SMS Holdings: The "Faith-Based," Anti-Labor Company Behind Oakland's Private Cops

Even as Oakland prepares to lay off 200 workers due to its shrinking budget and loss of Redevelopment Agency funds, the city will continue to pay $197,000 in property assessments to the Downtown Oakland Association, and Lake Merritt Uptown District Association, the two non-profits that manage the downtown business improvement districts. In turn, much of this money will be paid to Block By Block, a Louisville, Kentucky company that specializes in providing security for business improvement districts. Block By Block is a subsidiary of the Nashville, Tennessee headquartered SMS Holdings, a powerful, politically connected private corporation with a shady record of attacking unions and relentlessly hollowing out the pay and benefits of its employees.

SMS Holdings describes itself in company literature as a "God-centered, faith based" business. Its seven subsidiaries (Valor Security, Service Management Systems, PrimeFlight, FirstLine, Brantley Security, ServiceWear, and Block By Block) have attacked unions attempting to organize workers in airports, shopping malls, and business districts across the country. On the web sites of various anti-union consulting firms, SMS Holdings is listed as a satisfied customer, employing these modern-day Pinkertons to derail unionization drives and negotiations. Executives of SMS Holdings, however, are by no means critics of big government. Over the last decade they have cultivated strong —some might even say corrupting— ties to members of Congress in order to win lucrative, multi-million dollar security contracts at airports and other federal facilities where its holds lucrative contracts.

SMS Holdings' presence in Oakland, and the money it receives from the city's share of business improvement district assessments, raises important questions about the continuing privatization of city services, and subsidies Oakland is paying to security firms and real estate corporations, even while schools are closed and city services are axed.

Oakland's Costly BID Assessments

Oakland's contributions of public revenues to the DOA and LMUDA districts are significant commitments for the cash strapped city. This year Oakland taxpayers must provide the DOA with $109,904 because of assessments on five city-owned properties in the district's boundaries, including City Hall. Unlike most other taxes, public properties are not exempt from BID assessments.

According to the DOA's own assessment records the City of Oakland is by far the largest single contributor to the district's budget, a fact that somewhat undermines claims made by business leaders who say the advantage of the BIDs is that they provide special benefits through the assessment of private property owners.

The city is paying the Lake Merritt Uptown District Association another $52,068 this year. According to the LMUDA's records, the City of Oakland is the sixth largest funder of the district. What's more is that these assessments will increase five percent next year, and each year after.

When the City Council approved of creating the DOA and LMUDA in 2008, staff members of the Community Economic Development Agency noted that fiscal commitments over the 10-year lifespan of each district would be $1.58 million and $566,000 respectively. CEDA staff characterized these obligations of public dollars as "strategic and productive investment of public funds." Alternatively, one could just as easily frame the city's payments as a multi-million dollar subsidy for the large real estate companies who reap the benefits from these special assessments in the form of extra security, cleaning, landscaping services, public relations, lobbying, and special events that they pay far less for because of the city's contributions.

Adding further costs to Oakland's financing of these special districts is the elimination of the Redevelopment Agency. Losing these state-provided funds, the City of Oakland must now pay out of the General Pool Fund for the assessments of the four former Redevelopment Agency owned properties in the DOA. These properties were assessed at $30,438 in 2008. That means that this year the City will likely have to pay about $35,235, and this sum will increase 5% each year after.

Block By Block's contract with the business districts is one of the largest single expenses. According to the DOA and LMUDA's joint 2009-2010 Annual Report to the City Council, "Block By Block receives approximately $60,000 per month from both organizations...." That's roughly $720,000 per year of Oakland tax dollars being paid to SMS Holdings. This includes both assessments on private property that fund the DOA and LMUDA, and the city's $197,000 or so in funding for the district's.

The SMS Holdings Way

SMS Holdings was founded in 1988 as a janitorial services company in Nashville, Tennessee. It quickly grew into a multi-million dollar corporation through large service contracts cleaning office buildings. In the late 2000s SMS Holdings went on a growth spurt, buying up security companies. Among these was Block By Block, the Louisville, Kentucky firm that controls a large share of the market for "security ambassadors" and cleaning services provided to business improvement districts. Block By Block contracts with forty-two BIDs across the United States, including Oakland and Berkeley. By 2008 SMS Holdings posted revenues upwards of $300 million. The company's vice president predicted then that it would surpass a half-billion by 2011.

