Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. has a definite fondness for certain developers who are regular donors to his campaigns. One such developer is Thomas Safran, of Safran and Associates, who regular receives “up front” dollars that will allegedly be reimbursed to the city out of redevelopment bonds.
“I believe that only you and I are the only ones watching these staff reports stating they expect to receive the money back,” said Treasurer Wanda Brown. “Keep in mind it sounds good to say the city will be reimbursed these funds because there is NO guarantee the money will be awarded by the Department of Finance and the money will have already been spent.”
In the lawsuit filed by former Budget and Accounting Manager Barbara Ohno, she details how this ruse is pulled off right under taxpayers noses.
The city handed out redevelopment funds to developers as “loans” with no apparent intention of requiring the developers to repay the so-called loans. Since 2012 [Sharon] Koike and [David] Esparza failed to monitor compliance or performance of these loans to favored developers. This was apparent because the city, with the help of Koike and Esparza, fully reserved all of these loans as non-collectible. Ohno asked Koike for backup documents to justify why these loans were fully reserved as non-collectible because the loans were made with public money. Esparza responded by telling Ohno to stop asking for backup documentation and to leave it to Koike to handle.
The city failed to monitor redevelopment loans for repayment and compliance to senior/low income ratios for affordable housing purposes as required by such loans. This lack of monitoring meant there was no assurances that the properties were properly operated for affordable housing and the redevelopment agency received payment in accordance with the terms of these loans.
On July 26, 2016, the Inglewood Successor Agency sold 125, 139, 140 and 150 N. Market Street to Safran for $7.26 million dollars and 101 N. Market for $1 million. They were due to develop 235 housing units, of which 47 may be classified as affordable, 95,000 sq ft of retail, parking and streetscape improvements.
The project was due to break ground in the 1st quarter of 2017 and was scheduled to be completed by 1st quarter 2019. The remaining properties would be developed by end of 2019. As of today, the properties remain untouched.
During a Special City Council Meeting held on August 22, 2019, Thomas Safran, under the name of Inglewood Market Gateway LLC/TSA Market Gateway LLC, has obtained approval to erect a digital billboard at the intersection of Market and Florence at 205 . Market Street/213 Market Street.
On March 4, 2020, the city held a special meeting to enter into a Development and Disposition Agreement (DDA) with Thomas Safran & Associates (TSA) pledging $6,318,000 towards an affordable housing project at 716-720 W. Beach Blvd.
On December 8, during a special council meeting, the city awarded an additional $3.5 million out of the city’s reserves towards this same project, despite the March 4 staff report stating no further impact to the general fund would take place. The staff report states they expect to be reimbursed by the former redevelopment housing bonds for this.
Safran continues to use multiple shell companies to implement new disposition and development agreements which delays the start of housing projects.
This is a new multi-part series “Eye on Mayor Butts” utilizing the lawsuit of Barbara Ohno, and documents from the Department of Finance, to corroborate claims by Treasurer Wanda Brown that the city is in dire financial straits. Butts gambled heavy on the NFL and with every day the stadium isn’t open to the public, the city’s financial solvency hangs by a piece of dental floss ready to snap at a moments notice.