Donald T. Sterling's Skid Row Mirage
UPDATE: TMZ's April 2014 publication of racist comments attributed to Donald T. Sterling prompts a Los Angeles rally against the Clippers owner. Sterling's anti-black comments caught on tape are the latest in a string of bizarre and ugly controversies swirling around the Clippers owner. Amidst the scandal, Sterling is being honored by the NAACP, having given them just $5,000.
The advertisements usually run in the A section of the Los Angeles Times. Sometimes they feature a little redheaded girl, who looks as if she’s a demented extra from the old horror flick Children of the Corn. Other times there’s a color sketch of a huge glass building and a blissful blue sky, with the heart-tugging quote, “Please don’t forget the children, they need our help.” And almost always there’s a giant picture of an older man with gray hair, sleepy eyes and a white toothy smile. That man is Donald T. Sterling, real estate mogul and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
For nearly two years now, Sterling has been trumpeting the arrival of a brand-spanking-new medical and legal facility in the heart of Skid Row — the Donald T. Sterling Homeless Center. The advertisements promise a “state-of-the-art $50 million” building on Sixth and Wall streets, whose “objective” is to “educate, rehabilitate, provide medical care and a courtroom for existing homeless.” The italics are Sterling’s. The ads also remind sophisticated L.A. Times readers that “the homeless need our help.”
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Sterling rarely talks to the press, and instead has long preferred to communicate with the outside world through prime advertising space in the Times. Over the past two months, the public has learned through his awkwardly designed ads that Sterling plans to hire attorneys and expand his “prestigious Beverly Hills law firm,” that he seeks three “exceptional executive assistants” for his corporation, and that he is offering a “proposed credit line” of $1,050,000,000 “for acquisition of real property in Southern California & Nevada.” Business, it appears, is booming.
When Sterling first plugged the opening of a homeless center in April 2006, homeless-services operators, politicians and downtown business owners were stunned and intrigued.
“When it first came out, we all thought, ‘How did we not hear about it?’ ” says downtown real estate developer Tom Gilmore, who served for six years on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Phone calls were made to Sterling World Plaza, at 9441 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Politicians in City Hall who would have to approve any such project, as well as pols on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who oversee the region’s key poverty programs — although they would have no direct say — waited for more-detailed plans. And the media-ducking Donald T. Sterling even made a personal appearance on Skid Row. Buzz was in the air. One of Los Angeles’ most prominent real estate holders, who, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal, became a billionaire by offering luxury housing in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Westwood, appeared to be recalibrating his business expertise to achieve some kind of larger good.
These days, though, Sterling’s vow to help the homeless is looking more like a troubling, ego-inflating gimmick dreamed up by a very rich man with a peculiar public-relations sense: Witness his regular advertisements proclaiming another “humanitarian of the year” award — for himself. From homeless-services operators to local politicians, no one has received specifics for the proposed Sterling Homeless Center. They aren’t the least bit convinced that the project exists.
“He uses every opportunity to have it announced somewhere,” says Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest who runs the Skid Row day-care and education center Las Familias del Pueblo. “But it sounds like a phantom project to me.”
“I’m generally a very optimistic person,” Gilmore says, “but this thing smells like shit. The L.A. Times ads aren’t cheap. He could’ve stopped buying the ads and spent that money on homeless people.” Gilmore, who’s been working downtown since 1992, adds, “I’ve never seen [Sterling] down here in my life.”
Joel John Roberts, chief executive officer of People Assisting the Homeless — which briefly talked with a Sterling middleman about the project — sums up the bewilderment spreading through the homeless-activist community, saying, “I don’t know what his motives are.”
Between the summer of 2004 and the winter of 2005, Donald T. Sterling went through a tough run of bad press, during which any smart media-crisis consultant would have told him to find a way to convince the public — and the media — that he was a good guy. The unpleasantness started on August 12, 2004, when the widely read Web site the Smoking Gun ran an article headlined “NBA Owner in Sex Scandal — Los Angeles Clippers boss admitted he paid to play.”