Image from "The SMS Holdings Way," company pamphlet.
A document entitled "The SMS Holdings Way," available on the company's web site, reveals the religious beliefs of its owners and executives: "from our company’s beginning, our business philosophy has been God-centered and faith-based. While we will always show tolerance and acceptance of the personal beliefs of others, we recognize that there is a higher order that provides a basis for all of our core values."

It's unclear just how deeply the Christian faith and beliefs of SMS Holdings' owners and executives shapes company policy, but in another area the results are much clearer. Block By Block and other SMS subsidiaries maintain low-wage, anti-union workplaces, and have been very aggressive over the past decade in lobbying federal legislators to privatize thousands of government jobs. Block By Block in particular has been criticized in several cities for privatizing services and opposing unionization drives among its employees. SMS Holdings' other subsidiaries have worse records. Paying minimum wages-levels (and in some workplaces even less), SMS Holdings has been able to skim enormous profit margins off of government outsourced jobs.

Block by Block employees are paid much less than municipal employees, especially unionized city workers. In Minneapolis the company's "Clean and Safety Ambassadors" were initially paid $11.50 an hour. Guards Valor Security Services are paid about $10.25 an hour, according to job listings in different states, while workers with PrimeFlight Services rarely make more than state minimum wages (including tips), and in some cases less. When Block By Block's workers successfully unionized with SEIU Local 26 in Minneapolis their wages were boosted to $13.22, levels still far below the living wages municipal public works employees are paid there and elsewhere.

In Pittsburgh Block By Block's security ambassador employees faced a different situation. When they attempted to unionize through the SEIULocal 32BJ, Block By Block managers opposed the simpler card check process, pressing instead for a secret ballot election, a union formation method that gives employers more tools to scuttle pro-union outcomes. Block By Block management barred employees from wearing union buttons or talking to the media, and according to reports in the Pittsburgh Gazette even conducted surveillance and called the police when some of their ambassadors passed out pro-union literature in front of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's offices.

In a Nashville Business Journal article last year the chief development officer of SMS Holdings, Jim Burnett, told a reporter that for cities, "there’s a need to conserve, and so the private sector is an option that’s available to them." The article continued: "Burnett believes business opportunities through privatization are 'imminent.' SMS and other local companies — including Nashville prison operator Corrections Corp. of America and inmate health care provider America Service Group of Brentwood — acknowledge the heightened opportunities while saying they find interest in their services regardless of which party is in power." (More about Burnett below.)

In Oakland, where Democrats and "progressives" have a virtual monopoly on government, the city's chronic budget crunch has created favorable conditions for the formation of the publicly subsidized, privately managed business improvement districts that have hired Block By Block to patrol the downtown. Burnett's company is doing quite well here.

A Tangled Web of Political Connections

Block By Block appears to be a relatively small, but growing, segment of SMS Holdings. The company's most profitable ventures in recent years instead have been private security and aviation service workers whose ranks were greatly expanded with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and then privatized en masse by the Bush administration. These SMS Holdings companies reveal not only the extensive political connections the company has cultivated to obtain contracts and shape federal policies, they also provide a window into its extremely anti-union practices.
SMS Holdings owns two private security corporations, Valor and Brantley. Brantley specializes in guarding corporate and government campuses, schools, and residential communities. Valor's business is mostly with large shopping malls and hotels. 

Valor's own employees have attempted to unionize before in several locations, but the company's managers have strongly opposed these efforts. A search of job listing posted by Valor on different web sites reveals universally low pay, rarely greater than $11 an hour. Anti-union shopping mall owners such as General Growth Properties —which has been embroiled in a battle with the SEIU for years over unionization attempts among its janitorial staff— is a major employer of Valor guards. Valor Security guards have been criticized for harassing other mall workers who have attempted to organize. One alleged incident in Heyward, California Valor guards were said to have assaulted janitors during a union drive in 2007.

