Nuisance abatement suit background: Nuisance abatement suits are brought by the Los Angeles City Attorney against homeowners or commercial landlords or tenants who allegedly allow their property to be used to further criminal activity. The City of Los Angeles notoriously uses such suits along with gang injunctions and the myriad of laws criminalizing homelessness to effect and defend the progress of gentrification.
I’ve been tracking a nuisance abatement case filed by the Los Angeles City Attorney against a West Adams liquor store, Holiday Liquors, on Adams a little east of La Brea. West Adams is gentrifying super fast,1 of course, and this nuisance abatement suit is clearly part of the plan. New residents in all of LA’s gentrification battlegrounds are obsessed with access to upscale retail choices2 and also are famously terrified of many of the original inhabitants.
Liquor stores like Holiday impede gentrification by scaring new residents, by not being cute succulents-n-linen shops or brunch spots, and by being useful to the original residents. One way in which the City uses nuisance abatement suits to promote gentrification is by attacking impediments like Holiday Liquor.3 Gentrification funnels money to real estate developers who turn around and show their pleasure by sending a small percentage back to elected officials. Mike Feuer needs this kind of support for his 2022 mayoral campaign, so nuisance suits like this are to be expected.
And zillionaire real estate developers CIM Group, guided by anger-management casualty and founder Shaul Kuba, is one of the major forces behind the ongoing gentrification of West Adams. In 2019 they were developing at least six sites within a couple blocks of Holiday Liquor. CIM also convinced4 Herb Wesson of CD10 to create a business improvement district on Adams between La Brea and Fairfax,5 unsurprisingly making “perceptions of safety” a huge part of their pro-BID arguments.
Usually when I’m writing about how developers and the City of Los Angeles collaborate to gentrify neighborhoods I’m forced to explain how the effort is coordinated by talking about convergence of interests and the fact that zillionaires and politicians all still want the same stuff as they always wanted so don’t have any need to explicitly communicate their desires to one another in order to have them fulfilled.
But I recently obtained a number of depositions taken in the Holiday Liquor case which show that Shaul Kuba of CIM Group has been deeply involved in this case for years and has even used the existence of the suit to try to convince Sheriff, who also owns the building, to sell his property. On his own sworn testimony Wesson aide Kimani Black knows Kuba well.6 Black also talks about his role as repository of complaints about Holiday Liquors. He said that neighbors were unhappy with the store and that he had met with community groups about the problem.
But the deposition of Holiday Liquors owner Abdul Sheriff reveals that not only is Kuba aware of the existence of Holiday liquors but that he approached Sheriff and tried repeatedly to buy the building from him. When Sheriff refused Kuba explicitly brought up the nuisance suit. According to Sheriff Kuba said he was “just trying to help by purchasing the store and that nobody — to name anybody in the City only about counsel, that wants me there on Adams.”
So here’s a developer explicitly using a nuisance suit as leverage to try to get a targeted property owner to sell to him. When Sheriff asked him what he meant by saying that nobody wants him on Adams Kuba brought up Kimani Black. Black, as field deputy, hears everyone’s complaints about everything. And apparently he’s sharing the information with Kuba, who uses it to try to force Sheriff to sell out to CIM.7 Not only that, but Kuba is appallingly abusive. He called Sheriff “a piece of shit” for not wanting to sell to him.
Like I said above, the City Attorney uses nuisance abatement suits to facilitate gentrification.8 I doubt that usually there’s any coordination, because all the players know what the others need and they provide it. This episode makes me wonder if I’m completely wrong, though. Maybe they all sit around and talk about it openly with one another, promise specific assistance, and so on. At this point, having seen so much idiotic unfounded arrogance in and around 200 N. Spring Street, it actually wouldn’t suprise me at all.
And let’s close with a transcription of the entire discussion of Kuba and CIM Group from Sheriff’s deposition. The questioner is Deputy City Attorney Drew Robertson. Sheriff is answering. Mr. Nwabuzor is Sheriff’s attorney. Robertson sometimes calls CIM CMI in error and no one knew how to spell Shaul Kuba’s name so the reporter spelled it phonetically:
Q. What made you think that C.M.I. has anything to do with this lawsuit?
A. Because upon my meeting with C.I.M. [Shaul Kuba] did tell me that he was just trying to help by purchasing the store and that nobody — to name anybody in the City only about counsel, that wants me there on Adams.
