Is Donald Trump the investor behind the controversial project at 8150 Sunset Blvd.? Do “alternative facts” matter?
Some opponents of project have launched a vicious campaign against its developers, Townscape Partners, and three West Hollywood City Council members that they have labeled the “Townscape Three” and who they say are backing the 8150 Sunset project.
The assertion that Trump is backing the enormous multi-use project was raised again by a speaker during the public comment period at last week’s West Hollywood City Council meeting. The attacks on WeHo City Council members John Duran, John Heilman and Lindsey Horvath — the so-called “Townscape Three” — have been made in a flurry of emails over the past few months from Michael Grace, a West Hollywood resident who is an entertainment writer and producer. .
Grace’s emails often include a link to a website called Anti-Elite, which publishes stories about affluent people and businesses that it sees as corrupt. The stories generally include links to real news stories and along with false assertions added by the Anti-Elite writer. That writer is identified as JMitford, an allusion to Jessica Mitford, the English journalist and civil rights activist who died in 1996. The actual publisher of that website is not revealed.
Connecting the 8150 Sunset project to Trump is an apparent effort to raise alarm in West Hollywood, whose residents voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and most of whom are identified as Democrats and progressive. The “connection” is based on an allegation that Trump is an investor in Angelo Gordon (AG), which has invested in Townscape Partners.
A reader recently sent information to WEHOville that verifies that Trump’s companies actually have invested somewhere between $2 million and $10 million in AG’s funds. Still, those making the allegation apparently don’t realize that an investor such as Trump would be one of many and would have no influence on where AG puts its money. Thus the implication that Trump is calling the shots for Townscape is bogus.
Founded in 1988, AG describes itself as an “alternative investment” fund. According to The Street, a website focused on Wall Street, AG currently manages $26 billion of investor money. It’s also important to note that as a private firm, AG and its investment decisions are controlled by its partners and not those who invest their money with it. Those investors — who are limited partners in the various AG funds — have included the New Mexico State Investment Council, Pennsylvania Public Schools Employees’ Retirement, the Minnesota State Board of Investment and the Texas Permanent School Fund.
Following the Trump investment rationale, investors in the 8150 Sunset project may include some of those fighting against it if their retirement funds have been invested in some manner in AG or other entities that invest in AG.
As to the involvement of the “Townscape Three,” the City of West Hollywood and the WeHo City Council have no real control over the 8150 Sunset project, given that it sits just outside West Hollywood’s northern board with the City of Los Angeles. The city did hire a lawyer to challenge the project because of its possible impact on traffic and other issues that might affect West Hollywood residents nearby.
It dropped its opposition after Mayor Lauren Meister and Stephanie DeWolfe, the city’s community development director, negotiated with Townscape to restrict the height of the project and require Townscape to pay the city to offset the project’s impact on traffic and the sewer system. While that deal got the unanimous approval of the city council, Horvath, designated by the council to work with Meister on negotiating with Townscape, has noted publicly that Meister didn’t consult her in that deal. Later the city council agreed to place a cul de sac on Havenhurst Drive to make it difficult for vehicles leaving the 8150 Sunset location to enter that WeHo residential street.
It is true that Townscape’s partners, Tyler Siegel and John Irwin, have been major donors to the election campaigns of Duran, Heilman and Horvath. And it is true that they supported another controversial Townscape project — granting an exception to the city’s zoning ordinance to permit a massive expansion of the building at 8899 Beverly Blvd. But that is another issue.
WEHOville encourages vigorous debates over issues that have an impact on West Hollywood. Thankfully, residents of our city have shown no reluctance to engage in such debates, which is the essence of democracy. But at a time when Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Donald Trump, defends lies by him and his associates as “alternative facts,” it’s important that we not damage the reputation of our progressive city by using such “facts” in our discussions of controversial issues. Facts matter. “Alternative facts” don’t.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said that Mayor Lauren Meister and WeHo Community Development Director Stephanie DeWolfe negotiated with Townscape Partners for a cul de sac on Havenhurst. Meister and DeWolfe actually negotiated a reduction in the height of the project and a payment to WeHo for its impact on traffic and the sewer system. This story has been updated to state that. The story also has been updated upon receipt of verifiable evidence from a reader that Trump’s businesses have invested in Angelo Gordon.