LOS ANGELES (CN) - A dilapidated, 18-acre section in the heart of the black community in South Los Angeles has been taken over by a set of squatters who have set up trailer houses, a church, a food program and small businesses in the ruins of an old shopping mall that was once a business interest of former Laker Magic Johnson. But the area, called Marlton Square, has become a sore spot for neighbors and developers are now trying to evict the squatters.
The Sentinel, a leading black Los Angeles newspaper reported that the property has "a ten-year plus history of urban blight, bounced checks, and broken promises."
City Councilman Bernard Parks, who was the first black police chief of Los Angeles, said in a phone interview, "People come to us and want us to clean up the area but the city just does not have the ability to step in and level the land."
MS Acquisition Companies, the owner of the property according to a Superior Court complaint filed late last week, is trying to take control of the property by suing the church, a video store and other small business and and up to 500 unnamed, individual defendants.
Magic Johnson Development Company was to be the original developer for the site, but the former Laker apparently lost the deal after a falling out with Mark Ridley-Thomas, another powerful black politician in Los Angeles who was the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the region. The disagreement, reported the Sentinel newspaper, was over "the NFL's efforts to get a team back in the Coliseum."
Subsequently, the deal went to developers Chris Hammond and Jeff Lee. Hammond and Lee appear to be the operators of MS Acquisition, said city councilman Parks.
Hammond completed only one of three projects designed for the area and about $40 million in loans on the property ended up in default, the councilman added.
The 80 percent majority of the property, what was to be developed by Hammond, is currently "bouncing around in bankruptcy court," Parks said. The city owns most of the remaining 20 percent and is "willing to work with whoever ends up with the other 80 percent," Parks stated, "whether it be Hammond or someone else."
Rival politician Ridley-Thomas arranged for Hammond to get the deal, according the local newspaper.
Ridley-Thomas's spokesman Aurelio Rojas said his office would not comment on why the development of the property has been delayed for so long, and whether Hammond has contributed to that delay. "He is probably not going to comment on this," said Rojas.
In seeking to evict the squatters, MS is represented by Stephen Marks.
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