Sunday, April 26, 2020

VSA Files Brown Act Complaint against Councilman Bonin regarding Illegal Collusion with Colleagues and Bias

VSA attorney Jeff Lewis has filed a complaint under the Brown Act, California's public meeting law, and common law, charging Councilman Mike Bonin with violations of both laws.  

"In comments proposing use of federal stimulus funds to purchase distressed properties to convert them to homeless housing, Bonin revealed both bias and that he has already rounded up support of the city council to support this plan prior to public participation, a clear Brown Act violation," said Mark Ryavec, president of the VSA.

Mr. Lewis' letter is below.

Steve Houchin, Deputy City Attorney

Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney

200 N. Main St., Floor 7

Los Angeles, CA 90012

RE: Brown Act Violation

Dear Mr. Houchin, 

I am litigation and land use counsel for Venice Stakeholders Association (“VSA.”) As you may be aware, VSA, founded in 2009, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to civic improvement. The VSA supports slow growth, the limits of the Venice Local Coastal Specific Plan, neighborhood safety, better traffic circulation, increased parking for residents, neighborhood beautification projects, historic preservation, habitat restoration and protection of coastal waters. 

VSA has been monitoring press reports about Councilman Mike Bonin’s plan to use federal stimulus funds to buy distressed properties for homeless housing. VSA is very concerned with the City’s role in placing real properties in a distressed condition and then capitalizing on that circumstance. However, putting that policy decision aside for a moment, VSA raises two time-sensitive and important procedural issues to your attention. 

First and foremost, in one recent report*, Bonin told news reporter, Bill Melugin, that “the city council supports the proposal and is looking to fast track it….” This statement suggests that Bonin has been communicating, directly or indirectly, with other council members to build support for this policy decision without complying with the Brown Act. In the event of litigation to enforce the Brown Act, a deposition of Bill Melugin would confirm that conversation took place. VSA requests that your office investigate Bonin’s conduct and to remind him that the City remains subject to the Brown Act even during a pandemic. 

Second, Bonin’s statements to the press suggest that he has already determined how he would vote on the issue of using federal funds to purchase distressed properties. To the extent that Bonin is ever asked to vote on whether to acquire distressed properties, he has demonstrated sufficient bias as to require his recusal.**

VSA notes that when the City was proposing to amend Municipal Code section 85.02, Bonin was required to recuse himself due to his prior, vocal stance on the issue. VSA requests that the City Attorney’s office similarly advise Bonin of his obligation to recuse himself on this issue. 

VSA appreciates your attention to this important issue and we look forward to your prompt and written response.

Very truly yours, 

Jeffrey Lewis

*See 216 Sutter Bay Associates v. County of Sutter (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 860, 877 [holding that Brown Act prohibits serial meetings by majority of legislative body to engage in collective deliberation on public business]. 

**See “LA City councilman proposes using federal stimulus funds to buy distressed properties for homeless housing,” published April 23, 2020 and available at: April 24, and see, e.g., Woody’s Group, Inc. v. City of Newport Beach (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 1012, 1021–1022 [holding that council member whose conduct creates probability of actual bias must recuse from land use decision].