News

Los Angeles City Council Settles Battle Between Controller, Homeless Nonprofit Urban Alchemy

Los Angeles City Council Settles Battle Between Controller, Homeless Nonprofit Urban Alchemy

City Hall in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 27, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

City News Service

City News Service

6/6/2024

Updated: 6/6/2024

0

LOS ANGELES—The city of Los Angeles has resolved a legal battle between the City Controller’s Office and a nonprofit homeless service provider, after questions were raised about the controller’s power to subpoena non-financial information from the organization.
On Wednesday, the City Council OK'd plans to settle the dispute with Urban Alchemy, which challenged the legality of a controller’s office subpoena seeking non-financial information. Urban Alchemy, in a move the nonprofit called a “gesture of good-faith collaboration,” agreed to provide the subpoenaed documents to the City Attorney’s Office Wednesday night.
Kirkpatrick Tyler, chief of community and government affairs at Urban Alchemy, told City News Service that following Wednesday’s actions, the nonprofit would also be dropping the lawsuit it filed against the city over the matter.
Earlier this year, City Controller Kenneth Mejia began an investigation into Urban Alchemy, a city-vendor contracted with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to run climate stations—where Skid Row residents can receive services and relief from harsh winter and summer weather. The investigation was prompted after an Urban Alchemy employee sprayed water at a homeless person on a cold winter night, an act that was caught on video and shared on social media.
In response to that incident, which occurred Jan. 18, Urban Alchemy issued a statement on X saying the “action being taken here is unacceptable, and completely antithetical to our training and values. The practitioner involved in this incident no longer works at Urban Alchemy.”
Mr. Mejia had said that the investigation was aimed at ensuring that services funded by the city are within the contractual assurances made by Urban Alchemy, and the values of the people of Los Angeles.
The controller claimed that the service provider refused on several occasions to provide information requested by his office. According to representatives for Urban Alchemy, the organization did provide the information initially requested, but when Mr. Mejia’s office asked for more documents that were unrelated to the water-spraying incident, the group balked.
In a move to get those documents, Mr. Mejia’s office issued a subpoena, which he said was an authority—to inspect city-paid services from vendors—provided to the controller under the City Charter
Urban Alchemy then sued Mr. Mejia, challenging his ability to issue subpoenas for non-financial information.
“The controller seeks to expand the scope of his authority under the charter beyond all reasonable bounds in a politically motivated attempt to avoid an ongoing disagreement between the controller’s office and other elected officials and to harass a private entity merely by virtue of the entity’s independent subcontractor relationship with another contractor of the city of Los Angeles, who maintains a contract with the mayor of Los Angeles,” Eduardo Santacana, a lawyer representing Urban Alchemy, wrote in the complaint.
Mr. Mejia subsequently asked the City Council to permit his office to retain outside legal services, because he believed the City Attorney’s Office would not adequately defend the subpoena in court.
On June 3, a representative for City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto’s office told City News Service via email that “consistent with our office policy, we don’t comment on pending litigation.”
According to court documents submitted by Ms. Feldstein Soto’s office, the city “believes and asserts that the subpoena is a lawful exercise of the city’s rights to obtain the documents at issue.” However, the court papers suggested that city lawyers agreed with Urban Alchemy, saying Mr. Mejia inappropriately cited a section of the City Charter to provide a basis of the subpoena.
Urban Alchemy said Wednesday it is committed to transparency with its city partners, but contended Mr. Mejia was overstepping his authority.
“The investigation Controller Mejia launched into our organization over a viral video a few months ago was cynical and politically motivated, and his office’s handling of it amounted to an abuse of his power,” the nonprofit wrote Wednesday afternoon on X.
“Nonprofit organizations working to serve Angelenos don’t deserve to be targeted by powerful elected officials based on personal biases. That’s why we contested his subpoena in court,” the group added. “While some have characterized this as an attempt to evade oversight, in fact, we took this action [to] ensure more oversight and accountability for everyone involved.”
The group stated that it agreed to turn over the requested information Wednesday because “we have nothing to hide, and as a gesture of good-faith collaboration.”
Mr. Mejia also took to X following resolution of the dispute Wednesday, writing, “The public pressure has gotten Urban Alchemy, the city vendor we’re seeking more transparency from, to publicly state that they will be producing the documents we requested!”
Copy
facebooktwitterlinkedintelegram
City News Service

City News Service

Author

Breaking news gathering service based in West Sacramento, California, USA Gathering and distributing breaking news content via video, photographic and audio

Author's Selected Articles
California Insider
Sign up here for our email newsletter!
©2024 California Insider All Rights Reserved. California Insider is a part of Epoch Media Group.