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Councilmember Koretz Seemingly Engages in Illegal Lobbying Scheme with Former Employee

In yet another apparent ethics violation, councilmember and controller candidate Koretz assisted former employee in potentially illegal lobbying.

Image: Knock LA

In 2017, a former senior employee of Councilmember Paul Koretz, Shawn Bayliss, lobbied Koretz for favors while seemingly prohibited from doing so by city ethics laws. Koretz potentially violated Section 706 of the LA City Charter when he aided and abetted Bayliss in these apparently illegal lobbying activities. 

Bayliss worked for Koretz’s office from 2011 to 2017, rising to the position of director of Planning & Land Use before his departure. According to Bayliss’ Form 700 — a statement of economic interests that city employees have to file within 30 days of leaving their position — Bayliss left Koretz’s office on May 12, 2017. On the same day, the Bel Air Association (BAA) announced Bayliss as its new executive director. Bayliss reached out to Koretz’s private email in June 2017 from his BAA email, notifying him of a meeting about actions the city would take to demolish the residence of famed luxury developer Mohamed Hadid.

In Bayliss’ letter, he specifically instructed Koretz to ask City Attorney Mike Feuer about putting the money levied from any punishment on Hadid’s project back directly into the BAA, rather than a community fund proposed by the city. The BAA has received criticism from other homeowner groups for trying to redirect funds meant for public improvement into its own coffers. Bayliss provided a pro and con list of both funds, and said the BAA would provide the “City Attorney & Court requested accounting and transparency,” and that the BAA knows how to “addresses [sic] issues of the community.” The BAA is a private organization, not beholden to public input. 

The saga surrounding the Hadid home at 901 Strada Vecchia Road began in 2011, when Hadid acquired the property and started obtaining permits. After disputes with neighbors, who said the property was being constructed in dangerous violation of building codes, a judge eventually ordered its demolition in 2019. Hadid pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges, telling the LA Times he just wanted to “move on.”

Hadid notes to Knock LA that he won a jury trial against his neighbors concerning the property (the jury also found Hadid liable for multi-millions in damages for the Horacek and Bedrosian plaintiffs), and calls the BAA “fee collectors” who just decide who to exclude from their neighborhood. He says that the BAA wanted to extort him for $3.5 million, and that the Beverly Hills Courier, the BAA, and Koretz’s office are the “Bel Air Mafia.” 

Bayliss gave Koretz a contact in the city attorney’s office, Tina Hess, and told Koretz to contact her “asking for stiff punishment” in the form of declaring Hadid’s house a nuisance and moving to quickly demolish the property. In 2019, LA City prosecutors pushed to have the building destroyed, and then an LA County Superior Court judge ordered the property to be completely torn down. 

Bayliss then attached a letter already written and directed to Frank Bush — the former general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety — advising Koretz to sign and send the letter using Koretz’s letterhead to the city attorney’s office. Bayliss added that it would make Koretz and City Attorney Mike Feuer “continue to be the heroes.” 

The letter written by Bayliss was addressed from Koretz. Bayliss implored Koretz that “there will be a ton of press on this.” Koretz sent out the identical letter with his signature attached on June 23, 2017. The BAA then published the signed letter on its website.

The City Ethics Commission’s “Revolving Door” laws are clear. Certain previously employed council aides at higher levels cannot receive compensation “for attempting to influence the actions of City agencies on behalf of other people (except government entities) for one year after leaving City service.” According to Transparent California, Bayliss would qualify under the ban as a Council Aide VI. 

Furthermore, City Ethics has a permanent ban on officials trying to influence City agencies in which they “personally and substantially” participated during city service. In 2015, Bayliss — while employed at Koretz’s office — gave the Chicago Tribune a quote calling Hadid a “scofflaw” and added: “Koretz sees no value in allowing a continuation of [Hadid’s] shenanigans.”

In response to a request for comment on this article, Bayliss first claimed that Knock LA did not understand the Los Angeles’ municipal lobbying laws and accused the publication of working directly with the Kenneth Mejia campaign. Bayliss then asked Knock LA to send public records used for this reporting so he could review them. After Knock LA provided the documents, Bayliss stopped responding. 

For his part, Councilmember Koretz seems to be in violation of Section 706 of the LA City Charter, which prohibits the “aiding and abetting” of others in an ethics violation. Koretz previously employed Bayliss, and city officials are required to undergo ethics training. Under law, Koretz would be guilty of a misdemeanor for being in violation. 

The office of Councilmember Paul Koretz did not respond to requests for comment on this article. 

As late as March 2017, Bayliss attended Neighborhood Council meetings on behalf of the Council District 5 office. The BAA announced in May 2017 that Bayliss had accepted a role as their executive director, noting that he was a key staff member of Councilmember Koretz who worked on various issues such as mansionization, the crackdown on party houses, and preservation of hillsides and open spaces.

