Controversy Erupts Over Public Funds Slated For Farmers Field’s Architectural Firm

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Jeff Dietrich serves a thousand meals a day at his soup kitchen on skid row. He sees the poor and needy firsthand.

But he does not see why a $1 million of taxpayer money, that could go to help the people on skid row, is ending up in the hands of one of the world’s largest architectural firms. The money is slated to go to the firm that designed Farmers Field, the new, privately-financed football stadium.

“When you drive around here and see all the people on the streets pushing shopping carts, when you see them lying on the streets, when you see them homeless, you have to ask yourself how can you use money for that type of activity,” Dietrich said.

But we found that is just what the mayor is proposing.

After promises of no public money going to the stadium project, he has OK’d $1 million of federal community development block grant money, earmarked to help the poor and needy, to go to the Gensler Architectural Firm.

They are moving from Santa Monica to a building dubbed the “jewel box” in Downtown L.A. The money is for rehabbing the building to turn it into a trendy office complex for 250 employees.

“People are really mad,” said Becky Dennison of the L.A. Community Action Network — a group devoted to protecting the rights of the homeless.

“I think it’s pure politics and driven by the stadium project,” she said.

Through the Legal Aid Foundation, they filed a complaint with HUD, which administers the money, alleging mismanagement of the community block grant funds.

“I think we’ve said from the beginning we didn’t oppose the stadium project, but we didn’t want public money and we didn’t want backroom deals. And that’s what we see.”

HUD responded saying Gensler is eligible for the money, as long as they create just 29 new jobs. At least 51 percent have to be held by low or moderate income workers, who have no more than a high school education.

It sounds easy enough, but even people within the city questioned it. In e-mails obtained by Legal Aid, one person involved with granting the money said, “This project could meet a national objective, public benefit, etc. But I imagine this will not.”

Mark Lewis and his wife, Beth Mueller, tried to get some of the same public funds that went to Gensler. Through the Central City Community Outreach, a church on skid row, they proposed more than two-dozen programs to help the needy. All were turned down.

“There are better ways to spend a million dollars and provide a lot more jobs,” Lewis said.

Despite some of the questions and despite the fact that Gensler still has not said what jobs would be created and how, the City Council approved the mayor’s proposal. The company and the city are still working on the final agreement before the money changes hands.

“It’s part of an effort to revitalize the city and it’s an effort that I stand by,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

He says Gensler will bring hundreds of jobs to Downtown L.A. and that the money has nothing to do with football.

“This is public money going towards the stadium,” I asked the Mayor?

“Actually, it’s not. It’s public money going to job creation going to provide more revenues,” Villaraigosa said.

But critics say that will never filter down to those who need it the most.

“I don’t think anybody on this street, I don’t think any poor person, is going to get any of those jobs.”

They claim that is where the money should go, not to a company with ties to a stadium that is supposed to be built without public funds.

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