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Cinefamily / Fairfax Hires Lobbyist to Woo City, Community

According to documents filed with the City of Los Angeles, Cinefamily / Fairfax’s Dan Harkham has brought a veteran lobbyist onto the team.  Apex LA’s Margaret Taylor is expected to help the Harkhams secure a conditional use permit to allow beer and wine sales at the rebranded Fairfax Cinema. 

CinefamilyAccountability (CA) has previously covered the Harkhams’ efforts at alcohol sales, a process requiring separate discretionary approvals from the state and the city.  Former Cinefamily staff raised questions when the Harkham brothers applied to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for a license; that application remains open and pending

In early March 2019, with the state ABC license still on hold, the Harkhams turned to the L.A. Department of Planning.  To issue a permit, the city must affirmatively find that “the proposed use will not adversely affect the welfare of the pertinent community,” and “will not detrimentally affect nearby residential zones or uses.”  According to a City Planning Assistant, this process generally takes at least nine months, and will include a public hearing.  At the hearing, members of the public may give testimony regarding any potential adverse effects of alcohol sales.


The Revolving Door: Margaret Taylor’s 20 Years of Lobbying

Apex LA’s website describes the firm “a land use consulting company…specializ[ing] in Planning Approvals from Cities and Counties in the Southern California region,” and calls Taylor an “owner in the industry since 1994.”  The Los Angeles Ethics Commission identifies Apex as a lobbying firm and Taylor as a registered lobbyist.  Since 2013 only, and in the City of L.A. only, she has reported lobbying income in excess of $299,900.  Besides the Harkhams, other Apex clients have included Chevron, McDonald’s, Arco, AT&T Wireless, Vons, and—more locally—Golden Road Brewery (which opposed raising L.A.’s minimum wage) and Northgate Gonzalez Market (criticized for spurring gentrification).

Unfortunately, few Southern California cities have the same robust disclosure rules as Los Angeles, so we lack a comprehensive picture of Apex’s history.  Fortunately, CA has time on its hands—and a familiarity with the California Public Records Act.  An initial review of the available public record yields some information:

  • No corporate entity exists called “Apex LA.”  This is a fictitious business name registered with L.A. County; the company is actually called Brigada, Inc., and was incorporated in 2012.  Taylor’s LinkedIn profile, however, dates Apex LA to 2002.

  • After “launch[ing] out on her own” in the 1990s, Taylor used a series of business identities prior to Brigada, including Margaret Taylor and Associates, Bally/Taylor Associates, Brian and Margaret Taylor, Inc., and MNM.  The reason for the changes in corporate identity is not clear, nor is the relation of these entities to Apex LA.

  • Taylor served in government as a member of the Burbank Planning Board from 2002 to 2006.  According to a local press account, during this time the City of Burbank rebuffed two attempts to regulate lobbyists.  At least one other Harkham-related lobbyist (in a different Southern California city) has been accused of improper contact with government staff.  (CA will update this story with additional details.)

  • L.A. lobbyist Apex LA has no relation to California lobbyist Apex Group, according to a representative from Apex Group reached by telephone recently.  The Sacramento firm has been operating since 1987.

  • Taylor’s partner in Apex LA is her husband, Mihail (Mike) Obogeanu.  In a previous business entity, her then-partner was also her then-husband.  According to Entrepreneur magazine, “many investors consider it high risk” when business partners are married.  The IRS issues special guidance in such cases to ensure tax law is properly followed.

  • Court records indicate that in 2001, Obogeanu filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  He is now Brigada’s Chief Financial Officer.  Cinefamily itself endured financial mismanagement under Treasurer Dan Harkham and accountant Erin Hensley; at Fairfax, Harkham and Hensley appear to have more responsibility than they did at Cinefamily.

  • In a biography online, Taylor credits her alma mater, Occidental College, for her ability to “achieve credibility” with the community so that she can deliver “for her business clients.”

So what’s really going on here?  It’s hard to say: CA has reached out to Taylor, but she has not responded to email outreach.

It might be that this is all totally normal. 

It might also be that the Harkhams—not exactly known for straight talk with the community—believed they would have a hard time convincing their neighbors (and the planning department) there would be no negative effects from alcohol sales.  Maybe they felt their track record would prevent them from “achieving credibility” themselves, and they’d have to bring in someone to speak the community’s language.  Maybe the Harkhams had a hard time finding a more established lobbying firm to represent them.

CA will keep digging into the issue, and will update this post with new information.