KPFA's taxes unpaid, studio to be auctioned

KPFA's taxes unpaid,
building to be auctioned

And the business manager tells her story

Notes from KPFA's staff meeting of Friday, January 31, 2020

by Daniel Borgström

News of KPFA's unpaid property taxes and auction of the station's studio building came out on Jan 30th; It is in
Pacifica in Exile

The next day (Jan 31) there was a KPFA staff meeting, where KPFA's unpaid property taxes and the auction of KPFA's building were the topic for about 40 minutes.

James McFadden and I attended. Both he and I are LSB board members but we wondered if they'd let us in since there seemed to be considerable secrecy about this meeting. Reportedly some staff got email invitations which could not be copied or forwarded and were even timed to self-erase within 5 days. James and I didn't receive invitations; we just showed up for the meeting and nobody asked us to leave. Despite all the initial secrecy stuff, it was a remarkably informal event. And we were not sworn to secrecy.

Nevertheless, we later learned that Brian David, the station's engineer, tried to exclude Steve Zeltzer from the meeting saying that he was not staff anymore. Steve's show, "Work Week Radio," was recently taken off the air recently without explanation. The general manager, Quincy McCoy, has taken several radical shows off the air recently, including Guns & Butter, Discrete Music, Twit Wit Radio. Anyway, Steve stood his ground and stayed for the meeting.

Notably absent were Local Station Board (LSB) chair Christina Huggins and LSB treasurer Sharon Adams, and secretary Carol Wolfley. General Manager Quincy McCoy wasn't there either. Business Manger Maria Negret attended by phone for about an hour and spoke on the unpaid tax matter, and she took questions.

This was a fairly large meeting as staff meetings go; it may seemed to be the KPFA property tax matter that drew this many people. I counted 29 people, but some came and went, so I'd estimate that 35 or more attended. KPFA reportedly has about 220 staff.

The 2 issues for this meeting were the loan and the property tax question which came to light the day before, on Jan 30th. The amount due is $486, 000 and if not paid by March 19th, KPFA's building will be auctioned on March 20th.

Staff member Jeanine Etter said she'd called this meeting and she informally facilitated.

The first 40 minutes were spent on the property tax issue. KPFA's Business Manager Maria Negret, speaking over a phone, gave her view of the situation.

This all happened because Pacifica changed its name, Maria told us. Pacifica had in the past gotten a tax reduction (being a nonprofit) which would reduce yearly taxes down to something like $1,400, and with that reduction the bill would've been somewhere around $60,000 rather than $483,000. The problem was that when Pacifica changed its name it had to file those papers all over again. And Pacifica changed its name about 3 times during the past decade, names including "Pacifica Foundation" and "Pacifica Foundation Radio," and "Pacifica Foundation Inc."

Filing those papers was extremely difficult and complex, Maria said; there were 10 or maybe 12 forms to be filled out. She'd gotten no help from Pacifica, Maria told us. She'd tried and tried to get that straightened out, and kept bringing it up but nobody would listen or respond, she told us.

However, Maria sounded optimistic. She expressed hope that KPFA can still be allowed to pay the reduced amount, something like $60,000 instead of $483,000. What they have to do, Maria said, is to show that a good faith effort was made to file those papers, and she has plenty of proof of that. She has many, many emails to show her efforts, she said.

There was also a bright side to this, Maria said. If we had paid the full amounts when they came due, we would not get a refund even after getting the approval for the reduced amount. However, since we haven't paid we can still apparently pay at the reduced amount of about $60,000 instead of the full $483,000.

She then took questions, some of these were:

Q: For how long hasn't this property tax been paid?

Maria: 6 years.

Q: Do we have an attorney?

Maria said Pacifica now has one or more attorneys working on this.

Q: Who will be in touch with the attorney.

"The ED (Executive Director) will talk with the attorney," Maria said.

Q: What will happen if we don't get an answer from the attorney.

Maria expressed her hope that the attorney will go to work on it, and do a good job.

People also asked Maria when she would hear from the attorney, but she didn't seem very sure about that. She said something that sounded like the attorney doesn't communicate with KPFA.

I didn't hear the name of the attorney; I don't think she said.

The tax man however is a former Pacifica attorney, Maria said, so she's hoping we might have a friend in the tax office.

Q: How are the other 4 Pacifica stations dealing with this? KPFK in LA and the other 3 in other parts of the country. Is this a Pacifica network-wide problem?

"I can't say," Maria said. She said she didn't know the situation at the other stations.

At the end of about 40 minutes the next issue was the loan, and following that were brainstorming thoughts on how to deal with the loan and raise money. The meeting was from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., it was at the KPFA station.

That was Maria's story, as she presented it over a phone to the KPFA staff meeting. To sum it up, she's saying it was Pacifica's fault, and that she (Maria) had done her best. This had gone on for 6 years now. But now an attorney would take care of it, though that attorney would apparently not get back to her on how it was going. So Pacifica, which she says has not done anything to resolve the problem during all these years, will now take care of this. And if this attorney for any reason did not do what was needed, then GM Quincy McCoy would step in to make sure he did. Maria didn't actually say "Not to worry," but that seemed to be her message.

She didn't seem to know that KPFK, the Pacifica sister station in Los Angeles, as well as the Pacifica stations in other states had been paying their taxes. Only KPFA hadn't paid. Payment of property taxes is the responsibility of the management of each station, just as is building repairs, janitorial matters and the like. Property taxes is not a responsibility of the Pacifica Foundation.

So while the other Pacifica stations had overcome whatever difficulties were involved, Maria Negret at KPFA had somehow not been able to do it, despite her many efforts. In an email she sent out a few days later, on February 3rd, she again told of her efforts. She also wrote, "when I filed for the annual exemption, I answered honestly, and had to sign as such, that we changed our name." She even went as far as to say "under penalty of perjury" everything in her email statement [of Feb 3rd] is true.

However, none of Maria's communications turned up in the Alameda County tax office. How can that be? According to what she told us, there should've been a huge pile of them. Maria has offered no explanation.

KPFA's general manager, Quincy McCoy, was during this time on vacation, and in no hurry to return. Emails sent to his office were answered with the automatic reply: "I will return to the office Tuesday, February 11th." -- That will be about twelve days after news of this tax matter broke on Jan 30th. Actually the notice from the tax office arrived at KPFA on January 17th by certified mail, and was apparently overlooked by KPFA management.

And it also turns out that property taxes on KPFA's antenna tower weren't paid either, and if not paid, will be also auctioned off.

Pacifica, the parent foundation, now has two attorneys working on this, negotiating with the tax office, filing forms and doing the job that business manager Maria Negret should have been doing.

I have been seeing stuff like this for years at KPFA/Pacifica, one incident after another. But this is the biggest. I find it hard to believe it's just incompetence. In any case, these are the people who took over WBAI in New York for a full month last October, telling us that they were going to fix the problems at WBAI. Here we see how they run KPFA.

And one more thing: Some of the same people who've created these problems, one after another over the years, are now proposing a substitute set of bylaws which will essentially end radio democracy at Pacifica and turn the network into another NPR. There will be an election on that this month (February). Ballots will go out in a few days. Please vote NO!

Daniel Borgström
Member of KPFA's Local Station Board

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KPFA 94.1 FM is one of five stations of the Pacifica radio network located in major cities across the country. The other stations are WBAI 99.5 in New York, WPFW 89.3 in Washington, DC, KPFT 90.1 in Houston, and KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles. There are also about 250 affiliate stations.