By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Midnight Mission officials were growing restless, and they soon decided to refocus their energies on the day-to-day work in front of them. “We don’t have a lot of time, as an operator, to deal with people who just want information,” Ward says diplomatically.
Sterling, according to Ward, also stopped calling.
In the meantime, the advertisements in the Times were generating quite a stir among Skid Row operators. Gregory Scott, president and chief executive officer of the Weingart Center Association, called Sterling’s office, seeking more information about the extensive-sounding homeless center he was describing in his ads. Casey Horan, executive director of Lamp Community, a homeless-services operator just around the block from 600 Wall Street, also reached out. “We’d love for Donald Sterling to support something down here,” says Horan — although not exactly what Sterling was describing. Neither Scott nor Horan received a call back.
The L.A. Times generated more buzz on Skid Row — and in City Hall — on June 26, 2006, in an article that stated Sterling was “shaking up the downtown establishment with a seemingly ambitious but mysterious plan” to build a homeless center. The paper reported that the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation was “spending $50 million” to complete it. That has turned out to be untrue, yet the media accepted it at face value.
In fact, in the summer of 2006, the huge import-export warehouse at 600 Wall Street showed no signs of any improvements. No construction scaffolding or renovation crews were bustling about, no permits had been pulled with the city — and the only obvious expenditure was the $8.4 million Sterling had paid to buy the property in 2006.
Even so, less than two months before the U.S. Justice Department would file its lawsuit against Donald and Rochelle Sterling, the real estate mogul who had recently paid one of the largest housing-discrimination settlements in federal court was now being portrayed by gullible local media outlets as an emerging and benevolent benefactor for Skid Row.
Things went quiet for a few months, and then in October 2006, real estate agent turned Skid Row liaison Luster reached out on Sterling’s behalf again. This time he contacted Joel John Roberts, executive director of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), asking if he was interested in a partnership with Sterling. Roberts said he was willing to listen.
Unlike the drawn-out vetting process Midnight Mission went through, negotiations between Sterling and PATH were much more substantive and direct. Within a month, Sterling’s people offered Roberts terms for a possible deal. One main sticking point was that Sterling would “lend” the property at 600 Wall Street to PATH, rather than donate it to the group. Roberts wasn’t thrilled about that — it left PATH with no real security if it agreed to launch a major homeless program at a building site it didn’t own.
“If Sterling decided he wanted to sell the property or move us out,” Roberts says, “he would be able to do it with no problem.”
And here was the strangest part of all: PATH would be responsible for raising the $50 million to build the Donald T. Sterling Homeless Center. Not Sterling.
“They hinted they would help us raise the money,” recalls Roberts, with a tinge of distrust in his voice.
Roberts quickly sought the advice of Larry Adamson at Midnight Mission, who stressed the importance of detailed contracts. In addition to his other concerns about Sterling’s ideas, Roberts wanted “permanent” rather than “transitional” housing. In November 2006, Roberts sent Luster a “formal e-mail,” stating the acceptable terms for a partnership. And, no surprise, he especially wanted billionaire Sterling’s offer to help with fund-raising — and he wanted it in writing.
“We never heard back from them,” Roberts says.
Although the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation incorporated in 2007, it never registered with the California Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, which charity expert Bill White says is required before raising outside money. White, who operates the Web site www.twpoc.com (The White Paper on Charities), which acts as a news clearinghouse for the charitable world, published a story last yearnoting that the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation does not exist in Guidestar.org, the IRS’ charity database. Sterling still has not registered in either location. “If it is really a foundation, it hasn’t done the proper paperwork to be a charity,” White says. (Sterling faces a May deadline with the IRS if he is using a calendar year as his charity’s fiscal year.)
The foundation’s chief financial officer, identified in incorporation papers as Darren Schield, did not respond to the Weekly. Moreover, the receptionist at Sterling’s executive offices told the Weekly that the foundation’s executive director, Diana Miller, is actually an outside consultant whom she didn’t “know how to reach.”
Even though Sterling again advertised in the Times’ pricey A section just last month, and once again gave the phony impression that he is spending $50 million of his own foundation’s money, few operators on Skid Row, if any, believe the Donald T. Sterling Homeless Center will ever rise on Sixth and Wall streets. Which may not be a bad thing, according to some experts.
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