Group opposed to Crenshaw mall sale turns up heat

Downtown Crenshaw has seven-day plan to pressure mall owner to cancel sale

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

CRENSHAW — A coalition of grassroots activists, Black clergy and community leaders is not backing down on its efforts to stop the sale of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza to New York real estate companies LIVWRK (CEO and Founder Asher Abehsera) and DFH Partners, the team selected to buy the iconic landmark.

Holding LIVWRK’s feet to the fire, Black Lives Matter – LA, black activists, and supporters and members of Downtown Crenshaw, a group that opposes the sale of the mall to LIVWRK because of its alleged ties to Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President Donald Trump, held a rally in front of the company’s headquarters in Century City Nov. 19, only to be told by the property manager that LIVWRK was not in the building.

The crowd then took its collective loud and unwavering voices to the Cheviot Hills home of Abehsera shouting, “Whose mall, our mall,” while restating its opposition to the sale of the mall and its hope that Abehsera will rescind his company’s bid to buy the mall. Reportedly, LIVWRK and DFH have until Dec. 1, to close the deal.

Resolute in its efforts to thwart the sale, Downtown Crenshaw has laid out a seven-day plan leading up to the Dec. 1 deadline. It includes a social media storm from 10-11 a.m. Nov. 26; a Black Friday canvass of Crenshaw area businesses Nov. 27; a grocery store information picket Nov. 29, and a canvass in LIVWRK CEO Asher Abehsera’s neighborhood from 1-3 p.m.

The effort also included a town hall Zoom Nov. 24, and a human billboard at the mall Nov. 25.

Downtown Crenshaw’s leadership said they initially went to the LIVWRK offices and then to Abehsera’s home because they tried emailing, calling his cell and texting but couldn’t get a response.

“He (Abehsera) wants to come over here and he wants to buy up land in South Central and he wants to push us out of our community and he wants to bring his team to our doorstep and we said, ‘You know what, we’re going to bring our team to his doorstep,’” said Niki Okuk, board chair of Downtown Crenshaw.

“We’re going to have the mall,” said Baba Akili, Downtown Crenshaw board member, and Black Lives Matter organizer. “This is a classic invasion, classic. And most of their work is in New York and most of the money they’re raising is in New York and it comes from people like Donald Trump and his associate, Jared Kushner. And they have a bad history and that history we don’t want in our community. So, we decided to come visit the gentrifier.”

Akili told the crowd there are two words the community needs to remember, gentrification and displacement.

“It’s really the same word because once they start the gentrification, we are going to be displaced,” he said.

In June, Downtown Crenshaw, founded by Crenshaw Subway Coalition founder Damien Goodmon, blocked the sale of the mall to L.A.-based real estate investment firm CIM Group because of its relationship with Kushner and Trump.

The group then put together a team to try and buy the mall that included the architecture firm Smith Group (National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.), Phillip Hart (West Angeles Church), local architect Cory Henry; real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle and MASS Design Group.

Another community group that approves of the sale, called out Goodmon, accusing Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) of also having dealings with Jared Kushner.

Goodmon admitted a relationship with JLL but added he would “not dignify” the allegations with a response. Instead, he referred to the Downtown Crenshaw website where he said the organization’s relationship with JLL was “transparent.”

Downtown Crenshaw submitted its own bid to acquire the mall for community ownership, reportedly making a $100 million bid for the property. The bid was rejected by the bank handling the sale, as were other bidders who were Black, who, reportedly made higher offers.

No price was disclosed regarding the sale of the mall, but previous offers topped $100 million.

“We put forth the best proposal and we were not allowed to offer our best and last offer because the pension funds are anti-Black, it’s as simple as that,” Akili said. “All we’ve ever asked for was fairness and equity and nothing else.”

“I’m here for this fight because I’m one of the 67,000 residents that rents within a two-mile radius of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall,” said Veronica Sance, a Downtown Crenshaw member, and a 60-year-old Baldwin Village resident. “I’m the third street from the mall. I’m one of the ones that is going to be gone first — not on my watch. I’ve been in my apartment for 11 years. I’ve been in the community for 30, and I don’t want to move. I can’t afford to move. We’re going to keep coming back until he gets the message.”

“I want the sale stopped because it’s about Black ownership,” said the Rev. William D. Smart Jr., CEO and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. “Personally, our community deserves to have Black ownership. The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is one of the most sacred spaces in our community. We should have the opportunity to own that building.

There were three bids put in by Black groups who had the capacity to get this done. I believe in Black determinism to determine our own communities,” he added.

 Smart acknowledges the group that has come out in favor of the sale, but warns if things continue, “it could get nasty.”

“We have to stop allowing white folks to separate us to the extent that we fight each other,” said Smart, who said he would like the warring factions to come together. “We can’t be divisive. We need to work in unity.

“We have to understand that nothing is more important than that. We have different opinions but it should never get to the point where we don’t talk to anyone. They have the right to have an opinion. But we shouldn’t castigate each other. We should all come together and reason together at the table.”

Capri Urban Investors, a private equity fund, currently owns the mall, located at 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It purchased the 43-acre facility for $136 million in 2006. The group is led by the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA), the UC Board of Regents, New York City Employees Retirement System, and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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