Michael Rosado, an anti-union consultant, mentions SMS Holdings on his web site as a customer. Under the heading "Union Avoidance Campaign Victories/Withdrawals," Rosado includes SMS Holdings, explaining that his firm helped SMS avoid unionization attempts by employees seeking to join the UFCW at two Kentucky shopping malls. Rosado's web site doesn't explain anything further about this episode, but strangely his company uses the same image of the interior of a shopping mall that appears on Valor Security's website describing its "shopping center marketplace" services. In an October, 2011 blog post on his company web site, Rosado warns corporate managers "don't be fooled." He claims, "unions are out in full force, taking advantage of and positioning themselves at the OWS [Occupy Wall Street] rallies."

PTI Labor Research's web site, including testimonial from SMS Holdings.
Another anti-union consulting company's web site mentions SMS Holdings as a customer. PTI Labor Research features Bill Stejskal, vice president of human relations for SMS, among its client testimonials. “To defeat your opposition," Stejskal is quoted as saying, "it is best to know your opposition. PTI has assisted us by providing hard facts about our opponent labor unions that the unions would have preferred to have kept hidden from our employees. The great difficulty the unions had trying to explain away their unflattering pasts and their questionable current practices made a great impact on our employees."

SMS Holdings' aviation services companies by far have the worst labor records. Primeflight specializes in providing service workers to airports and airlines. At the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston where Primeflight workers drive passengers through terminals, company managers have pressured less-than-minimum-wage employees to over-report tips in order to qualify SMS Holdings for lucrative state subsidies, and to justify extremely low wages. The Houston Chronicle reported on November 1, 2011 that Primeflight's participation in the state subsidization program have been suspended, and that the company is being investigated.

The most profitable anti-union activities of SMS Holdings have been directed at workers employed by its FirstLine Transportation Security subsidiary. Firstline contracts with the Department of Homeland Security to provide airport security screeners at eight locations including Roswell, New Mexico and Kansas City, Missouri.

In 2003 the federal Department of Transportation determined that TSA screeners in airports could not legally form unions, ostensibly because of national security concerns. The ruling was highly profitable for FirstLine which was already contracting in several US airports, and working to vastly expand its ranks of screeners.

That ruling did not hold for long. Firstline employees at the Kansas City International Airport began to organize, seeking representation through the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America. SHS Holdings attacked the union and its employees by appealing an election through the National Labor Relations Board. The company was backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, among other conservative, anti-labor organizations.

SMS Holdings' power to combat the unionization of its workforce was greatly enhanced by the political ties the company's executives had cultivated since the early 2000s. According to Federal Elections Commission data, executives of SMS Holdings contributed over $100,000 to the campaigns of congressional representatives since 2003. Much of this money was funneled through the FirstLine Transportation Security PAC.

This flow of campaign cash was focused largely on a few legislators whose powerful appointments on several congressional committees gave them oversight powers over TSA contracts sought by SMS Holdings. Among those who benefited from SMS Holdings contributions were House members John Mica (R-FL) and Dan Lungren (R-CA).

Rep. Mica is the current Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. Lungren holds a seat on the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security. Both positions allow them to shape legislation impacting contracts held by SMS Holdings.

In the Senate John Thune, Jim DeMint, members of the Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee have been recipients of Firstline PAC money as well as contributions directly from SMS Holdings' executives.

Tight political connections that have allowed SMS Holdings to fight unions and obtain lucrative government contracts don't stop there. In 2003 the company hired Jim Burnett (quoted above on privatization as a business opportunity) to be its vice president of business development. Burnett previously was chief of staff to Van Hilleary, a US House member representing suburbs of Nashville.

When Rep. Hilleary quit his seat in 2004 he moved to Washington, D.C., working as a consultant at the powerful SNR Denton lobbying firm. Among his clients was SMS Holdings. In 2006 Van Hilleary ran for Senate. Financial disclosures filed then revealed he had lobbied extensively for SMS Holdings with his former congressional colleagues. Among the largest funders of his senatorial campaign were SMS Holdings executives.

These political connections continue to work for FirstLine and SMS Holdings. As recently as November of 2011 Rep. John Mica was arguing still for privatizing all TSA screening jobs.

...And Oakland is paying these people for private security guards.


Whose Streets?

