angeles BIDs and other city matters. The case against the Chinatown BID was also brought on behalf of Katherine McNenny, a community member active in the effort to help Los Angeles Skid Row residents form a neighborhood council.
Riskin v. Larchmont Village Property Owners Association
In Riskin v Larchmont Village Property Owners Association, the court found that the BID failed to provide meeting minutes, correspondence with the City, and other public records. Notably, the Judge ordered the BID to search the private emails of BID Board Members for emails related to BID business.
McNenny v. Los Angeles Chinatown Business Council
In McNenny v. Los Angeles Chinatown Business Council, the BID ignored CPRA requests altogether from two different requestors, thus refusing to provide a response or any records. The court found that the BID had to comply with the CPRA and ordered the BID to produce records, including records related to the Chinatown BID’s role in undermining the efforts of Skid Row residents to form a neighborhood council.
Riskin v. Downtown Los Angeles Property Owners Association
In Riskin v. Downtown Los Angeles Property Owners Association, the Fashion District BID refused to produce a number of records, including correspondence between the BID and a consultant it used to lobby the City. The court found that the BID improperly withheld records under the so-called “deliberative process privilege” (Cal. Gov. Code § 6255) and that it failed to conduct an adequate search for records. Notably, the Judge’s “deliberative process” analysis included a line-by-line reading of withheld emails, underscoring that agencies have a duty to redact exempt information while providing the remainder of information, and showing that agencies wrongfully claiming exemptions under Cal. Gov. Code § 6255 and the “deliberative process privilege” can expect judicial scrutiny on a line-by-line basis.
If you feel a Business Improvement District is unlawfully withholding records under the CPRA, or if a BID is refusing to respond to your CPRA request, please contact me.