According to Form 990 that the BAA filed with the IRS, Bayliss was paid $72,308 in 2017 in his role as director. The following year, he was paid $72,166, and Bayliss reported receiving $85,000 from other activities. In 2019, Bayliss received $153,841 from the organization. He did not register as a lobbyist with the city officially until 2021. 

However, in 2020, Bayliss donated $1,500 to Koretz’s city controller campaign, which is also prohibited under city laws under Section 470 of the City Charter, if Bayliss was working as a lobbyist. 

Lobbying is defined as direct communication with a city department in order to influence a decision, being compensated for lobbying work, and working 30 hours in a quarter on said work. While it’s difficult to ascertain exactly how many hours Bayliss worked in 2020 — making enforcement of these prohibitions murky — records show that Bayliss joined a public hearing for the Department of City Planning in 2020.  

Bayliss also joined a Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council Meeting in November 2020 as an appellant on a land use appeal submitted by the BAA concerning the 10701 Bellagio property. He was a member-at-large at the NC and had to recuse himself from voting on his item. Since he recused himself, he was unable to present to the NC directly. The same land use appeal was discussed by the Bel Air Beverly Crest NC as far back as June 2020. The appeal by the BAA dates back to May 2019. 

According to West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission supporting documents, Bayliss was working on the planning around the property in an official capacity in Koretz’s office in 2015, making this another potential violation of “Revolving Door” laws. 

The appeal was denied by the Department of Building and Safety on June 23, 2020, and Bayliss’ donation to Koretz’s controller campaign came five days later, on June 28, 2020. It’s tough to prove how many hours went into a work as an appellant, but it’s clear that Bayliss was being compensated for work in 2020, which included contacting city officials. 

Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Bob Blumenfield then introduced a motion in November 2021 — three days after the zoning commission denied Bayliss’ appeal on the matter —  with the denial of the land use appeal, saying that the Department of Building and Safety “erred or abused its discretion.” In the council file, Bayliss — who registered as a lobbyist in 2021 — is still listed as the appellant for the BAA.

There are no records of the BAA registering to lobby on the land use appeal until November 2021. However, two law firms — Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP and Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac LLP — registered as doing lobbying work on the appeal on behalf of the property owner. With no other firms listed on behalf of the BAA, and Bayliss listed as the appellant, it’s unclear who else would be working on the matter. 

While ethics commission enforcement on unregistered lobbying isn’t incredibly common, in 2021, the Ethics Commission enforced penalties for violating the municipal lobbying ordinance on Athena Novak, a land use consultant who failed to register as a lobbyist after doing more than 30 hours of paid lobbying work. Novak was also penalized for contributing to the campaign of former Councilmember John Lee. 

Parke Skelton, the spokesman for Koretz’s city controller campaign, first responded to a request for comment on the phone, saying “I don’t think I’m prepared to talk to Knock,” and hung up. Skelton later added via text, “Let’s see, you are criticizing Koretz for accepting a donation from someone who was NOT a registered lobbyist? That’s creative…Not to knock your journalism skills, but this is a touch puerile.”

Donors to city candidates must declare under penalty of perjury that they are not lobbyists. If Bayliss perjured himself while claiming to not be a lobbyist but also received compensation from the BAA for lobbying work, that would be an additional violation. Koretz’s acceptance of the donation would in itself also be a violation. If Koretz was aware of Bayliss’ perjury — his campaign accepted the donation — that is possibly once again aiding and abetting Bayliss in his illegal activities. 

Councilmember Koretz has been implicated in a litany of potential ethics violations. He attended a fundraiser held by a sitting Department of Water & Power commissioner in 2022 for his city controller campaign. Skelton, his campaign consultant, told the LA Times that they were returning $8,000 from donors at the event. Koretz then used city resources to email campaign literature, for which he received at least one ethics complaint. More recently, Koretz used his time on City Council to attack his opponent in the controller race, Kenneth Mejia, which is potentially a misuse of city resources. 

According to public records of communications in Koretz’s office, an LA Times reporter reached out to Koretz’s office in 2022 regarding a story involving the BAA.  In the exchange, one of Koretz’s aides said: “Odd, Shawn has a direct line to our office. I’ll call him.” In another letter, Koretz’s aide added, “I work with Shawn and the Bel Air association on a regular basis.” 

According to the City Ethics Commission, Bayliss has lobbied the City Council in 2022, as well as the Los Angeles Fire Department, City Planning, the LAPD, the Board of Public Works, and the Department of Water & Power. 

LA City Council has been mired in corruption scandals over the past 10 years. Indicted former LA City Councilmember José Huizar was charged with 34 counts of political corruption, some of which stemmed from his alleged activities with lobbyist Morris Goldman, who funneled money to Huizar’s political campaign in exchange for favors.

More recently, leaders at Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils have argued for stricter municipal lobbying laws, in order to curb the influence of lobbyists on the neighborhood council system. Koretz is running as city controller to ostensibly monitor city finance and waste. Perhaps his time would be better spent re-reading city ethics laws.