Reporting on the sex scandal, which was then picked up by Defamer, Smoking Gun detailed how Sterling allegedly paid $500 a trick to apparent girlfriend Alexandra Castro, whom the billionaire was suing over a $1 million Beverly Hills home on South Rodeo Drive, which Castro said he gave her. Although the house’s title was in Castro’s name, Sterling insisted in court documents that the house was an investment, and that he wanted the title switched to his name. As the lawsuit dragged on, Castro’s lawyer deposed Sterling twice. In court documents, it appeared that Sterling did give the home as a gift. Sterling ultimately backed off, and the two sides settled without a trial.
A few months after that hubbub, Smoking Gun released several pages of graphic, salacious sworn testimony Sterling had given in an August 13 and 14, 2003, deposition as part of his suit against Castro. It was not the kind of news story any megarich pro-basketball owner wants floating across the Internet.
“Well, I fool around sometimes,” Sterling told Castro’s lawyer, Doug Bagby, according to the document published by Smoking Gun. A different lawyer who was tracking the case at the time tells the L.A. Weekly that Bagby deposed the real estate mogul for more than 12 hours in Beverly Hills. Today, the court file of that deposition, stored in a Santa Monica courthouse, has hundreds of pages missing. According to the document posted on the site, Sterling said that he and Castro had sex “on many occasions” at his Beverly Hills office — dubbed Sterling World Plaza by the billionaire — and that she was “providing sex for money.”
“It was delicious,” Sterling said, “and it was the best of the best. And maybe I morally did something wrong, but I didn’t.”
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“Did you tell your wife that?” Bagby asked.
“I don’t know if I told my — I probably didn’t tell my wife that,” Sterling answered. “Would anybody tell their wife that?”
Instead of getting major play in mainstream newspapers, the story died a quick death in the blogosphere, where outraged sports fans bellyached about Sterling’s infamous, penny-pinching ways, while Sterling stuck to his rule of rarely talking to the press. He’d long had a reputation as the unloved owner of the Clippers, accused of everything from running the team into the ground to being too cheap to sign major talent through free agency or to hang on to stars like Lamar Odom and Andre Miller. He earned a 2000 cover story in Sports Illustrated for being a terrible owner, and became the butt of jokes by Jay Leno, then shocked critics by paying serious money to relocate his team to Staples Center. Just a few weeks ago, in a rare media interview, Sterling created a new brouhaha by blaming the Clippers’ more recent poor performances on coach Mike Dunleavy, who responded to his boss’s attack by publicly inviting Sterling to fire him. Google registers 114 references to Sterling as “notoriously cheap.”
But in 2005, Sterling was facing a different kind of bad news. In August of that year, he was again in trouble over more alleged tawdry behavior. This time he was facing a sexual-harassment trial arising from a suit filed by a woman named Sumner Davenport. She was hired in 2001 as a property supervisor for Sterling’s sweeping real estate holdings of nearly 100 apartment buildings and other properties in Southern California, including such swank locales as the Beverly Hills Plaza Hotel and the Malibu Beach Club. In 2007, the Business Journal estimated his net worth at $1.4 billion, giving him the No. 31 slot in its annual list of the “50 Wealthiest Angelenos.”
During the nine-week trial, Davenport claimed the billionaire tried to kiss her and touch her breast, and he once appeared at the door of his Malibu home clad only in a towel. Sterling countercharged that Davenport was a disgruntled employee who was “vindictively hatching a scheme to discredit, harass and embarrass” him. A jury cleared Sterling of the charges in October of 2005.
A few weeks later, though, Sterling was in court again, and this time things went badly. As the result of a housing-discrimination lawsuit alleging that Sterling and his wife, Rochelle, tried to drive black and Latino tenants out of his Koreatown apartments in favor of Koreans, U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer, in late 2005, ordered Sterling to pay nearly $5 million in legal fees.
It was a huge amount, covering only the lawyers on one side, and it hinted at the massive, undisclosed payout Sterling agreed to make to renters he had allegedly discriminated against. Even the judge described the amount as “one of the largest ever obtained in this type of case.”