Part 2., Big Business' Occupation of Downtown Oakland

In our first installment in this series we gave an overview of the emergence and role of business improvement districts in Oakland, CA and beyond. We described how they allow real estate corporations to circumvent tax-revolt era laws that have starved many de-industrialized, majority-minority cities, in order to fund projects that are aimed at gentrifying neighborhoods to increase rents. We introduced two of Oakland's BIDs, the Downtown Oakland Association, and the Lake Merritt/Uptown District Association (DOA and LMUDA), and revealed their efforts to eliminate Occupy Oakland's encampment. In this piece we extend that analysis with more background on the political agendas of the DOA and LMUDA.

Since early 2009 a different kind of "occupation" in downtown Oakland has been reshaping public space and transforming the underlying relationship between government and the people. It's not a protest. There are no tents, banners, rallies or marches. Instead this occupation has taken hold through subtle but profound changes in state and local laws. The leaders of this occupation are a small group of major real estate companies. Their ultimate goals stand in stark contrast to the economic reforms and  greater democracy the Occupy Oakland protesters say they are seeking.

Oakland's two largest business improvement districts, the Downtown Oakland Association (DOA), and Lake Merritt Uptown DistrictAssociation (LMUDA) have been praised over the last three years by politicians and the media for spurring a "renaissance" in one of California's most economically depressed cities. Both organizations have mostly avoided criticism, until very recently when they pressured Mayor Jean Quan and the Oakland Police Department to wipe out the Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza. Their stance against Occupy Oakland led many observers to question why both special districts were so adamant about removing the encampment, even if it required violent police raids.

What the DOA and LMUDA's own records show, however, is that the forceful crackdown against Occupy Oakland they encouraged wasn't a one time position. In lock-step (both districts are governed by virtually the same board members, and managed by the same San-Diego-based consulting company) the DOA and LMUDA have waged a concerted campaign since their creation in 2009 to radically transform downtown Oakland. This transformation, according to the groups' own records, is explicitly intended to remove youth of color, the homeless, political activists, and virtually anyone else who does not conform to a desired upper-income consumer demographic. Policing, both private and public, has been central to this campaign.

Militarizing Public Space

The DOA and LMUDA's attempts to eradicate targeted populations from downtown Oakland are most evident in proposals to redesign or eliminate particular spaces where youth of color, the homeless, and even taxi cab drivers congregate. Spaces that the BIDs have been particularly focused on transforming or eradicating include the sidewalk surrounding Burger King on 13th and Broadway, the taxi stands on 13th, ledges around the BART station entrances, Snow Park, and Franklin and Latham Squares, and Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza.

In "Uptown" —the favored name used by corporate developers to identify the blocks bounded by Harrison Street, Grand Avenue, San Pablo Avenue, and 17th Street— the LMUDA is attempting to erase public spaces where "undesirable" persons congregate. Part of this strategy involves placing planters on the sides and backs of the 17th and 19th Street BART station entrances in order to eliminate places to sit. The LMUDA also claims that the homeless are "targeting Uptown," and minutes from the district's April 21, 2009 board meeting reveal that "homeless encampments in district will require coordinated effort with maintenance team," to remove them. Occupy Oakland wasn't the first encampment to be targeted for removal by Oakland's BIDs.

From OPD pamphlet.
In order to drive poor people out of the LMUDA district boundaries the organization has distributed OPD anti-panhandling flyers to building owners and apartment managers. They in turn have distributed these among the new upper-income residents of the luxury apartments and condos concentrated Uptown. Furthermore the head of LMUDA's private security, Ted Tarver of Block By Block, has pressured the Oakland City Attorney, OPD, and the City Council to prioritize the enforcement of laws against sidewalk sales in an effort to eliminate street vendors and panhandlers, according minutes of the district's "Sidewalk Order and Beautification Ordinance" committee from April 20, 2011.

Before taking over Block By Block's security operations for the DOA and LMUDA, Tarver was a 16-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department. Block By Block specializes in contracting with business improvement districts for security and other services. It is a subsidiary of SMS Holdings, a Nashville headquartered firm that owns six similar companies. SMS Holdings describes itself as a "God-centered and faith-based" business in company literature, and is known for the anti-union policies of its management.

At Burger King on 13th and Broadway, the Downtown Oakland Association has proposed several measures to drive away persons characterized by the DOA as "pan handlers" and "loiterers." Seeking to eliminate poor people from this corner, the DOA, working through Ted Tarver, has convened meetings with the owner of the Burger King franchise, and the owners of the buildings immediately adjacent to the corner, in efforts to coordinate increased security patrols. The DOA's board meeting notes from March, 2009 boast that "[Block By Block] Ambassadors have greatly reduced the pan handling, loitering."

