By John Davis
Many murky deals have come and gone in the Ballona Wetlands, and most of the time the bad players enriched themselves, got away, or are still getting rich at the expense of the public and the environment.
The people involved today are Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and a person named Shelly Luce. Both engaged in an obscure agreement that was signed by Knabe and countersigned by Luce in 2005. It purported to create a Joint Powers Agreement between the County and a State Agency, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission (SMBRC). The result of this agreement is named the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Authority (SMBRA).
At the time of signing, Luce was a member of the public claiming to be the Executive Director of the State Agency (SMBRC). After the agreement was signed, she claimed she was also executive director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Authority (SMBRA). She has since resigned from her alleged posts.
According to the joint powers agreement, the Los Angles County Board of Supervisors had to approve and authorize the annual budgets of the SMBRA.
The problem is, the Supervisors only authorized budgets for fiscal years 2004, 2006, and 2011. Eight out of the ten required budget approvals are absent, according to County records, leaving expenditures from those years unauthorized as required by the agreement. Yet the money was still spent by SMBRA staff.
To determine if misuse of public funds has occurred, the State Attorney General starts with the principle that public funds must be used for “an authorized public purpose.” A public interest benefits the public “rather than a private individuals or a private purpose.”
It appears that public funds were not used for an authorized public purpose, begging the question of misuse.
State and federal money provided to the SMBRA have been disbursed to the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation (SMBRF), a private business. Luce was the executive director of this business for years..
The Supervisors approved the 2006 budget. But it did not authorize any funds for the SMBRF. Yet, out of the $184,000 spent, SMBRF took away $60,002.
The authorized 2011 outlay totaled over $48,000. This time SMBRF got it all. The Supervisors included a line that said federal money would be distributed through the SMBRF. Other non-profits were excluded from this opportunity.
The unauthorized budgets show that state and federal funds were inducted by SMBRA and spent without authorization.
Records from 2007 reveal that SMBRA disbursed a total of $289,000. SMBRF raked in a cool $152,000.
Disbursements from 2012 indicate that of the $36,523 that was available to the SMBRA, SMBRF walked off with it all.
The 2012 County Auditor reports prove that $228,333 of SMBRA money went straight to SMBRF accounts.
In 2013 the SMBRA hemorrhaged more public money to SMBRF. This time the total was $271,032.
By March 2014 SMBRA disbursed more cash, and $66,890 went to SMBRF. If the pattern holds, more will go into the non-profit black hole this year.
The Authority loses formal control of the money after it leaves SMBRA and is deposited into SMBRF accounts. SMRBF treats this money as revenue of the business when it reports according to IRS records.
The total public funds disbursed to the SMBRF without authorization by the Supervisors is $815,780.
As an end result of the Supervisor’s inaction, the public funds so badly needed for public purposes are being used by the SMBRA for unauthorized, private purposes.
BALLONA SIDEBAR: Scientific instruments deployed near the Playa Vista School and residential development have detected dangerous explosive gas. Sensitive instruments picked up massive amounts of methane, beyond the background (ambient) levels at the corner of Jefferson and Lincoln Blvd. The story begins by reporting on other dangerous leaks on Wilshire Blvd. Frank Snepp, a Peabody Award winning Los Angeles television news reporter, covers the reference to Playa Vista at the end of the report. We hope he covers Playa Vista next (http://bit.ly/1u3DjZL).