By Darlene Donloe
BALDWIN HILLS — The developer who has won the bidding to buy the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza told more than 300 community members that the rumors and allegations about the inclusion of CIM Group, Jared Kushner and President Donald Trump in the impending deal for the iconic mall are not true.
In a controlled ZOOM call Oct. 29 Asher Abehsera, the founder and CEO of LIVWRK, said, “I have zero connection with Trump. Never met him, never been a part of anything … around him.
Abehsera, a Brooklyn-based developer, is teaming up with DFH Partners in his for the shopping center.
Abehsera said he used to have a business relationship with, Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. He said that when he started his business in 2013, that he and Kushner “Did five deals together at the time.”
“After we’ve done those deals, at some point in between, he left to go work for his father-in-law,” Abehsera said. “Since that day, we’ve never worked together on anything. He has not entered any deals. In fact, the legacy deals that were existing, he either recused himself of or was no longer a part of. I have no business with his family, not ongoing or new business. They are not investors in my company.”
The CIM Group, a Los Angeles-based real estate developer thought to have strong ties to Trump and Kushner, dropped its bid to buy the iconic mall last June due to continued community pressure.
Abeshera’s statement was questioned by Damien Goodmon and other members of Downtown Crenshaw, a community-based group that is vying to buy the mall and was instrumental in fending off CIM Group’s bid for the mall.
“It was a snow job,” said Goodmon, co-founder of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. “I don’t know why anyone believes him. Why would he tell the truth now?
“He’s lied. Ivanka Trump’s filing shows he’s in dealings now. He has misrepresented his relationship with Donald Trump since the beginning.”
During the ZOOM session, hosted by the Empowerment Congress West Neighborhood Development Council, participants were not allowed to ask Abehsera questions or follow-up questions directly. Instead, questions were submitted and then selected and read by members of the council.
Gina Fields, board chairperson of the council for nearly two years, asked several questions before asking area representatives to continue the questions.
Fields said the council hosted Abehsera because, as a neighborhood council, their job is to “bring information to people.”
“People wanted to hear from him,” Fields said. “His company is the one under contract to buy the mall. We wanted to bring information straight from the horse’s mouth. People can judge for themselves. We host anyone we feel is bringing information that is important for our stakeholders to hear.”
Responding to residents who didn’t approve of the ZOOM session structure, Fields said her organization was “just bringing information to our stakeholders.”
Speaking to a reporter by phone after the Zoom session, Fields said everyone at the Zoom session had a chance to ask questions.
“With 322 people, if you have everyone able to ask a question it can evolve into chaos,” she said. “Originally, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which governs us, suggested we do it as a webinar. They requested that we always have people ask questions in every single meeting through the chat. We followed our guidelines. Our meetings are open to anyone. We would have rather had a meeting in person.”
Fields said the neighborhood council does not have a relationship with Abehsera, LIVWRK or any developers and that she didn’t see any difference in submitting questions through the chat versus asking them directly.
“Everyone had a fair and equal opportunity to ask questions in the chat,” she said. “We read all of the questions that were in the chat. … We have to do what our stakeholders want. We give info, listen, and then we vote. We don’t randomly say anything. We are a city government organization that has strict rules. We do our best.”
The Empowerment Congress West Neighborhood Development Council is part of a citywide system of neighborhood councils established under Article X of the Los Angeles City Charter to promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.
Regarding his relationship with CIM Group, Abehsera said he has three “active projects with CIM in New York.”
“Those are projects that they are partners and investors in,” he said. “CIM is not involved in any way, manner, shape, or form in this project.”
Abehsera, who called himself a “people person,” said after winning the bid to buy the mall, he called CIM Group to make it “clear that there can be no connection, no investing, no loan, no involvement with CIM in any shape or form.”
“I will tell everyone on this group that there will be no invested participation in any form or manner from CIM or from Kushner or from their family in any way shape or form in this project today or ever,” Abehsera said.
Before he began taking questions, Abehsera shared information about himself. He was born and raised in Los Angeles. On his mom’s side, he’s fifth-generation Californian. His father is from Morocco.
As a kid, his first job in Los Angeles was for a developer called Crescent Heights where he was a painter and a gofer. He did not attend college.
He said he was passionate about development. He eventually moved to New York in 2006 and worked for Two Trees Management before forming LIVWRK.
Asked whether he’d be willing to partner with local developers within the community, Abehsera said, “Yes, absolutely.”
“I’ll go further,” he said. “I have already a signed letter of intent with a group within the community. As I said before I was even awarded the contract, I went into the community and I found a group of very talented, in their own right very successful people who have lived in the community all their lives, who were very passionate about the community and who I think would represent a part of the community and have a participation opportunity for the community at large to be involved in this project.”
Pressed to reveal the group of five stakeholders and its members, Abehsera declined.
“It is up to them to … disclose who they are because I respect the privacy of individuals who may or may not know who they are,” he said. “That is just something that is very active, real and signed.”
But Goodmon wasn’t sold on Abeshera or his credentials.
“He’s not qualified to do this deal,” he said. “There is a direct contrast in the way in which some people in our community have responded to this challenge. We have open meetings. Anyone can walk into them. I have no doubt that he’s been talking to groups, looking for junior partners to look like he’s the good savior coming in to help our community.”
“This is not about me checking boxes and saying, OK, I had the meeting, I spoke to the people,” Abehsera responded. “I really want to get to know the constituents and the members of the community. This is a long-term project and is a long-term commitment we’re looking to make here. We know that building a relationship takes a little bit of time. It’s not one meeting. It’s not one ZOOM call. It’s a lot of conversations and a lot of meals together and a lot of drinks and a lot of work sessions. I’m looking forward to that.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.