State should not lease museum parking lots to USC, developer says

Steve Soboroff, the wealthy developer and civic leader, says the state should reject a proposed deal that would give USC a long-term lease of parking lots used by three public museums neighboring the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Soboroff said Wednesday that USC’s proposal to assume management of the parking areas as part of the private university’s plan to take control of the Coliseum could be “the end of the museums.”

USC wants the option to use the lots for its students and employees. That could deny museum visitors parking, Soboroff said.


“That parking belongs to the people of the state of California and to those three museums,” he said.

He also expressed concerns that USC would be able to dictate parking prices, asserting that even a small increase could dramatically reduce the number of museum patrons.

“To have it in the hands of a university versus in the hands of a public body, I don’t think that’s the right thing,” said Soboroff, a former mayoral candidate and Coliseum commissioner. He called for a new agreement that would keep control of the parking in the hands of the taxpayers.

The publicly owned Coliseum shares Exposition Park with the California Science Center, the California African American Museum and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, all of which use the state-owned lots.

Soboroff is a major booster of the Science Center, serving as a special advisor for the project to bring the space shuttle Endeavour to the state-run museum. He also was a prime mover behind Staples Center and the Alameda transportation corridor, a 20-mile freight expressway linking the port to transcontinental rail lines.

The parking lot discussions between USC and state officials have stalled since December. At that time, USC and a member of Gov. Jerry Brown’s cabinet unveiled the proposal to turn the lots over to the school. USC earlier negotiated a decades-long lease with the Coliseum Commission to take over operations of the stadium, where its football team plays.

With a corruption scandal and financial miscues draining its coffers, the commission had moved quickly to hand off the Coliseum to the school, but USC wants a similar lease for the parking lots to complete the deal.

Soboroff said any agreement should guarantee that some of the parking area is turned into green space, something the state promised years ago. He noted that USC has “incredible opportunities” to make money by obtaining lucrative naming and advertising rights to the historic stadium.

“There is plenty of opportunity for a win-win,” he said.

USC has promised to put $70 million into renovating the stadium in return for a 99-year lease of the facility. USC spokesman Thomas Sayles said in a statement Wednesday: “As a tenant under the new lease, we will be obligated to make costly repairs to the Coliseum, and we need to be in the best possible position to attract events to the stadium.”

Soboroff said he does not see why USC needs rights to the parking lots other than during its home football games.

Fabian Wesson, chairwoman of the Science Center’s board, said the panel would like to hold public hearings on the parking proposal soon. “We want everyone to see what’s going on,” Wesson said.