By Hillel Aron
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When Alice Callaghan turned to page A16 of the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, August 6, she was stunned.
“I saw it and I was so startled,” says Callaghan, an Episcopal priest and longtime homeless activist in downtown’s Skid Row. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, he’s doing it again.’”
What rattled Callaghan, who runs Las Familias del Pueblo, a Skid Row day-care and education center aimed at working-class Latino families, was another advertisement placed in the newspaper by real estate mogul and Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling, touting his “state-of-the-art $50 million dollar [sic] Donald T. Sterling Homeless Center, Medical Center and Courthouse.”
On its March 20 cover, L.A. Weekly exposed the supposedly upcoming Sterling Homeless Center as nonexistent — a troubling PR stunt promoted by a billionaire for unknown reasons. After that embarrassing coverage, Callaghan thought Sterling wouldn’t dare plug the “center” again. But the chutzpah of the Beverly Hills billionaire, it appears, can’t be underestimated.
“The man,” Callaghan says now, “is shameless.”
It has been more than two years since the L.A. Times began running, in its A section, the first of many big ads touting the Sterling Homeless Center, often accompanied by a grinning photo of Sterling and heavily implying that he was becoming a major philanthropist for the homeless. Except for the fact that Sterling, a bit player in local philanthropy, is no such thing.
Today, his proposed homeless center site at Wall and Sixth streets remains unchanged — still home to an import-export warehouse. And Jan Perry, the city councilwoman for the area — through whom a homeless-center project must first be vetted — tells the Weekly that she still has not received any proposals.
Yet his new ad implies that Sterling is finally moving forward: “Now interviewing architects, operators, and land use specialist.” Callaghan isn’t buying it. “I haven’t heard anything about this project,” says Callaghan, who knows nearly everything that happens affecting Skid Row’s homeless population.
Joel John Roberts, executive director of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), also hasn’t heard a peep. “I talk to a lot of people,” says Roberts. If Sterling were actually moving forward, “I would have heard something.” Two years ago, Sterling’s associates briefly negotiated with Roberts to operate the Sterling Homeless Center, but after the billionaire asked PATH to raise $50 million to build his project, Roberts pulled out. “We haven’t heard anything from him since,” Roberts says.
Nor has Orlando Ward, spokesman for Midnight Mission, a Skid Row institution for more than 90 years, spoken with Sterling since May or June of 2006. “Not a word,” says Ward. Two years ago, the billionaire wined and dined Midnight Mission president Larry Adamson at Spago in Beverly Hills, claiming an interest in helping the homeless. Nothing came of it.
The latest Times ad, Ward says, “looks like the same shenanigans as last time, and the motive is unclear.”
Eva Kandarpa, a spokeswoman for Jan Perry, who represents Skid Row, says their office has yet to receive a blueprint or mock-up of any kind from Sterling.
“Usually that kind of [major] project would have to go through the city council office to make sure the councilperson is supportive,” says the spokeswoman. “It’s one of the steps of a lengthy approval process.”
The timing of the new, August 6 ad shares an interesting anniversary date with one of Sterling’s most embarrassing legal battles: On August 7, 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint against Sterling and his wife, Rochelle, for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act.
Sterling built his vast fortune by buying up high-end apartment buildings. According to the feds, the Sterlings “refused to rent to non-Korean prospective tenants ... refused to rent to African-American prospective tenants ... and refused to rent to families with children.”
The Sterlings are still under investigation, says Department of Justice spokeswoman Jamie Hais, who adds that it’s unknown when the federal government may conclude its case. Hais says these kinds of cases “often” end in settlement or a consent decree — a set of strict rules that would dictate, for a period of time, how the Sterlings rent out and otherwise operate their many thousands of rental units.
Meanwhile, graphic designer Marc Grobman, of Quixo Design (www.quixo.com), who has founded the cheekily named “Donald T. Sterling Graphic Design Foundation” to poke fun at the billionaire’s garish, ugly Times ads, has this to say of the latest, odd development: “The [ad] design certainly isn’t getting better, and as far as the message goes, there isn’t any new information about the homeless center.”
Maybe, suggests Callaghan, that’s because there’s nothing new to say.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.