According to her Wikipedia entry, Diana Plotkin, pictured on the lefthand side in the photo at right, is a neighborhood activist in LA's mid-city and Fairfax District where she serves as president of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association (BWHA). Yesterday, the Park Labrea News /Beverly Press announced that a civil suit was filed against Plotkin and the BWHA, also naming former BWHA treasurer Lenore Sachs as a defendant. The suit claims that Plotkin and her group accepted bribes and business donations in exchange for favorable recommendations to businesses seeking permits, variances and licenses from the city. Additionally, the suit states that the BWHA's directors refused "reasonable" settlements from businesses, and instead pursued legal action to obtain attorney's fees and other gifts.
Several sources (who must remain anonymous) have told Eater of Plotkin's methods over the last three years. She and her lawyers find businesses that are breaking antiquated laws (which are still on the city's books, but generally have no effect on a business, its neighbors or its customers) and create lawsuits against the small business owners, forcing them to shut down if they do not comply. Are they acting as some sort of neighborhood vigilante group, simply looking out for the law?
One must wonder why a retired neighborhood resident, with strong ties to the LA City Council, would spend her time and neighborhood association's money to fight small business in favor of old laws.
Some of the laws in question date back to the early 1900s, and as the city has not yet updated them, council members almost always remit these laws, forgiving the requirement as it applies to a specific case, or issuing a variance as appropriate.
A simplified example: Every 1,000 square feet of restaurant space must have 10 vacant parking spots within a 20 foot radius for its exclusive use at any time. As time has passed, so have shoppers' and drivers' habits and parking real estate. Meanwhile, the laws remain as is on the books. Anyone who has ever driven through a Trader Joe's parking lot on a Saturday can attest to the fact that a parking space requirement based solely on a business' square footage is unrealistic. The city knows this, and therefore enforces parking requirements on a case by case basis. It's only when an outside individual or group steps in to uphold the law (usually as a guise for some sort of kick back), that things get messy for businesses and the city.
In order to comply with these old laws and the lawsuits enforcing them, restaurants must sometimes pay significant fees to valet companies, local parking structures or contractors. When combined with related legal bills, these fees can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes hit a business right when it's about to open — when money is tight.
Diana Plotkin and the BWHA have required small mom-and-pop shops to install automatic entrance doors, insisting that expected store traffic exceeded that which a normal swinging door could accommodate. Plotkin has sent her lawyer to businesses on their opening day to measure the heights of cabinets and counters, once shutting a bakery down for having a counter that was two inches too high. She's fought against allowing tables and chairs inside of retail and restaurant spaces (arguing that allowing patrons to linger means their parking spaces won't be available for those who just want to do some quick shopping), and she's fought businesses who wanted to seat patrons outside, suggesting that those tables and chairs will disrupt foot traffic on the sidewalk. Though Plotkin and her team deny all allegations of misconduct or misappropriation of funds, rumors of bribery and extortion have been circulating around the BWHA for over a decade, with papers such as the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Business Journal conducting investigative reports.*
If the terrorized business owners want Plotkin to back down, she will — for a significant fee. For the hundreds of restaurateurs, business owners, developers and leasing agents familiar with Plotkin, including Rick Caruso (The Grove), moving forward with their business plans meant paying a price. Either they paid excessive legal fees in order to combat the attacks or wrote checks to the BWHA to silence the suits. One source said that when Caruso was pushing forward with plans for The Grove, Plotkin's resistance only stopped after she was mysteriously gifted with a luxury condo in
Florida Palm Desert.
When the Park Labrea News / Beverly Press reached Plotkin for comment, she referred "to the legal action as "stupid," and said the Beverly Press "better be careful" when writing about the association." Fighting words.
*Said articles, including "The Grove: Latest Example of Caruso's Main Street Feel" published in the Los Angeles Business Journal by Deborah Belgum on March 25, 2002; "Neighbors Collect, Developers Find Peace at a Price" published in the Los Angeles Times by Dean Murphy on February 26, 1989 are unavailable online but can be viewed at the LA Public Library.
UPDATE: Eater was unable to obtain permission to reprint sources cited herein. However, a related article, "Westside Los Angeles Eateries Cat-Fight With Local Homes Association Over Precious Neighborhood Parking Spaces," by Simone Wilson, published in 2010, is still live on the LA Weekly website, and is worth noting.