Opposition is mounting to a plan to take money-making parking spaces away from the California Science Center and give them to USC as part of a deal to have the private school operate the taxpayer-owned Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Science Center's fundraising foundation and Sen. Curren D. Price (D-South Los Angeles) have joined the ranks of critics who say the parking plan would damage attendance and programs at the center and its Exposition Park neighbor, the California African American Museum.
"The bottom line is that USC is a private institution and will literally take public resources as a gift, depriving the state of critical funds," Tom Soto, chair of the Science Center Foundation board, wrote in a letter to the chairwoman of the center's governing panel, Fabian Wesson.
In an interview, Soto called the proposal to guarantee USC 70% of the spaces in the Science Center's garage 25 days a year "a profit-driven effort to ensure a gross margin that USC is looking for."
"We're not interested in that. We are interested in ensuring access to educational opportunity - to the Science Center."
Public hearings on the parking provision and the larger deal to grant USC control of the Coliseum complex are set for 6 p.m. Thursday at the African American Museum and 10 a.m. Saturday at the Science Center.
The Science Center, which offers free admission, has seen record attendance since the arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour. Museum backers like Steve Soboroff, the prominent civic leader, have said the loss of parking spaces to USC could cut into that growth.
Soto said the Science Center could be forced to give up most of the parking spaces on about half the weekends a year.
"That's a considerable bite," he said, adding the plan does not guarantee parking for school buses and tour operators shuttling visitors from as far away as China.
He also objected to the Science Center board's decision to give the public less than two weeks to review the proposal before a vote, which could come Wednesday. In his letter, he called the timetable "a clear indication of USC's intent to 'rush' the action through."
Wesson did not responded to an interview request.
Price, the state lawmaker, was elected this month to the City Council seat that represents the Science Center. He said the loss of parking revenue under the plan could trigger "significant layoffs" at the museum.
A part of the plan that gives USC a discount on parking spaces it could resell at a profit would be "a gift of almost $500,000 annually" to the school, Price said.
He said the plan violated a state law that requires the parking garage to be operated in a way that benefits the Science Center and African American Museum.
Councilman Bernard C. Parks, whose district borders the Science Center, also called the parking plan "a gift of public funds."
In the wake of a corruption scandal and funding shortfalls, the Coliseum Commission already has decided to hand USC the keys to the stadium under a lease that runs to 2054. The Science Center vote could extend that agreement to 2111 and throw in the extra parking for USC.