Taking further steps the DOA has researched the costs and jurisdictional logistics of installing planters on the ledges that wrap around the BART station entrance in front of the Burger King because "people use it as a bench," and it "encourages hanging out." The DOA defines "hanging out," and "using benches" as bad behaviors that must be eradicated. In one of their "District Identity and Streetscape Improvements" committee meetings, the DOA's board and staff discussed installing bulky landscaped planters as a means to "take up space and move people away from the corner."

Furthermore the DOA has allocated thousands of dollars toward eventual installation of a Muzak system —piped music and sound effects— to drive away "undesirable people from the area," as minutes from an April, 2009 board meeting reveal. Toward this effort the DOA has pressured business owners on the block, including the owner of the Burger King franchise, T-Mobil, Fred Karren (the owner of the building), and Mo Mashoon, owner of the building across 13th Street, to each contribute $2,000 yearly toward this audio deterrent.

Across 13th Street from the Burger King the DOA has advocated for the removal of taxi cab spots in the diagonal street parking because the corner "already has a loitering issue," and they want to remove the cabbies from the sidewalks where they take breaks and wait on fares. Oakland's cabbies, it should be noted, are primarily working class men of color. The DOA claims they are hanging out too much, and that their presence deters shoppers and corporate employees from frequenting the area.

Claiming Space

The 13th and Broadway site has become a zone of racial and class surveillance and policing of "undesirables" because it is the very core of the Downtown Oakland Association district. The DOA has chosen this intersection to install light pole banners with its logo, much like any occupier plants a flag claiming space.

SKS Investments' planned office tower.
Immediately across Broadway is the Clorox Company's office tower. Clorox is one of the district's largest corporate property owners with a controlling interest in the DOA's assessments and votes. Besides having its headquarters and own employees there, Clorox is now renting out much of its own building —seven floors, or 136,000 square feet to be exact— making the company one of Oakland's biggest landlords. Just around the corner on 12th and Broadway SKS Investments, a San Francisco headquartered real estate developer that was a major player in the gentrification of SOMA in decades past, is planning to build a 20-story office building. SKS Investments has a representative on the DOA board alongside Clorox and other major real estate owners in downtown Oakland like CIM Group, CAC, CBRE, Metrovation, California Capital Investment Group and a handful of others.

These concentrated corporate real estate owners are able to dominate the boards of the DOA and LMUDA and determine the policies of both districts because the law governing formation and management of business improvement districts (the Property and Business Improvement District Law of1994, CA Streets and Highways Code 36600 et seq.) apportions votes based on the percentage of the  assessments each owner provides to the district's total budget. He who has the gold, makes the rules. Only property owners may vote on nominees for the district's board. Furthermore, it only takes a simple majority of votes held by the owners of assessed property to form and steer a district.

Phil "Shotgun" Tagami in his Rotunda Building.
According to data compiled from the DOA's initial assessment survey, a mere nine property owners together control more than 50% of the assessed property values in the district. Key among these are CBRE, the global real estate firm owned by Senator Diane Feinstein's husband Richard Blum; Phil Tagami, the owner of several downtown Oakland properties including the Rotunda Building which he infamously patrolled with a shotgun during Occupy Oakland's general strike; the CIM Group, a major LA-based real estate investor; and the previously mentioned SKS Investments and Clorox.

The LMUDA district, located north and east of the DOA's boundaries, is also controlled by an elite group of corporate real estate owners. According to assessment records obtained from the district, a mere twelve property owners numerically account for more than 50% of assessed property. The inner circle of the LMUDA overlaps very much with the DOA. The CIM Group and CBRE have representatives on the board. Other controlling interests include the Swig Company, a San Francisco real estate developer that owns the Kaiser Center and has holdings across California, in Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.; Kaiser Permanente; Brandywine Realty Trust, one of the nation's largest REITs, based in Pennsylvania; Metrovation, another San Francisco real estate developer with national holdings; and Signature Properties, an Oakland-based developer.

