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Carson, Inglewood jockey for position in race to build NFL stadium

Carson's NFL stadium stadium is moving along, but an Inglewood resident is asking for a proposal review

The four-page letter to California's Department of Finance is crammed with enough legal jargon and land-use minutiae to make a second-year law student blanch.

Phrases such as "pursuant to the OPA ... to the JPA in violation of Section 34177.3(c)..." fill the missive alleging "financial irregularities" connected to Carson's proposed NFL stadium.

But the woman who signed the letter isn't a lawyer. Instead, Gloria D. Gray is a 70-year-old Inglewood resident who spent almost four decades working for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

And Carson Mayor Albert Robles, sworn in less than a month ago, sounds exasperated at what he sees as an attempt to hinder the project after the city council unanimously approved it last month.

"There is an effort afoot to undermine our efforts to secure an NFL franchise," Robles said of the $1.7-billion project backed by the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders.

"If they're able to create distractions or in any way delay our moving forward, it would undermine our efforts. ... But right now there is nothing that undermines our viability as a city to be the home of the return of the NFL."

The mayor wore a custom half-Raiders, half-Chargers jersey at the February news conference announcing the stadium project. Now he believes that supporters of the rival project in Inglewood — on their own — are behind the apparent gamesmanship in the competition to bring professional football back to the Los Angeles area.

"Yes, absolutely. Without a doubt," Robles said. "I don't want to attribute it to the City of Inglewood, per se, or to the Rams, per se. But there are other parties that take it upon themselves to say, 'What could we do to slow down Carson?' They'll resort to whatever they have to do."

In a brief phone conversation, Gray, a member of the board that oversees the Carson Successor Agency, politely declined to speak about the letter.

"I signed the letter. It has my signature," she said. "It speaks for itself."

Carson City Attorney Sunny Soltani called the matter a "non-issue." Her tone was stronger in a letter that responded to Gray's assertions.

"As you recall," Soltani wrote, "when the Oversight Board considered the Settlement Agreement, Member Gray abstained from voting, noting that she is a resident of the City of Inglewood, supports the proposed football stadium in Inglewood and opposes the stadium project in Carson."

Between the deluge of acronyms and liberal sprinkling of state code citations, Gray's letter argued that a vote by the Oversight Board in connection with the project should be negated and asked that the Department of Finance perform additional reviews of the transaction.

"As a member, I have constantly expressed my concerns ... about the lack of transparency and full disclosure relative to this particular action of the Oversight Board ..." Gray wrote.

The legalese didn't sway the Department of Finance. No investigations are planned, a department spokesman said. In late April — about a week before Gray sent the letter — the agency ruled that the deal met Carson's obligation to clean up the stadium parcel, the site of a former landfill. From the department's perspective, the letter changed nothing.

Officials with the proposed stadium at the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack backed by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke declined to comment.

Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said in an email that he doesn't respond to "perceived inferences" and wished Carson and Robles luck in the stadium race.

The complex land transaction in Carson closed earlier this week. The deed for 157 acres adjacent to the 405 Freeway transferred from Carson Marketplace, which once planned to build a mixed-use development on the site, to a joint powers authority controlled by Carson. A holding company jointly owned by the Chargers and Raiders acquired an additional 11 acres for an undisclosed sum.

Carson previously authorized issuing $50.5 million in bonds to finish the site's cleanup.

The letter, though, is the latest in a string of stadium-related controversies this year as the projects march forward.

Previously, a report paid for by sports and entertainment giant AEG warned of a "terrorist event two-fer" at the proposed Inglewood stadium because of its proximity to Los Angeles International Airport. Another AEG-paid report floated the possibility of wayward airplane parts falling onto the stadium. The company also wrote a letter to then-Carson Mayor Jim Dear in March, expressing concern about the city's stadium project.

"I tell you, rumors are running amok," Robles said. "Two cities are competing for the return of the NFL to Southern California. But I'm getting calls that I hear that the FBI is investigating. That's not true. The state is investigating. That's absolutely not true."

Though no NFL team has applied to relocate, Robles is confident that his city's plan is on solid ground.

"The momentum is now in favor of Carson over Inglewood," he said. "That's clear. That's absolutely clear. But someone, or a few people, a handful of people, have taken it upon themselves to undermine us."

Follow Nathan Fenno on Twitter @nathanfenno

Times staff writer Tim Logan contributed.

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