By Emilie St. John
INGLEWOOD — The Champions Grant was an initiative by Mayor James T. Butts Jr. by way of City Manager Artie Fields to support Inglewood businesses and nonprofits affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Butts announced that $4 million would be set aside from the nearly $32 million received under the American Rescue Plan Act.
According to the city’s adopted 2023-24 budget, it showed the city with close to $3.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds on the books at the start of the new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.
The city announced the program in June and began accepting applications the following month.
Eligibility requirements listed on the city’s website detailed what was needed in order to qualify for funding.
Businesses were required to be located and operating within boundaries of the Inglewood and had to be in operation before March 15, 2019 and must be currently in operation to participate in the program. Businesses that were not in operation before March 15, 2019 and not currently in operation are not eligible to participate.
Due to public interest in the program, public records requests were sent to the city on Nov. 8 inquiring as to how many applications were received after the city extended the application deadline to Sept. 24.
On Nov. 30 the city responded to the document request with a one-sentence reply: “There are no responsive records to your public records request.”
The following week, the city released its City Council agenda for Dec. 5 with an agenda item to approve the mayor executing the Champions Grant Beneficiary Agreement and all other documents necessary to award champions grants.
The accompanying staff report indicated the city received 225 applications. The following week, on the Dec. 12 council agenda, that number increased to 229.
The city expected to assist 300 businesses.
The public was able to determine who would be funded after the city posted the Dec. 12 City Council agenda to the website. A review of the list indicated that businesses that didn’t meet the city’s requirements were approved while those in compliance were left out.
Inglewood Hospitality also known as the Wood Urban Kitchen, is owned by Jonathan Deveaux, former owner of the Savoy night club. The Wood Urban Kitchen was neither open nor approved for a city business license until after March 15, 2019.
Public records indicate the business was on the Permits & Licenses Committee’s agenda for approval in November 2019 and didn’t open until late January 2020.
In October 2022, it made headlines when former NBA referee Derek Richardson purchased K-Anthony Elementary, a private school located at 8420 Crenshaw Blvd. the month prior.
Richardson issued a press release stating it would be renamed for his mother, Dolores T. Richardson.
Despite not starting his business until three years after what the city required in order to apply, the city still awarded the nonprofit a $20,000 Champions Grant.
Most businesses who applied had the same story — once their application was submitted to the city the communication stopped. The only reason they found out they weren’t being funded was by reading the city’s list of businesses that were receiving funds.
Those businesses have asked to not be publicly identified.
The public is now demanding answers after identifying additional businesses that didn’t meet the city’s eligibility requirements.
“We need a full FBI investigation into all the income and grants coming in and where it ends up because it sure isn’t ending up in the city,” resident Jesse Pacheco said.
“What an embarrassment,” added Monica Aldana.
Public comments were submitted to the city inquiring about why there were businesses on the list being awarded the grant to which the city didn’t respond.
The city also claimed to have technical difficulties that prevented the public from watching the Dec. 12 City Council meeting in real time.
The city said the meeting would be recorded and uploaded to its various social media platforms, which hasn’t occurred either.
City Hall is closed to the public between Dec. 18 and Jan. 2.
Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at email@example.com.