State senator weighs changes to Coliseum panel

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Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Hoping to persuade USC to continue playing football in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed Monday that the Legislature examine whether to dissolve or restructure the Coliseum Commission to give the university control of the venue.

USC recently threatened to move its games out of the Coliseum as part of a proposed two-year lease of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. That lease has not yet been approved.

The Coliseum Commission, which includes state and local representatives, has been criticized for taking too long to work out a rent deal with the state as a precursor to signing another long-term lease with USC.

Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) said in an interview that he would introduce a bill in January that would look at new ways to govern the Coliseum. It would also allow money generated by the Coliseum to be used to redevelop the surrounding area.

His announcement followed reports that the National Football League was not planning a return to the Coliseum, which sits in his district.

“During the previous NFL negotiations, the commission offered to cede control to the NFL as a condition of the lease,” Ridley-Thomas said. “As USC is providing a similar offer, it is time to revisit the issue again.”

L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Yvonne B. Burke, a commission member, said she believes the panel can work out a deal with the state that keeps USC at the Coliseum.

“I don’t think at this point it is necessary to dissolve the commission,” she said. “What the commission does is provide input from the community.”

One option would be to give USC the master lease, in which case the Coliseum Commission could be dissolved, Ridley-Thomas said. Another option would be to keep the commission but give USC a role on the panel. Keeping a commission in place could be financially beneficial because the government involvement gives it access to low-cost financing, including bonds.

Ridley-Thomas heads a legislative panel that studies commissions, but any recommendation would require approval from the Legislature, governor, county and city.

His proposed bill would be introduced at the start of the legislative panel’s work. The panel could propose changes by amending the bill, he said.

The Coliseum is jointly operated by the city of Los Angeles, the county and the state. As a result, the governor, Board of Supervisors and city of Los Angeles each have three appointees on the commission.

The university likes the concept of reevaluating how the Coliseum is governed, said Todd Dickey, USC senior vice president and general counsel.

“We would absolutely support anything that would help break the impasse existing at the Coliseum Commission,” Dickey said. He noted that previous attempts to give USC control of the venue have been rejected by the commission.

Burke said one option would be to have the governor appoint representatives of USC to the commission. The involvement of three levels of government has been blamed by some for slow decision-making on the operation of the 84-year-old stadium.

The commission came under heavy fire last month when USC threatened to move its six home football games to the Rose Bowl if it could not reach a new lease agreement.

Ridley-Thomas said he spoke to university President Steven Sample on Sunday and received assurances that the school would like to return to the Coliseum.

USC has proposed launching a $100-million renovation of the Coliseum if given control of the venue, the senator said.

His proposed bill would provide the Coliseum’s operators with the authority to tap about $53.7 million combined from property taxes, parking and lease revenue to revitalize the neighborhoods around the Exposition Park venue.

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