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SHELL GAME UNCOVERED MAYOR'S BACK-ROOM DEAL COMES TO LIGHT.

Byline: KIMIT MUSTON Local View

I told you almost a year ago I was going to say ``I told you so,'' and now I'm saying it.

I told you so.

I told you Mayor James Hahn was cutting taxpayer-funded back-room deals to fuel his $7 million media campaign against Valley secession. Now one of those deals has come to light, and it shows clearly just what Hahn was really defending - and it wasn't a ``world-class city.''

He was defending politically connected developers like Christopher Hammond, whom the mayor has named to the Recreation and Parks Commission.

Over the past five years Hammond, his wife, Ayahlushim Hammond, and his firm, Capital Vision Equities, have made at least $60,000 in political donations to various denizens of City Hall.

Mr. Hammond even wrote a $15,000 check to the mayor's anti-secession campaign, which was unfortunately over the legal limit and which the mayor returned. But Hahn did keep the ``bundled'' $10,500 in anti-secession contributions made by Capital Vision employees.

Now, if those numbers sound familiar you may be confusing Hammond's two anti-secession donations with two other anti-secession checks - the illegal $10,000 check from Cody Cluff's Entertainment Industry Development Corp., and the illegal check for $15,000, also from Cody's EIDC, which Mayor Hahn sort of forgot he had received, at least for awhile.

Curious, those amounts.

Now, Cody's checks led to his early retirement, but Christopher Hammond does not get his paycheck directly from the city so his excessive largess probably will not lead to his retirement. His wife, however, is on the government payroll, at least partially.

Ayahlushim Hammond is the manager of the Bunker Hill Project for the Community Redevelopment Agency, and she also runs the union of CRA management employees.

Very convenient, don't you think?

But that may also be why it struck some CRA employees as curious when $5 million from the Bunker Hill Project accounts recently was loaned to Capital Vision's Marlton Square project.

It struck them as even more curious when, under the mayor's direction, the CRA was willing to make an unusual 20-year commitment to provide Capital Vision with $43 million in taxpayer money for the Marlton Square project - a commitment the CRA made official Thursday.

Several of the CRA employees were so bothered that they dropped a dime to the City Ethics Commission, which is now investigating these curious events. I'll bet somebody gets his or her wrist slapped eventually.

At the center of this is Marlton Square, an almost derelict shopping mall that for 23 years has been an open wound in the Crenshaw district. City Hall never seemed able to fix the place - despite the fact that solving such problems was City Hall's primary justification for taking $122 million a year in excess taxes from the Valley. Remember?

Enter Christopher Hammond with promises of $80 million in private financing, 200 construction jobs, 140,000 square feet of retail space, some 130 permanent jobs, 180 senior citizen housing units and 140 single-family homes.

Hammond's promises sounded so good to Mayor Hahn that he ordered Deputy Mayor Jonathan Kevles to take over the negotiations, saying the deal was much too complicated for the CRA to deal with.

It got more complicated right away.

Capital Vision's initial $100,000 ``good faith'' check bounced.

The IRS hit Hammond with four separate tax liens, claiming he owed them $140,000.

Dun & Bradstreet labeled Capital Visions a credit risk with a high possibility of failing.

Hammond can, of course, explain it all. He didn't expect the city to cash his check so fast. The tax liens are really on other parts of his business. And he's got a new partner for Marlton Square who's loaded with money, Tampa Bay wide receiver, Keyshawn Johnson.

Well, Hammond is a developer and developers often survive on little more than dreams and sales pitches. In his vision everything will come in on time and on budget. If developers didn't believe that, nothing would ever be developed.

But after 23 years of City Hall failures, the people of Crenshaw deserve more substance.

And those of us in the Valley who have been funding this farce for a quarter of a century deserve something more than yet another example of what one source near the City Council's investigation of all of this described as ``a perfect example of politics over policy.''

Was this what Mayor Hahn was trying to save from secession? I think it was.

And I told you so.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) The $123 million Marlton Square project involves the area that now includes the Santa Barbara Plaza in South Los Angeles.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 2003
Words:778
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