Coordinating, Transforming, and Intensifying Police Force

Just prior to forming the DOA and LMUDA in 2008, the soon to be executive director of both organizations, Marco Li Mandri, wrote to the above set of corporate real estate owners in Oakland explaining how the district would allow them to obtain not only special assessment funded services, including security, but also how it would allow them to lobby for greater general city resources, including policing; "Experience has shown that once the assessment district management corporation is formed, the private property owners in the district can normally leverage a greater amount of general benefit City services than before the establishment of the district.This is due to the fact that those property owners are now organized...."

Since their formation Oakland's two downtown BIDs have attempted to coordinate and focus city police force on the downtown, in addition to beefing up security with their own private guards, called "ambassadors."

From very early on both BIDs have organized meetings with OPD leadership and officers in an attempt to seamlessly integrate the district's security guards with OPD. OPD officers, however, have been resistant to cooperating with Block By Block's ambassadors. This resistance is partly born of OPD's internal culture which disparages private security guards, and partly from the fact that OPD leaders and the police union leadership are intent on setting their own priorities.

Even so, OPD commanders have shown much deference to the BIDs and their agenda for the downtown. OPD Captain Anthony Toribio told the DOA board in December 2009 that the department supports joint patrols of OPD officers and Block By Block security, and that these private cops could act as a "force multiplier." In another meeting Captain Toribio told the LMUDA board he wanted the district's private security to "share intelligence" with OPD.

Captain Toribio suggested to the DOA that its board and staff should lobby the Alameda County District Attorney's office to press for stricter enforcement and sentencing of those targeted by Block By Block, and cited by OPD for various misdemeanors in the downtown, so as to drive these persons away permanently. The DOA board has also strategized with Captain Toribio as to how the district could most effectively pressure the City Council to increase the number of cops patrolling downtown Oakland. Similarly in a March, 2009 board meeting LMUDA members discussed petitioning the city to pay for more police to patrol "Uptown" so as to create a greater sense of security during events like the Art Murmur.

Upon hiring Block By Block as its security contractor, both the LMUDA and DOA have sought ways to fully integrate their private police force into the OPD. Early on Block By Block ambassadors were allowed to attend OPD daily lineups. According to notes from a December, 2009 LMUDA board meeting, OPD officers receive "weekly security updates" drafted by Block By Block security chief Ted Tarver.

At the same meeting Tarver, Captain Toribio, and the LMUDA board discussed ways to discipline OPD officers who continued to resist pressures to work with the LMUDA's hired security force: "Officers that do not like them and are resistant to work with them will be held accountable," read the minutes from the board meeting. Captain Toribio recommended that BBB security staff "record the car or badge number" of cops who refuse to cooperate with them, and "he will follow up with [the officers]."

Another means by which the DOA and LMUDA are "force multiplying" police and private security downtown is via technology. Block By Block initially sought permission for its security ambassadors to carry OPD radios. Due to police resistance, and because this could be a violation of the law, it was decided instead that OPD officers would carry Nextel phone/radios used by Block By Block staff. The next stage of this kind of "intelligence sharing" will involve hand-held devices that allow Block By Block ambassadors to track individuals and activity in the downtown, in real time, sharing it with OPD, and storing data for later analysis.

This system is being developed by Eponic, a Portland, Oregon-based company. Eponic's web site explains that they "develop mobile software and management solutions specifically for Business Improvement Districts, Urban Developers, Cleaning and Security Providers." Block By Block is exploring this technology for use in Oakland's downtown BIDs, according to board meeting minutes.

Former Oakland Police Cheif Anthony Batts is listed on Eponic's web site as a supporter. While heading up the Long Beach Police Department, Batts even endorsed the company's tracking software and devices. In a letter to the International Downtown Association, an industry lobby for BIDs, Batt's explained how this technology facilitates policing of the homeless, youth of color and other populations universally targeted for removal by BIDs.

"Guides are able to track on their PDAs trends in graffiti, illegal dumping, abandoned shopping carts, and quality of life issues such as panhandling and outreach to the homeless community. For instance, the Long Beach Police Department is responsible for enforcing curfew in a Downtown park where many homeless individuals tend to congregate," explained Batts. "The Guides are able to note the number of individuals in the park after curfew in their PDAs and send the data to us," whereupon the LBPD would cite, arrest, and otherwise remove these homeless persons.

