Panel works on deal for USC

Times Staff Writer

With USC threatening to play its games in the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum Commission on Wednesday took a small step toward resolving the impasse that could prompt the school to leave its football home of nearly a century.

The commission, which earlier heard comments from USC administrators, students and members of the community, emerged from closed-session talks with its most definitive statement in months about working out a deal.

“We have evaluated our past proposals to USC, and their proposals to us, and are putting together what we believe are the best parts of these proposals,” Bernard C. Parks, commission president, said in a written statement released late Wednesday. “We will be expediting our proposal to them.”

One of the main complaints of USC negotiators is they had not received a response to their months-old proposal for a so-called master-lease agreement, one that would give them control of the stadium in exchange for $100 million in improvements.

Todd Dickey, USC senior vice president and general counsel, said he was cautiously optimistic about the development.


“I’m encouraged by the statement because it sounds like they’re not going to wait and they’re going to put together a counterproposal,” he said.

He seemed far less encouraged a few hours earlier, after an open session in which nothing was resolved. After that session, Dickey reiterated what he said last week: If the Rose Bowl Operating Co. emerges from its monthly meeting tonight with a lease agreement, USC will sign it.

But after the commission released its latest statement, Dickey said he would want to hear more from that side before immediately moving forward with a Rose Bowl deal.

As the meeting was taking place, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement urging the commission to immediately negotiate a long-term agreement with USC. Although he did not specify whether he supports handing the stadium keys over to the school, he asked both sides to “commit to a major renovation to bring the facility up to modern standards.”

Last week, Villaraigosa said it was time for the commission to stop pursuing a deal with the NFL and instead focus on keeping USC at the stadium.

Bill Chadwick, a state appointee to the commission, said the group plans to work at “warp speed” to find a solution and has instructed its lawyers to prepare a term sheet as quickly as possible. The commission has agreed to reconvene on a day’s notice, perhaps as soon as next week.

“We’re not going to delay for one second, and the lawyers know we want to see a term sheet quickly,” he said.

It remains to be seen, however, if the two sides can bridge their differences. USC wants control of the stadium, and, at the very least, a long-term agreement that allows it to veto the addition of other tenants, such as the NFL. The commission envisions staging events such as international soccer games and partnering with the school to sell naming rights to the stadium, tunnels, field and elsewhere -- a suggestion USC has rejected.

Commissioner Yvonne B. Burke, a county supervisor, said the state is partly at fault for the meandering USC negotiations because it has yet to establish the commission’s rent.

The state, which counts the Coliseum as its biggest asset, has the right to raise the commission’s annual rent from its current $80,000 to $2.4 million. Talks between the commission and the state have stretched over 10 years. .

“We are at the mercy of the state of California,” Burke said. “We don’t own the building. We know we can’t pay them $2 million . . . so the only way we’re going to have any resolution is -- as the governor and all his representatives have said -- we solve that issue of how much we pay to them. And then, we have to see if [USC is] willing to pay that.”

But David Israel, appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chadwick defended the state, saying the issue is not a significant sticking point in completing a deal with USC.

“The state has no culpability for this at all,” Israel said. “We do have a lease with the state. We’re just tailoring it for the realities of the day.”

Israel said the commission is “committed to concluding very promptly the lease between the state and Coliseum Commission, and moving on to conclude the lease with USC.

“The commitment is to get this done, and get it done quickly, so USC can play Ohio State in this building next September and play here for the remainder of NCAA football.”