Q. He told you nobody wants you there?
A. He told me to name anybody in the neighborhood that wants me on Adams.
Q. What did he mean by that? Or what did you understand him to mean by that?
A. I asked him what did you mean, and he made sure, Kimani Black.
COURT REPORTER: He made what?
THE WITNESS: He made sure Kimani Black.
MR. NWABUZOR: K-I-M-A-N-I
THE WITNESS: He made sure Kimani Black.
BY MS. ROBERTSON:
Q. And what about Mr. Black?
A. He said they don’t want you on Adams.
Q. Did he explain why he thought that?
A. That’s when I called him.
Q. That’s when you called Mr. Black?
A. That’s when he told me, and asked me and I called him. I was furious because he calls me a piece of shit.
Q. Mr. Black called you that?
A. C.I.M. fonder, Sharul Cuber, (phonetically) called me a piece of shit.
Q. And he said that to you in person?
A. Yes, says it in person in front of his assistants which I think I have, I gave a card, and in front of the agent, Andrew Leaf.
COURT REPORTER; Andrew Leaf?
THE WITNESS: Yes, Andrew Leaf?
BY MS. ROBERTSON:
Q. He said that because you wouldn’t sell the property to him?
A. Correct. And he expressed to me that he was just trying the help me, and that my — I’m a piece of shit that owned Holiday.
Q. Do you have any other reason to think that C.M.I. is somehow connected to this lawsuit?
A. I think so.
Q. What is that?
A. Because he has the financial and political connection.
Q. What kind of financial and political connection?
A. He’s the bigger developer of Adams. He owns half of Adams.
Q. Is there anyone in particular that you believe he has a connection to?
A. Well, other than he’s in contact with the Coimcilman’s office.
Q. Which councilman?
A. Herb Wesson.
COURT REPORTER: What’s the name, please?
MS. ROBERTSON: H-E-R-B, W-E-S-S-O-N.
- This New York Times article on West Adams is as stupidly despicable as every other word about Los Angeles ever published by the NYT, ever written by anyone who’s ever worked at the NYT. Probably everyone who ever subscribed to the NYT, but it does prove that West Adams is beseiged by gentrifiers. Why would the NYT even know where it was if it weren’t?
- For instance, see this deeply horrible Investopedia article on gentrification in LA. City Terrace: “you won’t find the restaurants and shops that exist in more upscale neighborhoods. But as gentrification continues, the commercial areas nearby will revitalize, too.” Cypress Park: “While there aren’t many commercial options in these neighborhoods, trendy commercial areas such as York, Eagle Rock, and Glendale boulevards are nearby.”
- There are plenty of other ways, including evicting tenants from rent stabilized buildings and forcing the wrong kinds of homeowners to sell their property.
- They didn’t have to convince him. He was thrilled to do it.
- Technically it’s between La Brea and Genesee, but if you visualize approaching that intersection westbound on Adams you’ll see why it stops at Genesee, only about 100 feet east of Fairfax.
- Which isn’t surprising in itself. Black is Wesson’s West Adams field deputy and must know every developer building something significant in the area. Also note that the linked-to deposition of Black has an incredible amount of new information about the role that Councilmembers play in nuisance abatement petitions. It’s worth reading for that alone.
- I’m not criticizing Black for sharing the information per se. Such complaints are public records when they’re in writing and Kuba has as much a right to see them as anyone. What bothers me is that it’s very, very likely that Black, acting on the tacit or explicit instructions of Herb Wesson, is passing information tailored to Kuba’s purposes, clearly as a way to promote them.
- Again, not the only use of them. Such a powerful tool has many uses. One that’s hard to prove but easy to see is as an extension of the random stops, detentions, arrests that LAPD uses to keep residents of South Central down. The City Attorney uses nuisance abatement suits to randomly take away poor people’s houses for such trivial things as having a grandson who has a video game buddy who’s in a gang but that’s not why he’s there. The random deprivation carries the message.