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Activists Say Time's Up for Prominent K-Town Developer

Banner outside of Jamison headquarters

Southern California developer Jamison Properties is facing escalating protests over its alleged exploitative business practices and the "slumlord"-style operations of management arm, Jamison Services. Demonstrators have gathered at multiple locations across Los Angeles to denounce Jamison's treatment of tenants and workers, with some protesters specifically targeting subcontractor, MG Drywall, who is currently working at a mixed-use Jamison project at 3545 Wilshire Blvd. They accuse the company of mistreating its employees and colluding with the developer to cut costs at the community’s detriment.

Demonstrators have unfurled large banners at the site and are distributing flyers with text that reads “slum lord of KoreaTown” and “shame on Jamison Development and Jaime Lee.” Lee is the owner of Jamison and daughter of founder Dr. David Lee who has taken more of a backseat role in recent years after being hounded by controversy.

"Jaime Lee and Jamison have gone too far by using MG Drywall," said George Bocanegra, a representative from a labor union involved in the protests. "This is a company with a history of exploiting their workers. And it's not surprising Jamison is using them on their Wilshire project considering the developers own questionable history of building cheap, and Jamison Services’ reputation as slumlords in Los Angeles. One would have hoped that Jaime would have changed the direction of the company, but it looks like she is following in her father’s footsteps."

Dr. David Lee

Dr. Lee and daughter Jaime

In recent years, there has been a change of guard at Jamison. There are numerous complaints against the company and an incident five years ago exemplifies an unattractive intemperance that has thwarted projects and may have prompted Dr. Lee to step out of the spotlight.

During a meeting in 2018 led by City Council President Herb Wesson to address concerns over property at 3700 Wilshire Blvd, a park that Jamison was looking to turn into a mixed-use tower, Dr. David Lee, founder of Jamison, threatened to use his AR-15 rifle to shoot conservationists who were trying to stop the development. Annette Van Duren of Save Liberty Park, the community group fighting Lee’s development, reported, “if we don't let him build, he will put up a wall, pave over, and cut the trees down, he will use his AR-15 rifle and shoot people who step on his land. When told by Wesson’s chief of staff Deron Williams ‘you can't say things like that,’ Dr. Lee says yes, I can, because he has the automatic rifle at home and it's his land. Everyone in the room was unnerved and in shock.”

Ultimately, an application filed by the group declaring the park an Historic-Cultural Monument was approved- stopping Lee from building. “Had he not used those words, we would have lost. One hundred percent we would have lost,” Van Duren said of the outcome.

Also in 2018, Jamison was sued by tenants of a property at 600 S. Alvarado- complaining of rat infestation, bedbugs, and cockroaches. This was the third time the property was investigated with the first occurring in 2005 and the second a year before in 2017. This is an example of Jamison’s reputation amongst renters in Los Angeles and jibes with dozens of online reviews that slam the company and garner it a one-star yelp rating.

“Jamison has a record of abusing their tenants and the Lee’s have exemplified a build at all costs mentality with no care for the community, only for their pockets. We see that in their management practices and with their hiring practices as well,” said Bocanegra.

Possibly due to the controversy surrounding Dr. Lee, he has taken a backseat at Jamison and his daughter Jaime has become the face of the company. Bocanegra continued, "With new leadership, we were really hoping that Jamison was going to change their ways…we want Jamison to start treating tenants and workers alike with respect. By hiring MG, it’s just another example of Jamison continuing in its exploitative ways. And we won't stop protesting until they do."

MG Drywall

Another banner at 3545 Wilshire Blvd.

Given Jamison’s pursuit of the bottom line, it is not surprising to labor representatives that according to reports, Jamison cut millions of dollars in costs by secretly subcontracting aspects of the project with MG Drywall- while a reputable contractor, Superior Wall Systems, was originally tasked with the work. “They went through the back door with MG while pretending to operate above board with Superior. They saw an opportunity for a shady cash grab and took it," said Joe Fuchs another Labor representative present at the protests. He adds that he will not be surprised in the least that this results in subpar work and violations of labor standards.

MG drywall, named for founder Mario Garcia, is a relatively new company on paper. However, this is just the newest incarnation of a Garcia helmed subcontractor in the construction business. According to labor watchdogs, Garcia has run numerous companies that initially fly under the radar only to dissolve once investigations begin. "They continue to build these companies, exploit the work force that undoubtedly includes undocumented workers and then leave them high and dry when investigators or the law knocks on someone like Mario Garcia's door. Recently, he was involved in a labor dispute with another residential contractor while operating as Gaoro Construction, and when things got ugly Garcia once again closed that down and started MG Drywall."

3545 Wilshire

According to the protestors at the 3545 Wilshire project, this represents the end of the road for Jamison’s slumlord management style and their hiring of exploitative contractors. They hope that by shedding light on the company’s business practices, its young CEO Jaime Lee, will take a hard look at their history as a property management company, their hiring practices, and their station in the community.

Protestors contend that they will not leave until MG is removed from the project as a start. Labor activists believe that it is just a matter of time before the truth comes out and they urge Jamison to do the right thing.

“I know the numbers. Jamison cut the budget for this project by something like $2 million dollars when they undercut a reputable contractor already on the job and replaced them with a rat. We are investigating this, and we are confident that we may find illegality. If actions like this convince Jaime to overhaul the company from top to bottom then, we will be happy. Until that time, we will be right here watching and waiting,” said Bocanegra.

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