No surprise that Sterling wanted it to all go away. The plaintiffs’ lawyers, largely led by Liam Garland of the Housing Rights Center, had accused Sterling of telling his staff at the Mark Wilshire Towers — including Dixie Martin, a white woman, and Ray Henson, a black man — that he preferred a Korean staff in order to attract Korean tenants. Court documents allege that he wanted to rent only to Koreans because he believed that “they pay their rent on time and don’t cause problems ... He also said that he did not like ‘Hispanics’ or ‘blacks’ as tenants, telling his surprised onlookers that ‘Hispanics smoke, drink, and just hang around the building.’ On at least one other occasion, he had told management staff that he believed that ‘black tenants smell and attract vermin.’ ”
On a recent March evening, on South Irolo Street, there was no one hanging out and drinking beer in front of the Mark Wilshire Towers, now called the Sterling Ambassador Towers — a blockwide structure painted a strange, off-khaki color like a barracks. There were few blacks and Hispanics walking in and out of the 20-story complex. During this particular hour, as commuters returned from work, the people leaving and entering included 11 Asians, five whites and one elderly African-American woman. Her name is Marie Davis, and she was a plaintiff in the housing-discrimination case.
Standing on the sidewalk, Davis could not comment about specifics of the settlement she received from Sterling due to a strict confidentiality agreement. But when asked how things were going at Sterling Ambassador Towers, the gray-haired and smiling Davis rolled her eyes and said, “It’s a bitch,” renting from less-than-friendly building managers.
Davis has lived there for 11 years. Today, she says, “they don’t bother me anymore, because I tore them up in court.” Davis doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon: “Rents are very expensive, and it’s always hard to move.”
One of Davis’ co-plaintiffs, though, went through a more harrowing, and ultimately tragic, experience, according to court documents from the 2005 discrimination fight. In one of the most dramatic allegations made against Sterling, documents state that on July 12, 2002, “Kandynce Jones was under threat of eviction by [Sterling] even though she had never missed a rent payment. Ms. Jones, who is a senior citizen and a person with a disability, suffered a stroke caused by the stress by Defendants’ housing practices. On July 21, 2003, Ms. Jones passed away as a result of that stroke.”
Remarkably, during this press cycle, Sterling’s alleged comments about blacks and Latinos got only slightly more news play than his underplayed sex scandal. Some sports fans blogged about their outrage and even called for a boycott of the Clippers. On one sports blog, www.themightymjd.com, the writer came up with this roaring headline: “Donald Sterling Might Be a Huge, HUGE Douchebag.”
But it wasn’t over — yet. Sterling and his lawyers were almost certainly dreading an upcoming action by the U.S. Justice Department, which in 2006 was readying its own housing-discrimination lawsuit against the real estate tycoon and his wife. Two sex scandals and a housing-discrimination lawsuit within a 15-month span do not make for good publicity for any billionaire, but especially for someone like Sterling, who wants fans to pay top dollar for wholesome family entertainment at Staples Center in the form of Clippers basketball. Yet another discrimination lawsuit, this time from the feds, would be even worse.
In either February or March of 2006, the hard-working folks at the Midnight Mission on Skid Row heard from Brad Luster, the well-heeled president of a downtown real estate company. He was representing Donald T. Sterling, and Luster wanted to talk — about Sterling’s idea for creating a homeless center.
It was interesting timing for Sterling to be seeking what turned into a series of meetings with a homeless-program director. Later that year, the feds made it official, accusing him of refusing to rent to families, of claiming no vacancies in order to avoid accepting children, and of engaging in racial discrimination in Koreatown. An August 7, 2006, press release from the Department of Justice alleged that “Sterling Defendants made statements and published notices or advertisements in connection with the rental of apartment units that express a preference for Korean tenants in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles and express discrimination against African-Americans and families with children in Los Angeles County.”
The federal lawsuit had the potential to devastate his reputation. He could buy all the ads he wanted in the L.A. Times, announcing special humanitarian awards given to him by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation and Muscular Dystrophy Association, but none of that was going to repair the damage.
