California

Sheriff’s Department demands halt to Measure S mailers that mimic eviction notices

Mailer sent out by backers of Measure S
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has demanded that Measure S supporters stop sending out mailers resembling eviction notices.
(Los Angeles City Ethics Commission)

Lawyers representing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sent a letter Friday demanding that the backers of Measure S stop sending out mailers that mimic eviction notices.

The campaign mailers, which landed in mailboxes this week, are emblazoned with the phrase “EVICTION NOTICE” under the words “County of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.” Below, in much smaller print, the mailer mentions the Measure S campaign committee and its chief financial backer, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. 

The other side of the mailer urges Angelenos to vote for Measure S, which would impose new limits on real estate development, saying apartments have been destroyed because “rich developers have had their way with City Hall.”

In their “cease and desist” letter, county attorneys said the campaign mailers are misleading and improperly use the Sheriff’s Department’s name, violating state law. They demanded that the Measure S campaign send a notice to anyone who received the mailer telling them the Sheriff’s Department had not authorized the use of its name or the message.

Jill Stewart, campaign director for Yes on S, did not say whether her group intends to comply.

“We appreciate the county of Los Angeles giving the Yes on S campaign some last-minute critical media attention, on our key issue: that developers of luxury towers evict poor and working-class Angelenos every day,” she said in an email.

The Sheriff’s Department later sent its own email blast saying the mailers had been “fabricated to look like official LASD documents.”

“This message is to assure residents that the political mailer ... is counterfeit and could mislead members of the public to believe they are subject to legal action by the Sheriff’s Department,” the department said.

The mailers have alarmed some tenant advocates. Larry Gross, who heads the tenant rights group Coalition for Economic Survival, said frightened renters have called his group thinking they were facing eviction.

“It’s so irresponsible and outrageous for them to put out something like that,” said Gross, whose group opposes Measure S.

Elena Popp, executive director of the Eviction Defense Network, defended the mailer, calling it a “forceful” way to highlight the issue of displacement. Building luxury housing “causes mass evictions and raises rents in surrounding neighborhoods,” said Popp, who supports Measure S and appears on the mailer.

Stewart also said she thought there were “strings being pulled,” since both the sheriff and the group opposing Measure S have relied on the same political consulting firm. Mike Shimpock, a consultant with the campaign opposing Measure S, called the claim “absolutely ridiculous.”

Opponents sent their own mailers that included the words “Eviction Notice” but did not use the name of the Sheriff’s Department. Shimpock said they “didn’t look like anything official.”

Measure S, which is on the March 7 ballot, would impose a moratorium on building projects that require changes in zoning and other city rules. It would prohibit the city from amending the General Plan, a document that governs development citywide, for individual real estate projects. 

Backers say those restrictions will stop out-of-scale development that pushes out longtime residents. Opponents counter that the measure will eliminate jobs and drive up rents.

While the two sides debated the contents of the mailer, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin launched his own attack on Measure S, calling on the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to provide “full disclosure” on the lawsuits that it is supporting.

The Times reported Friday that Michael Weinstein, the nonprofit foundation’s top executive, has refused to say whether his group is paying for legal challenges against development projects in Westwood and South Los Angeles. Weinstein also would not say how many land-use lawsuits his group is financing.

“Nonprofits owe those whom they serve, and those in the city whom they serve, a duty of being transparent,” Galperin said at a No on S campaign event. “And the fact that they’re not wanting to do so is very disturbing. And it’s also very disturbing that millions of dollars that could be spent on housing, and on services, are instead being squandered on this ballot measure.”

The foundation has spent more than $4.9 million on the Measure S campaign so far. Weinstein said Friday that the money spent on the campaign is “a tiny percentage” of his group’s overall budget.

Weinstein has long argued that displacement of low-income renters is an issue that affects people with HIV. Asked about Galperin’s demand for transparency, Weinstein said that legal spending by his group is not public information.

“My question is, how come [Galperin] hasn’t spoken to me?” he said. “Obviously, he’s just doing it to make a public splash. He hasn’t requested [the information] of me or of AHF. He’s doing it as part of a campaign rally.”

Measure S backers took their fight to City Hall, testifying during a council meeting about the companies and real estate executives who have been fighting the measure. Among the biggest opponents is developer Crescent Heights, which put at least $1.4 million into the opposition campaign. The foundation is suing to stop Crescent Heights from building two 30-story towers next to its 21st-floor headquarters.

Supporters of Measure S said $150,000 came from a company affiliated with Frank McCourt, a former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, while $95,000 came from Century City Realty. Stewart, the campaign director, drew a contrast between such donors and the foundation, which has treated hundreds of thousands of patients.

“Our billion-dollar nonprofit representing us is the good guy,” she told the council. “Your billionaire developers and organizations are the bad guys.”

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesemily

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidZahniser