Developer Rick Caruso resigns from Coliseum Commission
Wealthy developer Rick Caruso resigned Wednesday from the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, ending a stormy tenure during which he clashed frequently with fellow panel members over their stewardship of the stadium.
In his resignation letter, Caruso said he is stepping down because criticism of his dual role as a trustee for USC, whose football team is the Coliseum’s main tenant, might have “restricted” his ability to serve effectively.
But that is merely the latest point at which Caruso, who is considering a run for mayor, parted ways with other commissioners. He broke with them over their approval of rave concerts at the Coliseum and demanded the ouster of former General Manager Patrick Lynch because of alleged financial improprieties.
Caruso, appointed to the commission in 2008 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was told earlier this month by an attorney for the panel that he would have to recuse himself from lease negotiations with USC. The school wants broader control over the Coliseum.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who is also on the commission, had pressed the panel to exclude Caruso from the USC talks. Parks, whose council district includes the Coliseum, opposes a “master lease” for USC, saying the private school should not have such authority over the publicly owned stadium. He declined to comment Wednesday.
In his letter, Caruso said Parks’ concerns were “unwarranted” but added that he did “not want them to become a distraction” to the commission. He also called for the replacement of the nine-member, multi-agency panel with a single, more nimble governing body.
Caruso blamed the commission’s unwieldy structure, as a joint operation of the state and the city and county of Los Angeles, for its failure to prevent questionable financial practices by its management team.
“There’s an opportunity for bad management to not only be created but to flourish, and that’s what happened here,” Caruso told The Times on Wednesday.
In an interview after the panel’s most recent meeting, Sept. 7, he said: “I think this commission may be well intended, but I think they are lost. I think they’re absolutely lost. They don’t understand business.... They don’t know how to manage, and they have allowed this facility to be completely mismanaged.”
He sent his resignation letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and Commission President David Israel. Brown’s office did not respond to questions about the commission or Caruso. In an email, Israel said Caruso “knows how much I value his insight, his counsel and his candor, and that I’m sorry to see him leave the board.”
The Times has reported, based on records and interviews, that two private firms set up by a Coliseum events manager collected at least $1.8 million from rave concert promoters and other companies that did business at the money-losing stadium and companion Sports Arena. Lynch, who resigned in February, approved that arrangement.
Another manager directed Coliseum business to a firm he founded, according to stadium invoices and interviews. At the same time, managers spent thousands of commission dollars on luxury cars, gasoline for their vehicles and other perks.
In the letter, Caruso -- who developed The Grove in L.A. and The Americana at Brand in Glendale -- expressed strong support for City Controller Wendy Greuel’s decision to conduct a wide-ranging audit of the commission. Greuel is also preparing for a mayoral bid.
“Given recent events, the public’s trust in the Coliseum’s operations has been seriously eroded and allowing the City Controller full and open access to its books will be a step in the right direction,” Caruso wrote.
Raphael Sonenshein, a Cal State Fullerton professor who specializes in Los Angeles politics, said Caruso’s resignation could be viewed as “a smart move because it gets him out of the middle of a bad situation.”
Caruso, whose resignation will be effective when Brown names a successor, is the second commissioner to quit since the financial scandal broke. Attorney W. Jerome Stanley’s departure was announced about three weeks ago. Stanley has not responded to interview requests. He was replaced by Johnathan Williams, a city parks commissioner.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.