The Measure R campaign launched a new offensive this week against city officials and ballot opponents, alleging that City Attorney Christi Hogin unrightfully shared information with known opponents and asked for their input while drafting the Measure R ballot question.
The campaign went on to demand an independent investigation by the city into Hogin’s conduct and whether city funds have been improperly utilized.
But Hogin has denied any wrongdoing, calling Monday’s release of emails a likely “campaign tactic” being used to paint her actions in a politicized fashion. She added that she is obligated to have a neutral stance, has spent an equal amount of time interacting with Measure R proponents and answers any question sent to her.
The emails in question were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to the city by Measure R organizers.
In a June 27 email exchange with Richard Lichtenstein, a public relations consultant who works for Marathon Communications and represents Malibu developer Steve Soboroff, Hogin shares a working draft of the ballot question that will appear on the November ballot.
Her email was in response to a draft put forward by Lichtenstein.
In her response, she told Lichtenstein, “Your grammar sucks,” and that she was “not sure” his draft “fairly embraces the effect of the [ordinance].” Finally, she shared her “working draft.”
In a followup, Lichtenstein said he “never was good at English!” and wished she would switch the order in which two phrases appeared.
The last thread in the conversation shows Hogin saying she believed her order of appearance “seemed fair” and then asked, “Any thoughts on substance?”
No such question was ever asked of Measure R proponents, according to campaign organizers, and Hogin acknowledged she never shared the ballot question with backers during the drafting process.
Another email shows Hogin responding to former Malibu Mayor Sharon Barovsky, who was looking for a section of the city’s Local Coastal Plan that discusses floor-area ratios in commercial developments.
“You are going to hate this answer” was Hogin’s subject line, which she said was in reference to her lengthy email, while Measure R proponents interpreted it as a suggestion of her knowing the answer would “disappoint” Barovsky, a known opponent of the measure.
Felix Schein, a Measure R campaign manager, said her interactions crossed the line.
“Ms. Hogin’s emails show a pattern of cooperation and collusion with the opponents of Measure R that is beyond questionable,” he said. “Responding to questions from one campaign while actively engaging with and soliciting feedback from the opponents of Measure R on supposedly unbiased and impartial campaign materials is absolutely dishonest.”
When reached by telephone Monday, Hogin said the emails released detail her answering questions, nothing else. She also said she has known Lichtenstein for many years and knew he represented opposition to the measure.
“There’s this implication somehow that I’ve been coaching or involved with the opposition to the measure. It’s just not true. I get asked questions and answer them,” Hogin said. In asking for Lichtenstein for his “thoughts on substance,” she said it was something she commonly does when drafting such items.
“What’s left out are the long and substantive exchanges we’ve had with [Preserve Malibu leader] Jae-Flora Katz and with [local activist] Lynn Norton, who are two proponents of the measure who are actively engaged, who are interested in the details and challenging some of the interpretations,” Hogin added during Monday’s City Council meeting.
Schein agreed Hogin had interacted heavily with both sides, but in different manners.
“There’s no question that Ms. Hogin has communicated with both campaigns and she’s potentially done so in equal amount or equal volume, but the type of communication is vastly different,” he said. “In our case she is responding to basic campaign queries, but for the opponents she has actively engaged them and asked them to weigh in on her work product. I think those are two radically different things.”
As of Monday, it did not appear the city would heed to the campaign’s request for an investigation.
“It seems like they’ve already conducted their own investigation,” Hogin said.
City Council members also came to Hogin’s defense.
“I thought she explained herself perfectly adequately, and anyone who asks her a question, she’ll answer,” Councilman Lou La Monte said.