By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
From Casey Horan at Lamp to the Rev. Andy Bales at Union Rescue Mission to Alice Callaghan at Las Familias del Pueblo to downtown real estate developer Tom Gilmore to Joel John Roberts at PATH, all agree that Sterling’s project, as advertised in the L.A. Times, is the last thing Skid Row needs.
“If it’s simply putting down another service center,” says Roberts, “it really isn’t needed down there.”
Instead, the operators agree that what tops their lists is “permanent, supportive housing,” so that the homeless no longer stay in shelters, and receive the professional assistance and counseling they need to lead a life off the streets.
Sterling, apparently, isn’t involved in this debate. According to the major homeless-services operators on Skid Row, none of them has talked with him for several months, yet ads featuring the zombie redheaded girl and his pleas to “help” the children have run in the Times. After Sterling’s initial advertisements in April 2006, rumors swept through the area that the billionaire had contacted the Salvation Army — a charity Sterling often touts in Times advertisements unrelated to his homeless center. According to Steve Allen, executive director of development at Salvation Army of Southern California, he and Sterling some months ago had a “very general, very vague talk” about the need for a social services provider for Sterling’s homeless center. Allen says that to get such a project moving, Sterling would first have to talk to Salvation Army’s social services division — and he has not done so.
Even the downtown business community, which would normally be asked to give its unofficial blessing for such a large social project, has been shut out, according to Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Association. The association manages three business-improvement districts for dozens of merchants and companies just outside Skid Row, with the goal of sprucing up large sectors of downtown’s badly aged shopping and commercial districts.
“There’s not one block in downtown that Skid Row doesn’t affect,” says Lopez. “We very much want to take part early in the conversation.”
True to her word, Lopez called Brad Luster twice. She’s still waiting for a response. Luster, who was so active in Sterling’s discussions with Midnight Mission and PATH, now says, “I am not part of the project.” He refers all questions to “Don Sterling.”
At Sterling World Plaza in Beverly Hills, a friendly receptionist told the Weekly Sterling wasn’t in the office. Asked if anyone else could talk about the proposed homeless center, she said, “Mr. Sterling is the only person who handles that project.” Two days later, after a follow-up call, the receptionist phoned back, saying Sterling had left for “an extended weekend.”
“When he leaves the office,” she explained, “he doesn’t think about business.”
In one final conversation, when asked again about his proposed center, the receptionist advised the Weekly to ask “the Salvation Army” — which is not involved.
While Sterling scampers off for long weekends at one of his homes in Malibu or Beverly Hills, his warehouse at 600 Wall Street still requires City Hall permits, approvals and hearings that officials say usually take years — whether they’re for the launching of social services or just massive retrofitting.
Yet nothing — nothing — has worked its way through the pipeline at City Hall for the Donald T. Sterling Homeless Center, according to Planning Department documents and a city planner who wants to remain anonymous. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose 9th District encompasses Sixth and Wall streets, also waits. Because she represents Skid Row, any major project must go through her office.
“Mr. Sterling has not presented any specific plans to me or my office,” Perry wrote in a statement to the Weekly. “I did offer to connect him with nonprofit housing developers to help him develop a plan, and he has expressed interest in making these connections.”
According to the city’s Zoning Information and Map Access System (ZIMAS), Sterling paid $8,400,084 for several contiguous parcels of land that start on Wall Street, continue on Sixth Street and end on San Julian Street, forming roughly a U-shape. Records show all of these parcels were purchased on December 6, 2006, the same date the L.A. Business Journal reported Sterling closing escrow, and giving the address as 600 Wall Street.
Yet even the purchase price is something of a mystery. The Journal stated that the billionaire paid “about $12 million” for the land. The source appears to be Brad Luster, who’s quoted in the same article. Luster also posted the $12 million purchase figure on his company’s Web site, www.majorproperties.com.
But in the June 26, 2006, Los Angeles Times article — the same story that acted as a promotional piece for Sterling by erroneously reporting that his charity was “spending $50 million” on a homeless center — Luster said Sterling was purchasing the property for a “significant discount” below $12 million. Luster refused to comment on the disparity.
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