The Inglewood City Council unanimously voted Friday morning to re-approve a deal that could bring a new arena to the city for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The special council hearing was held to address possible problems in a June meeting in which the city approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with Murphy's Bowl LLC, a Clippers-controlled company. On Wednesday, the owners of the Forum concert and sports arena filed a claim for damages against Inglewood for entering into the agreement, saying that the city misled them into terminating a lease for property included in the agreement.
The agreement included the possibility of Inglewood using eminent domain to acquire private property for the project.
More than 40 Inglewood residents attended the hearing to protest the agreement, many carrying signs with slogans such as "Inglewood is NOT for sale" and "No Displacement." Many residents said they were concerned about the effect that a new stadium would have on affordable housing and already rising rents.
"Adding the Clippers stadium is adding more to the gentrification that is happening in the city," said resident Ricardo Ramirez, 20. "It's the working class of Inglewood that's going to pay the price. They're going to be kicked out."
The arena would be across the street from Rams owner Stan Kroenke's 298-acre stadium complex, which is under construction, and according to the agreement, it would seat 18,000 to 20,000 fans. The potential arena land is owned by the city, the Successor Agency to the former Inglewood Redevelopment Agency, and third parties.
Mayor James T. Butts told residents that they did not have to fear displacement. The city's land use attorney clarified that the parcels of land that the city owns described in the agreement are vacant and that seizing land through eminent domain would require a public hearing with notices provided to property owners who could be affected.
"The City Council's first responsibility is to ensure continued progress of this city, to provide job opportunities to our residents," Butts said. "To clarify, no one is being displaced with the sales of these parcels."
Some residents at the Friday meeting expressed skepticism about the mayor's assertion that homeowners would not be displaced.
"Just because there aren't people or buildings in the immediate area doesn't mean displacement won't be happening in the city," resident Veronica Gonzalez, 28, said.
Randy James, a public relations representative for the Forum, clarified that the exclusive negotiating agreement contains hundreds of homes, apartments and businesses.
"While the parcels of land that the city owns may be vacant, those vacant parcels comprise just a fraction of the total [Exclusive Negotiating Agreement] area," he wrote in an email, saying that they make up a quarter of the 80-acre site. "There is no question that residents would need to be displaced within this area."
According to the claim filed on behalf of the Madison Square Garden Co., which could be a prelude to a possible lawsuit, the Forum terminated its lease with the city in April for property it was using for parking purposes. It did this, the claim states, after being told by Butts that the city wanted to turn the property into a technology park that would create a "Silicon Beach" for Inglewood.
Two months later, the City Council approved the negotiating agreement with Murphy's Bowl that included the property formerly leased to the Forum, according to the Forum's filing.
Marvin Putnam, a lawyer at the firm Latham & Watkins, which filed the claim, said the Forum never would have terminated the lease if officials had known it was going to be used for other purposes — especially a competing arena.
"They tricked the Forum to give them the properties used in the agreement," he said.
Following a development agreement between the Forum and Inglewood in 2012, the Forum invested more than $100 million in purchasing and rehabilitating the arena.
Putnam said the Forum will suffer monetary damages as a result of the city's agreement with the Clippers.
He said the city had assured the Forum, "We will make sure that there is no major competition. Your investment is safe."
Putnam also accused the city of not giving proper notice for a June 15 meeting — as required by the Brown Act — when the City Council voted on the agreement. He also said the council did not notify residents of the possibility of Inglewood using eminent domain to acquire private property for the project.
"You have to give people proper notice, as in these families affected," he said. "They did not do that."
The negotiating agreement between Inglewood and the Clippers-controlled company would last 36 months with a possible six-month extension. The team would pay the city a nonrefundable deposit of $1.5 million to cover costs associated with the agreement.
A Clippers representative did not return requests for comment. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, a former Microsoft CEO, plans to privately finance the arena, which would include a practice facility, parking and team offices. In a letter to Clippers supporters after the City Council's vote last month, he said that he will honor the remainder of the team's lease at Staples Center through June 2024.
"I have said from day one that we need to plan for the future. This agreement helps us do that by expanding our options," Ballmer wrote. "The prospect of a new state-of-the-art NBA arena would allow us greater latitude to influence our game schedule. … We also want to offer our fans premium experiences in terms of technology, club spaces and other amenities; that's easier to realize in a new arena."
5:40 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from a Forum representative.