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Trump Tussled With Los Angeles School Board Over Historical Hotel

Cross-posted from Education Week's Politics K-12 blog

By Andrew Ujifusa

The first time real estate executive and presumptive GOP nominee for president Donald Trump is mentioned substantively in the Education Week archives is 1990. But the Common Core State Standards, which Trump professes to despise, didn't exist yet. And the 1990 article has nothing to do with shrinking or eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, something Trump says he wants to do


So why was he in the story? You may not be surprised to learn that it was over a piece of property in Los Angeles. Trump wanted to turn it into a skyscraper, we reported nearly 26 years ago. But the Los Angeles school board had other ideas.

Trump's real estate group owned the site of the Ambassador Hotel on tony Wilshire Boulevard (as it happens, the site of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination in 1968), and wanted to turn it into a 125-story office tower. But the Los Angeles board had selected the site for a high school that would serve 3,000 students—the board said the plan for the school was a key piece of its efforts to relieve overcrowding in the district.

The district voted unanimously to use eminent domain to force the sale of the property from Trump's organization. Trump was having none of it, and a bitter public feud between his group and the school board began. The two parties' respective valuations of the land, for example, were tens of millions of dollars apart. Some local businesses sided with Trump.

"The dispute between the district and the Trump Organization has been acrimonious. The two parties disagree over use of the property, dispute its worth, and question each other's motives," former Education Week reporter Michael Newman wrote on May 23, 1990. "And, thus far, attempts at a compromise—such as an alternate site for the school—have failed."

So what happened? The Los Angeles Times, in a retrospective late last year, noted that in 1991, Trump's group agreed to take a $48 million deposit it had from the district and effectively cede control of the property to the district. That was much less than what his group had been demanding for the property. As the Times put it, "Trump blinked."

The story didn't end there, as a lot of legal wrangling ensued over just how much money should change hands. At one point in 1993, Education Week reported that the school district had decided to drop its Wilshire Boulevard plans and look elsewhere for a new school. The final resolution to the disagreement came in 2001, when the district decided to buy the property after all for nearly $77 million. Today, it's the site of a K-12 school campus.

School construction is still on Trump's mind, although in a different way. Last March, Trump gave an interview with the Washington Post in which he complained that the country spent money over and over again on building things like schools in Iraq, only to see them get blown up.

"And yet we can't build a school in Brooklyn. We have no money for education, because we can't build in our own country," Trump told the Post. 

And some might find irony in the fact that, roughly a quarter-century after his fight with the L.A. school board, Trump praised the power of local school boards in a campaign video posted to Facebook. 

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