Luckily — at least, it seemed like luck — the Times sports section maintained its virtual silence on his woes. It was nothing like the way journalists would have responded in New York City if real estate magnates Donald Trump or Bruce Ratner made a fat payout over race discrimination. The Los Angeles print media weirdly gave their own billionaire what amounted to a free pass. Columnist Bomani Jones, writing on ESPN.com’s Page 2 about the apparent press blackout Sterling enjoyed during his racial-discrimination scandal, singled out ESPN, as well as the L.A. Times, pointedly complaining that “we have dropped the ball.” Today, the only piece in the online archives of the L.A. Times sports section regarding Sterling’s federal housing-discrimination scandal is a four-paragraph blurb written by Associated Press, while its news section managed only 729 words on the Sterlings’ alleged misconduct.
Among homeless-services operators in downtown Los Angeles, Midnight Mission is considered an aggressive player with a clear-cut goal. “Midnight Mission is there to make deals,” says Brady Westwater, vice president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. “They are there to help, and they don’t let ideology, like some organizations, get in the way of their work.”
Operating on Skid Row for more than 90 years, Midnight Mission is located in a sparkling, modern complex on Sixth and San Pedro streets. It offers, among many other services, overnight housing, job training, free meals and medical care. With Luster acting as his scout into the world of homeless-service operators, Sterling was approaching the right people by contacting the Mission.
“They asked if we would consider a partnership and what kind of services were needed [on Skid Row],” Orlando Ward, director of public affairs for Midnight Mission, recalled recently to the L.A. Weekly.
In early 2006, Ward set up meetings between Sterling and Larry Adamson, president of Midnight Mission. According to Ward, who was present at some of them, Sterling was “fairly active in trying to learn what was needed down here.”
Sterling and Adamson met at Midnight Mission and in front of a property the billionaire was thinking of buying — a big, hulking import-export warehouse at 600 Wall Street, only a block away from Midnight Mission. Sterling seemed to be showing off, inviting Adamson and Ward to several “dinner meetings” at Spago in Beverly Hills, with celebrity friends in tow. For two homeless experts more accustomed to grabbing lunch meetings at a fast-food joint on gritty Skid Row, it was a courtship with fascinating possibilities.
“I won’t name names,” says Ward of the Spago meetings, “but you would immediately recognize them as soon as you saw them.”
Sterling also talked with Adamson before Clippers games at Staples Center.
“[Sterling] was very animated, enthusiastic, and an easy person to talk to,” says Ward. “He was a very gracious host.”
But then the Clippers played their first NBA playoff game in nearly 10 years on April 22, 2006. Fans were giddy, the Clippers won the home opener, and Donald Sterling suddenly put talks about helping the homeless on hold for a month, Ward says. Even so, about the same time, Sterling placed in the Times the first in a long lineup of advertisements touting the “proposed” Donald T. Sterling Homeless Center. The ads were a new twist on longtime ads that sometimes promoted Sterling’s rental properties and sometimes his law firm. A business associate who often visited Sterling in his penthouse office in Beverly Hills in the 1990s says Sterling actually cuts and pastes many of the flamboyantly unattractive ads himself, with scissors, tape and marker. He has spent hours getting just the right look, sometimes elongating the images of buildings to look more Sterling-worthy. For years, Sterling paid half the going rate for space in the Times, according to the associate.
Nowadays, the ads are such a quirky eyesore in Los Angeles that there is a Web site devoted to slamming them. “Like a lot of people,” says Marc Grobman, a Santa Monica–based graphic designer, “I’ve been plagued by these ads. Plagued and appalled.” Grobman’s one-man organization is called the Donald T. Sterling Graphic Design Foundation, a cheeky play on Sterling’s charitable foundation. On his Web site, www.quixo.com, Grobman asks people to sign a petition begging Sterling to seek professional graphics help. Says Grobman, “Every once in a while, I wonder if I’ll get a knock on the door, telling me to stop it.”
Back at the Midnight Mission, Adamson and his staff weren’t entirely pleased with what they saw in Sterling’s homeless-center ads. “It gave the impression we had a deal,” says spokesman Ward, “and we were taken aback. We had nothing in writing, and we don’t do business that way.”
That impression spread because talks between Midnight Mission and Sterling were hardly a secret. Homeless operators and politicos knew the two sides were discussing something, and now it appeared an agreement was in the making.
