By Shirley Hawkins
BALDWIN HILLS — To the people trying to keep the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza part of the community fabric, news of another pending sale of the mall has only increased the agitation and aggravation.
Damien Goodmon is one of the leaders of Downtown Crenshaw, a group that has been fighting to bring the mall, a local institution for more than 70 years, under community control.
At a press conference Oct. 8 at Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Goodmon announced that the CIM group, which originally attempted to buy the mall in April but withdrew the offer in June due to extensive community outcry, had returned to submit another bid to purchase the mall, this time with business colleagues, LIVWRK.
“Deutsche Bank subsidiary DWS, the asset managers of the mall, initiated a resale process whereby they announced that everybody that was credible could submit bids,” Goodmon said.
Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner are allegedly partners in the real estate development group which has plans to build commercial office space at the mall, but Asher Abehsera, the founder of LIVWRK, told the Los Angeles Times that Trump and Kushner have nothing to do with the project.
“Neither Jared nor his family have any investment in my company or this deal,” Abehsera said. “I have had no involvement with Jared since he went to work with his father-in-law, President Trump.”
Local activists are upset that the development company has never sought to engage or solicit input from the community and that plans for the mall do not include affordable housing.
“We got the news that CIM went into the locker room at half time, came out with different uniforms and thinks that we wouldn’t notice the difference,” Goodmon said.
“They reported that they were going to leave but now they’ve come through the back door. Just like we kicked Donald Trump and Jared Kushner out of our community the last time, we will do it again,” he added.
Residents are afraid that if LIVWRK buys the mall it will open the door to gentrification that will force residents to move out of the area.
Goodmon said that Downtown Crenshaw, along with three other Black-led developers, had submitted bids to buy the mall, but had been turned down in favor of New York developers.
“We put together a dream development team of socially responsible investors that had experience in building and managing large projects like this throughout the country, such as the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and we were denied that opportunity to buy the mall,” said Goodmon, who said that Downtown Crenshaw had received overwhelming support from thousands of community residents on Facebook Live and hundreds more during Zoom meetings.
“This mall is about African American self-determination,” said Rev. William Smart, Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Council of Greater Los Angeles, who also spoke at the press conference. “We have a right in the era of Black Lives Matter to control our community.
“This is one of the last bastions of African American ownership and it needs to be African-American led. I say to the owners that before the transaction is done, reconsider. Downtown Crenshaw can merge with other groups, but this mall needs to be Black-owned and Black-led.”
Jackie Ryan, co-vice chair of the Black Community Labor Alliance and a Baldwin Hills community resident for the past 70 years, said “We have been here and developed this community for the past 50 years. We work here, we worship here, we play here. We do education here and we have the right to develop our culture here for the next 300 years. We cannot allow imperial and colonial entities to come into our community and enslave the people.”
“We believe that this mall deserves to stay within our community,” said Rev. K.W. Tulloss of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles. “And at the end of the day, we will do everything that we can as a community group to fight against any outside developers coming into our community and overlooking us. We stand with Downtown Crenshaw and all of our community to express our outrage. [LIVWRK] put on their costumes too early. Halloween isn’t until the 31st.”
Crenshaw resident Kim Yergen said that public pension funds had helped to steer the open bid process so that LIVWRK could make a bid.
“They are using your public pension funds to push you out of your community,” Yergen said.
Rev. Jonathan Moseley, president of the National Action Network-Los Angeles, said “This is an important piece of real estate for the entities involved, but to come back with such chicanery and think that they could hoodwink us. We’re not going to be hoodwinked and bamboozled. I don’t care if you have your hood on or your mask or whatever. … We are not going to stand by and allow you to come in under any other disguise and take what belongs to us. So you might as well get ready for the fight — ding, ding.”
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.