As a result of Chief Batts' endorsement, Eponic and the Downtown Long Beach Association (a BID just like Oakland's DOA and LMUDA) won the International Downtown Association's 2007 Merit Award, beating out similar police-state/private security technologies developed in Cape Town, South Africa, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

While Chief of the Oakland Police, Batts was very supportive of the downtown BIDs.

The Oscar Grant Rebellion

Few specific examples better illustrate the political agenda of the DOA and LMUDA than their reactions to the protests following Oscar Grant's slaying by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle on New Years Day 2009.

Swig Co.'s Kaiser Center.
Less than two weeks after frustrated Oaklanders marched on the downtown and faced off against the police, the LMUDA held a board meeting in the Swig Company's lakeside Kaiser Center tower. LMUDA directors, including representatives of Swig Co., Portfolio Property, Kaiser Permanente, CAC Beacon, Signature Properties, and CIM Group held a lengthy strategy session about how to defuse the nascent movement against police brutality, specifically because the situation was inconveniencing property owners and undermining the district's public relations campaign to re-brand downtown Oakland.

According to minutes from the LMUDA's January 20th board meeting, the district's staff were tasked with looking into why 14th and Broadway was a site of protest, what the city's process for issuing march permits was, and how the LMUDA and DOA could perhaps block issuance of these permits. Both BIDs tasked their staff with lobbying City Hall to move any future protests outside of the district, but especially away from 14th and Broadway and Frank Ogawa Plaza, which the DOA considers its domain.

Furthermore, the BIDs discussed ways to support removal of the impending trial of Mehserle from Alameda County, also in an effort to diffuse future protests. Mehserle's lawyer eventually would ask for a move which would be granted.

The BIDs also discussed creating a media strategy to undermine the protesters. LMUDA and DOA board members talked of the "need to counteract this negative press by putting forward the story of the CBDs," another name for the districts. Among some of its own corporate members the LMUDA and DOA were able to raise a $100,000 fund to compensate property owners whose buildings were damaged during the January 7, 2009 rebellion.

The LMUDA and DOA board meetings notes communicate nothing to the effect that these groups contemplated assisting Oscar Grant's family and the community, or that the LMUDA and DOA considered playing a positive role in addressing police-community relations during this tense period.

Instead the BIDs intensified their securitization of the downtown. For the DOA and LMUDA Block By Block set up a series of meetings in which Ted Tarver coordinated with the OPD, BART Police, the Alameda County Sheriff, and other police forces, in preparation to crack down against the protests.

In the aftermath of the trial's verdict, in July of 2010, an Oakland City employee who represented the city on both BID boards asked staff of the LMUDA and DOA and its contractor Block By Block for help "tracking down surveillance footage in an effort to apprehend and prosecute individuals involved in vandalism," according to meeting notes.

In the run up to the November, 2010 sentencing of Johannes Mehserle, Block By Block advocated for the creation of "arrest teams" among police forces, and the strategic placement of officers on each block to deter property damage. Block By Block chief Ted Tarver worked to create a "operation's [sic] manual to address any potential fallout from the upcoming Mehserle sentencing." According to DOA board meeting minutes from October 6, 2010, Tarver and the BIDs convened meetings of "all security managers in the districts, local law enforcement (OPD, BART Police, Alameda County Sherriff's Dept. [sic], the District Attorney's Office, the City Attorney's Office and CEDA to develop a game plan."

When the LMUDA and DOA learned that the sentencing date fell on Friday, November 5, the organizations went so far as to attempt to lobby the California Attorney General and District Attorney of Los Angeles, who they hoped would in turn put pressure the presiding judge to move the sentencing date, because it would conflict with a "First Friday" event, one of the art and culture productions put on by the districts to whip up tourism in Oakland.

According to DOA board meeting minutes from August 18, 2010 "Ted [Tarver of BBB] emphasized that a lot of the damage [from the protest after the July verdict] was cause by so-called Anarchists and not Oscar Grant protestors.  Marco [Li Mandri of New City America] expressed concern over the scheduled date for the Mehserle sentencing.  The date is a Friday and coincides with First Friday.  Efforts are being made to reach out to the District Attorney and Attorney General to try to talk to the judge and request a new date."

After the sentencing DOA and LMUDA staff congratulated themselves on not receiving any reports of damaged properties, and diffusing negative impacts on the districts due to the protests which had by then become subject to enormous police repression.