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Racist Comment by Attorney Alleged

October 09, 1998

An African American businessman asked Thursday that the Ahmanson Foundation publicly apologize for statements made in a Beverly Hills Planning Commission meeting that the businessman claimed were racist.

Jim White, owner of JWE Studio on Wilshire Boulevard, took issue with statements by an attorney for the Ahmanson Foundation who spoke to the commission on Sept. 23 to oppose a conditional use permit being sought by a Lexus dealership for a used car sales lot across the street from the foundation's offices.

According to documents distributed by White's lawyer, Gloria Allred, Ahmanson attorney Milan Smith asked the commissioners, "What happens if you grant this and then a well-financed minority person comes in and wants a conditional use permit to have a used car lot that close to the center of the city? How will you deny that?"

White said he was shocked and upset at the comments, and said so during the meeting.

Allred said her client wants the foundation to make a public apology to all minorities, contribute to organizations that encourage minority business to move into Beverly Hills, increase minority representation on the Ahmanson board of trustees and hold a trustee meeting to meet with White and other minorities about the foundation's views on minority businesses.

A spokesman for Ahmanson said that Smith apologized at the meeting for his comments, saying they were misconstrued and not meant to offend anyone or imply that the city would discriminate against minority businesses.

Ahmanson spokesman Michael Sitrick said Daniel Belin, an attorney for the foundation, sent a letter of apology to the Planning Commission in which he stated that Ahmanson has decided to cease using Smith as counsel.

Sitrick said Belin also met with White two days after the meeting to apologize.

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