Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem
State Indicates Wrongdoings in
By KATHY LEE SCOTT
Described as an "example of what can go wrong," the State Joint Legislative Audit Committee reported on the two decades' debacle involving the City of Hawaiian Gardens' Redevelopment Agency and the casino being built on Carson Street.
Assemblymember Scott Wildman chaired the joint committee that researched the history of how Dr. Irving Moskowitz and his Cerritos Gardens General Hospital Company allegedly bilked the agency of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to get a gambling establishment built in the city.
The agency, in early 1982, began its redevelopment efforts with the 23-acre site at Pioneer Boulevard and Carson Street. It contained a few businesses and vacant land owned by CGG Hospital Company and Moskowitz. While several of the business owners were agreeable to working with the agency, Moskowitz was not.
When the agency tried to acquire his land through eminent domain, he filed a lawsuit, ultimately persuading the agency to withdraw its attempts, allowing him to develop his parcels. The first agreement between the two parties in 1982 was thwarted because Moskowitz failed to produce any drawings or plans. According to the JLAC report, "Moskowitz's intentions to build a gambling operation . . . which was illegal at the time, became evident."
It took almost three years before Moskowitz submitted a set of site plans when he asked to get an extension to negotiate a disposition and development agreement.
Moskowitz sued the city and agency for racketeering, conspiracy, fraud, malicious intent and violation of his constitutional and civic rights. According to the JLAC report, Moskowitz then claimed "no public assistance is required to improve this property." Yet, earlier, he claimed "the only way this property can be developed properly is by the city making a contribution to the developer."
Consequently, the agency agreed to sell the property it owned at the site to Moskowitz. In August 1992, Moskowitz asked the agency to acquire the remaining acreage at the site on his behalf, claiming he needed all the property for the proposed development, and that the remaining property owners refused to sell. The agency and property owner began to negotiate a disposition and development agreement, but when the agency's version of the DDA reversed much of the responsibility and risk back to Moskowitz, he promptly pulled out of the agreement, leaving the agency dealing with only three property owners - the very ones Moskowitz wanted to buy out.
In March 1993, he apparently threatened the agency with no development unless the agency acquired the three parcels. He allegedly pushed the agency to adopt a revised DDA, under which the agency would be responsible for 50 percent of the acquisition and relocation costs and all of the infrastructure improvements.
Additionally, Moskowitz did not deliver his version of the DDA until right before the agency's meeting, then demanded it approve it the following day. Such action, according to the report, would violate state law requiring public hearings and notification.
The agency further violated the law when it held a special, closed meeting in May 1993 to consider the DDA. However, according to the JLAC report, the agency members were given Moskowitz's version of the DDA.
STATE CODE VIOLATIONS
In 1994, Moskowitz asked for an amendment to the DDA that would eliminate his obligation to pay his share of relocation costs for the businesses now leaving the site and to permit his removing tenants whenever he chose. Additionally, the amendment eliminated any liability by Moskowitz for delays in developing the site caused by property owners' fights against his acquiring their land.
During this, Moskowitz asked for a second DDA amendment in June 1995 that extended the deadline for him to present a plan; added five more parcels using the agency's condemnation power; and changed the plan from a food and drug establishment to a commercial one.
At a June 1995 agency meeting, the JLAC contends Weiner made false statements to the board about Moskowitz's need to obtain more property and how difficult it was for him to attract businesses to the site. The amendment would expose the agency to more lawsuits, according to Graham Ritchie, the agency's counselor, and again would relieve Moskowitz of any financial burden to obtain property. The agency approved the amendment in August 1995.
It was during this year, according to the JLAC, that Moskowitz began to contribute around $200,000 a month to the city, through two nonprofit organizations, the Hawaiian Gardens Police and Public Safety and the Hawaiian Gardens Education foundations, both of which were "wholly dependent on the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation."
The arrangement was formalized with a March 1999 agreement that gave the card club a 15-percent "offset" of the monthly license fee in excess of $200,000 until the club generates $4 million in revenues per month. Once it generates that minimum amount, according to the agreement, the club would receive a 17.5-percent offset on the monthly license $200,000 fee.
Further reports exploring all sides of these issues will appear in the weeks to come.
Copyright 2000, The News-Enterprise.