BID Faced with Legal Challenge
The Pacific Palisades Business Improvement District has been hit with legal action from Adrian Riskin, who said the agency failed to follow the Brown Act.
In an October 20 letter to the BID, Riskin, an associate professor of mathematics at Whittier College, alleges that the board violated section 54952.2 (b) (1) of the Brown Act by discussing whether it should adopt an official opinion behind closed doors.
Riskin, an activist, sees BIDs as way to fund special projects, including private security. He was quoted in an April 2018 Los Angeles Magazine story “Why Doesn’t Skid Row Have a Neighborhood Council? Activists Sound Off in a New Exhibit.”
“They [BIDS] have a huge hand in homeless policy,” Riskin said. “The city grants them incredible access and influence over neighborhood policy.”
The Palisades BID brouhaha started when the Palisades News ran a May 23 story headlined “Palisades Chamber Halts Trash Pickup,” written by Sue Pascoe and Bill Bruns.
BID board member (and Caruso VP) Rick Lemmo wrote in a May 23 email to fellow board members Elliot Zorensky, Susan Payne, Nicole Howard and Richard Blumenberg, “Please find another ‘fake news’ account by the somewhat defunct Palisades News. I would appreciate it if the BID would in fact correct the record in our upcoming minutes and two write a correction to Bill Bruns and the News to moire [sic] accurately relate the facts and correct their story.
“I simply stated that the Chamber, particularly now that the BID is involved with cleaning in the district, is focusing on the business of the Chamber and not fundraising for services not directly related to the business of our members,” Lemmo wrote.
Zorensky sent a May 24 email to board members Susan Carroll, Leland Ford, Lynn Borland, David Peterson, Manuel Pardo, Staci Mitchell and Shaun Malek.
“Everyone we have a problem,” Zorensky wrote in an email.” “We must write a letter to correct the facts to Sue Pascoe.”
The News never received a letter. Maybe someone checked the story and found it had been co-written by Bruns and Pascoe, who were both in attendance at the meeting.
On Riskin’s website that details other actions against BIDs in Los Angeles (visit: Palisadesbid.com), Riskin writes that the Palisades BID had violated the Brown Act as early as January 2016 when Palisades BID executive director Laurie Sale “emailed her board with a motion to approve a contract and one by one they all voted yes by reply-all, which is a violation of the Brown Act.”
In April 2016, Riskin alleges that the board voted over the phone about lending support to the Caruso Project, and that in 2016, Pascoe had told Laurie Sale that they had to post the agenda where the public could see it.
Riskin explains that he did not send out a letter in 2016 because in order to start the legal process a demand letter needs to be sent within nine months of the violation.
“I made my first CPRA request of the PPBID in January 2017,” he writes, but “they didn’t hand over many if any records until July 2018, so that the Brown Act enforcement deadlines for all those 2016 violations were past, before I even learned of them. However, in that steaming heap of records that Elliot Zorensky handed over to me in July  there was a crucial exchange of emails between Board members.”
That means that the exchanges in May 2018 were within the nine-month deadline.
In a February 20, 2001 Office of the Attorney General State of California opinion, “A majority of the board members of a local public agency may not e-mail each other to develop a collective concurrence as to action to be taken by the board without violating the Ralph M. Brown Act even if the emails are also sent to the secretary and chairperson of the agency, the emails are posted on the agency’s Internet website and a printed version of each email is reported at the next public meeting of the board.”
Section 54950 of the Brown Act states: “In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
Basically, agencies governed by the Brown Act cannot hold private meetings, send out emails to other members about business before them or make decisions behind closed doors. (The Pacific Palisades Community Council is not governed by the Brown Act, unlike Neighborhood Councils which are sanctioned by the City of L.A.)
The Palisades BID went into closed session at its November 7 meeting and afterwards reported that a special meeting would be held at 8:30 a.m. on November 18 to vote on a response to Riskin.
The BID has 30 days to respond to the complaint.