Ward says that after the first advertisement was published, the billionaire told Midnight Mission president Larry Adamson that the Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive officer of Union Rescue Mission, another major, longtime homeless-services center on Skid Row, had contacted Sterling — and wanted to talk about a deal. Union Rescue Mission is just a block away from Midnight Mission, and the administrators of the two facilities know each other well, sometimes acting as rivals, sometimes as allies. Adamson called Bales to verify that he was talking with Sterling — but the reverend said Sterling’s story simply wasn’t true.
“Larry [Adamson] was kind of surprised,” Bales says today, because up to then, “he thought he was the only one talking with Donald Sterling.” Bales assured him, “We never talked [with Sterling]. And we still haven’t talked with him.”
Once the Clippers lost in the second round of playoffs to the Phoenix Suns on May 22, talks between Midnight Mission and Sterling resumed, but, according to Orlando Ward, the two sides “were never talking nickels and dimes or logistics.”
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 year noting 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.
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.
Inside Las Familias del Pueblo, which makes its home in a cheery storefront amid grime and poverty, Alice Callaghan sits on a stool and takes a breather. Wearing her longtime “uniform” — a gray skirt, white sneakers and a white blouse with the sleeves rolled up — the former Catholic nun turned Episcopal priest has offered Latino workers and their children day-care, preschool and educational services on Skid Row since 1987.
Callaghan knows every block of the neighborhood, all its characters and all of its statistics. She’s been known to track down a used refrigerator for a family or accept mail for someone in need. As kids watch a Disney video nearby, Callaghan stares at the smile of Donald T. Sterling, whose newspaper advertisements are laid out on a table before her. She studies the ad copy closely.
“What’s this stuff about helping children?” Callaghan asks, pointing at a line in the ad. “There aren’t any homeless children on Skid Row, and if there are, it’s very rare.”
His claim is confusing. Why would a billionaire promote such a cliché — when the vast majority of people on Skid Row are lone men, and even couples without kids are not often seen there?
Callaghan then notices another mistake. The ad pledges to help “over 91,000 homeless people at Sixth and Wall Street.” The huge figure Sterling is claiming gives her a jolt. “We have nowhere near that amount of people down here,” Callaghan says, noting there are about 3,000 to 4,000 homeless people on Skid Row on any given day.
Callaghan shakes her head.
“It’s the lowest of the low if he’s using the homeless to make himself look good,” she says. “Or it’s the dumbest of the dumb. No one builds those kinds of shelters down here anymore. He’s a businessman. He can make anything happen. So if it’s not happening, there’s a reason for it.”
But after two years of touting his good deeds and holding meetings with experts on homelessness that go nowhere, Donald T. Sterling appears to be the only person who understands what his reason may be.
Timeline: See You In Court, Donald2001: City of Santa Monica sued him, claiming he harassed eight tenants in three rent-controlled buildings by threatening to evict them for having potted plants on balconies. He paid $25,000 in settlements.
2002: Sterling sued apparent lover Alexandra Castro for the title to a $1 million Beverly Hills home. Castro said the dwelling was a gift from him to her. The case was settled for undisclosed terms.
2003: Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles represented a tenant Sterling tried to evict on Lincoln Boulevard for allegedly tearing down notices in an elevator. Sterling won. The tenant was evicted.
2004: Sterling and other landlords won a major appellate case against Santa Monica’s stringent Tenant Harassment Ordinance, which Santa Monica’s city attorney had used to order Sterling and other landlords to stop issuing eviction notices, terming the notices “harassment.”
2004: Elisheba Sabi, an elderly widow represented by Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation, sued Sterling for refusing her Section 8 voucher to rent an apartment. Sterling won last year. It’s under appeal.
2005: Sterling sued landowner Larry Taylor for allegedly reneging on an unsigned note that agreed to sell Sterling properties worth about $17 million. The “handwritten note” war made it to the California Supreme Court. Taylor won last year.
2005: Sterling settled a housing-discrimination lawsuit filed by the Housing Rights Center, which represented more than a dozen tenants. He paid nearly $5 million in legal fees and a probably much larger, but undisclosed, sum to plaintiffs.
2006: The Department of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination, alleging that he and his wife, Rochelle, refused to rent to African-Americans and families with children, among other charges. The case is pending.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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