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Court rules property owner group must open meetings

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Freedom of Information         Apr 2, 2001    

Court rules property owner group must open meetings

  • A property owners association formed by the city qualifies as a public agency and must comply with the openness requirements for meetings, an appeals court ruled.

A nonprofit corporation formed by a city to allocate property taxes must hold open meetings, a California appellate court in Los Angeles ruled on March 8.

In its ruling, the court found that the Hollywood Entertainment Property Owners Association violated the state’s open meetings laws by not holding its meetings in public and failing to post an agenda 72 hours in advance. The appellate court determined that the nonprofit organization was a “legislative body” subject to the terms of the state’s open meetings laws. A 1996 city ordinance authorized the association to govern taxpayer-funded programs within business districts.

California state law allows cities to establish business improvement districts in order to assess taxes for maintenance and development. In 1996, the city of Los Angeles established a district in Hollywood, adding a second district in 1998. The Property Owners Association monitors the taxes in both districts. Aaron Epstein, a property owner in the second district, accused the group of distributing tax funds without allowing the public to attend meetings of the group in the business districts and sued two years ago.

The appellate court’s decision overturned a Los Angeles trial court’s ruling that the Property Owners Association was not required to hold open meetings. That court had reasoned that because the association existed prior to the formation of the second district, it was not “created” to have legislative authority over the second district’s taxes. Rather, the trial court held that the association was merely a corporation with which the city conducted business.

However, the appellate court disagreed, finding that the city clearly designated the association to act as a legislative body. The open meetings law states that private entities that exercise governmental authority otherwise controlled by the city must hold open meetings.

(Epstein v. Hollywood Entertainment District II Business Improvement District; Counsel: Dennis A. Winston, Barbara S. Blinderman, Los Angeles) ML

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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