The Los Angeles redevelopment board approved a financing agreement Thursday for the Marlton Square commercial and residential development after prominent elected officials said concern about the builder’s ties to city officials is unwarranted.
The developer of the project is Christopher Hammond, whose wife, Ayahlushim Hammond, is a manager in the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
The agency and other city departments are providing $38.5 million in subsidies for the project in southwest Los Angeles. The developer also is a major contributor to city officials, including Mayor James K. Hahn, whose office put together the deal.
The Times reported Wednesday that Ayahlushim Hammond had negotiated a discount that allowed a separate developer, Grand Promenade Ltd., to repay only $6.4 million of an $11.4-million debt to the CRA.
Afterward, the agency lent $5 million of that money to Christopher Hammond’s Capital Vision Equities Inc. for a senior citizen housing project that is part of Marlton Square.
Ayahlushim Hammond said she had no role in the agency’s decision to use the repaid loan money to finance her husband’s project, but CRA board members have asked the city attorney’s office to determine whether the transactions are proper.
In addition to her full-time CRA job, which pays $106,000 annually, Ayahlushim Hammond receives $45,000 per year in a part-time position handling appointments to state boards and commissions for Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City), who has testified for Marlton Square in the past.
On Thursday, council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks, Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) were among those who testified to the board in favor of the master agreement for Marlton Square.
Perry and others said Ayahlushim Hammond has avoided a conflict of interest by staying clear of CRA decisions about her husband’s project, and that “innuendo” over her activity is unwarranted.
“It’s only hurting the people in the community,” Perry said of the controversy, adding that development is needed at the site just west of the Baldwin Hills Shopping Center on the south side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Other city officials have privately questioned whether there will be adequate private financing for the project, but Ridley-Thomas said Thursday that the development is viable.
Football star Keyshawn Johnson, another partner in the development, became emotional when he described to the board how hard the project has been to bring to fruition.
Ridley-Thomas, a former city councilman, said he is concerned that unnamed members of the board and CRA staff appear to be trying to undermine the project by providing negative information to the media.
During Thursday’s meeting, Christopher Hammond urged board members to support the development as good for the community, and said he and his wife have not mixed their personal and professional duties. “We have tried to keep all of our relationships separate,” he told the board.
The agreement, approved unanimously by the board Thursday and still requiring City Council adoption, spells out the city’s role in financing for construction of a 140,000-square-foot retail center and 140 single-family homes.
It does not apply to the senior housing project already underway.
“This is an important milestone that brings us closer to realizing our shared vision for the revitalization of the Crenshaw District,” Hahn said in a statement.