Who in city hall thought it was a good idea for its “Burbank Hospitality Association” T-BID group to give a five-figure “donation” to help pass the now treasured Measure B?
Ah, the power of expedience. Whatever it takes to win, right? Just like deliberately setting up the citizens vote to occur during a consolidated election that was clearly not indicated to be so on the controlling ordinance. The whole idea behind the original Measure B was to make a new airport terminal a city issue on a city ballot.
But so what. Right?
This time though these same ambitious boosters are gonna get nailed. The Burbank Viewpoints website got a hold of the minutes from the BHA meeting that detail how this obviously illegal contribution occurred:
“Sunder Ramani, attended the [Burbank Hospitality Association] meeting to represent the ‘Committee for Yes on Measure B,’ a community initiative to educate the public on the importance of voting yes on Measure B during the November 8th election ballot. Mr. Ramani stated that the purpose of the initiative was to reach the 24,000 absentee voters of Burbank and educate them on the facts of Measure B. Mr. Ramani requested a financial contribution of $50,000 from the BHA which would help create and distribute mailers for this initiative. Since Mr. Ramani attended the meeting and spoke during Public Comment, the item was not on the agenda.”
Ramani lives in La Canada, not Burbank, and this isn’t the first time he’s tried to interfere with Burbank issues. He’s a proud pro-development booster and local real estate investor, which naturally makes him much more important to the City of Burbank than most of the rest of us.
Obviously. But this time it backfired.
Council candidate Greg Sousa dropped us a note this morning that discusses the compelling legal issues here. It seems there’s been a big complaint filed with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission:
Actually, we researched this question before taking the issue to the Council, and there’s little doubt as to how the FPPC will view TBID funds.
In 2001 the California Court of Appeal heard a case in which the issue was whether the Brown Act applied to the board meetings of a property owners association (POA), which had been created in conjunction with a business improvement district (BID), and to which the city had delegated administrative authority over BID funds.
The court held the Act did in fact govern such meetings. In arriving at its decision, the court observed that while the city delegated administrative functions to the POA, the city retained ultimate control over the administration of the BID funds so as to safeguard the public interest. Because the city retains such control, the POA was in fact an agency of the city, and was thus bound by the same laws and regulations as the public entity that is delegating its authority. Epstein v. Hollywood Entm’t Dist. II Bus. Improvement Dist., 87 Cal. App. 4th 862, 873 (2001).
The situation here is quite similar: The BHA is a municipal corporation created by the City Council, for the sole purpose of administering the tax revenues the City collects from local hotels as part of a TBID (as authorized by the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994, Cal. Sts. & High. Code § 36600 et seq.). According to BHA’s corporate filings with the California Secretary of State, the association’s address is 275 E. Olive Avenue (i.e., City Hall), and its agent for service of process, Susie Avetisyan, is a city employee. Thus, from a legal standpoint, the Burbank Hospitality Association is an agency of the City of Burbank, and is therefore bound by the same laws that bind the City of Burbank.
Because the City of Burbank could not legally contribute to the Yes on B campaign, neither could the Burbank Hospitality Association, and I would be somewhat surprised if the FPPC did not reach a similar conclusion.
Sousa’s an interesting character (check out his Facebook page to see his range of Favorites). Apparently he’s one of the people behind this complaint, and he also has legal training. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this complaint prevail, and the FPPC rule against the City of Burbank on their sleazy expenditure? If so they can get Talamantes to help pay the fine — it might make him learn something.
Then someone can file a lawsuit about the obvious Brown Act violation that this shadowy “Hospitality” outfit also committed on that same night, according to the records that B/V also obtained. Even if the expenditure is legal, you can’t just vote on it quickly and unannounced.