The Robert Group (TRG) is a Los Feliz based company that provides expertise in community outreach, strategic communications and public relations. Despite them not including conducting traffic studies, the Inglewood city council awarded this company a $300,000 no bid contract, under the guise of their providing a special event traffic plan and a neighborhood traffic plan. Although the city’s Municipal Code allows for exceptions to the competitive bidding process, it doesn’t appear that TRG has met those requirements. Another huge component to this studies completion is the passage of legislation directly tied to the new NBA and NFL projects.
TRG was highly instrumental in getting the city of Inglewood to approve the NFL stadium project by recruiting city employees to pose as both Chargers and Rams fans at many highly publicized meetings and the annual State of the City put on by the Inglewood Airport Area Chamber of Commerce.
The November 2016 contract calls for TRG, in conjunction with two traffic planners, to create traffic plans for the city. The ruse was almost discovered when residents got irate with the parking of cars at the Inglewood Park Cemetary. By IMC definition, TRG wouldn’t qualify to receive a no bid contract.
Section 2-198.1. Exceptions to Competitive Bidding Requirement.
Professional Services. Nothing shall be construed to preclude the city from awarding a written contract for professional type services, as defined by case or statutory law, without complying with the provisions of this Article. The term “professional services” means services entailing a high degree of specialized technical or mental skill. Such services include attorneys, physicians, architects, engineers, appraisers, accountants, collection agency, detective agency, draftsman, mortuary, hospitals, escrow agency, travel agency, insurance broker, employment agency, advertising agency, real estate, chiropractics and optometry.
2UrbanGirls contacted Christine Robert, the owner of TRG, on March 8th, to inquire if she was being paid to provide the study or outreach to get the projects passed for the NBA and NFL.
TRG: Hi Melissa – So here’s the deal, this effort is not a political campaign and therefore would not require a campaign ID. The purpose of our effort is to support and recognize the many positive accomplishment and attributes of the community. It is to be a vehicle for Inglewood resident and business people to tell their own positive story of life in Inglewood thereby promoting civic pride. This is in response to what is often seen or described by the press which are negative story’s and connotations about the City. Inglewood is a wonderful community to raise a family, open a business and just to live and we think that story has to be told. Hope this is helpful. Continued best.
2UG: Is the city paying for the mailers or is it part of your contract? I’ve called several folks in the mailer who explicitly state they were approached by a member of your staff for inclusion, free of charge. Which means either TRG has a charity arm or this came out of the $300k you got for that study.
TRG: You have just accused me of something illegal.
On the same date, the page was quickly updated to reflect that Murphy’s Bowl LLC paid for the campaign. Both the mailers and website bear the same address where TRG is located: 111 N. La Brea Ave. #409.
2UrbanGirls contacted Jay Wierenga, Fair Political Practices Commission Communications Director, for further clarification of the legality of the mailers and website she is producing and whether it was a form of lobbying.
“This would be lobbying and subject to any local lobbying rules or ordinances,” said Wierenga.
The city’s municipal code does not regulate lobbying activities.
Mayor Butts has also been lobbying city employees, via his city email, to have them use their social media accounts to counter the negative narrative surrounding the proposed project. Employees have shared the email with 2UrbanGirls fearing they would be retaliated against if they didn’t go along. Current and former employees share similar sentiments. “The mayor has had several key employees fired for going against him. Former assistant city manager Mike Falkow, former IPD Cpt. Martin Sissac, former SEIU 721 employee president Joe Watson and many others have all been let go for various frivolous reasons. What should we do,” said the employees who refused to be identified for fear of being fired.
The employees went further. “Mayor Butts has spies all over the Eye on Inglewood Facebook group and he spends all day on there too. Members of the executive team, the HR assistant director and other city personnel report back if we comment publicly against the project.”
According to the city of Inglewood Civil Rules and Regulations this use of city email could be considered “unauthorized use of city property”.
A huge piece of this arena/stadium transportation puzzle hangs on the passage of legislation centering around creating a new train.
Mayor Butts consistently references the good old days when Hollywood Park was a racetrack and the city had three professional teams playing at the Forum and that parking wasn’t an issue. Back then the parking problem was not an issue for the events at the Forum because they were held during the hours the racetrack was closed and their parking lot was used for overflow parking. With it being gone, the city doesn’t have the capacity to house the number of cars expected to fill these new venues. Thus the need for an additional transportation option. Metro.
Based on plans released to the public, the proposed area seems visually awkward to accommodate the ambitious plans of Murphy’s Bowl LLC.
Senate Bill 789, introduced by Sen. Steve Bradford, will be reintroduced this session after being defeated by lobbyists on behalf of Madison Square Garden. The bill attempted to attach the project to the Olympics, which drew a public response by the City of Los Angeles. They emphatically stated they did not need the Metro project planned in Inglewood for transportation issues surrounding the games.
After the bill’s introduction, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city hadn’t asked for the CEQA exemption for the Olympics projects and didn’t need it. Organizers behind the city’s bid requested that Bradford remove the Olympics from his bill entirely.
CA Legislators also didn’t like that eminent domain would be used in order to complete the project. From the Los Angeles Times:
For the proposed Clippers arena in Inglewood, the measure goes further than many other bills lawmakers have passed recently to facilitate the construction of NFL stadiums and NBA arenas. SB 789 exempts from CEQA entirely a new transit link between a light-rail stop and the proposed arena, which would also connect to the under-construction NFL stadium for the Rams and the Chargers.
It also expands the arena developers’ ability to take private property through eminent domain — except nearby residences — to ease construction. And the bill aims to speed court-decision deadlines for any lawsuits the arena might face, as well as halt a judge’s ability to block the project, even if the judge found an environmental review didn’t adequately study traffic problems or had other flaws.
It would appear that TRG can’t produce any sort of traffic plan unless SB 789 passes. In the meantime TRG provides PR for Ballmer, Kroenke and now the LA Youth Philharmonic.
Has the city bitten off more than it can chew?