Science Center scheduled for vote on USC-Coliseum parking deal

Richard Hercules, a fifth-grader at Century Park Elementary School, visiting an exhibition related to the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The California Science Center’s board of directors faces a big vote Wednesday on a proposed lease that would give USC millions of dollars’ worth of museum parking and has been strongly opposed by museum supporters.

The board, made up of nine members appointed by the governor’s office, was scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. at the museum in Exposition Park, south of downtown Los Angeles.

Supporters of three public museums in Exposition Park say the institutions could be permanently harmed by provisions in a proposed lease that would turn over to USC control of the neighboring Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a chunk of state parking and the revenues they produce.


In a rare show of solidarity, board members for the fundraising arms of the California Science Center and California African American Museum warned at public hearings last week that the 98-year lease package would siphon significant money away from their programs, whose financing depends on parking proceeds.

USC, a private school, wants the state-owned parking for special events 25 days a year as part of its pending lease to run the Coliseum.

“The lease terms unfairly benefit a private institution and harm the low-income families in our diverse neighborhood,” said a letter presented at the hearing by the foundation and governing boards of the African American Museum.

James Gilson, vice president of the Natural History Museum fundraising arm, worried that USC was given priority for stadium events and could even hold more of them, perhaps up to 33 a year, possibly hurting museum attendance on its busiest days: the weekends.

“Attendance declines,” Gilson said, “and those who do come find their experience diminished.”

A number of Trojan fans have voiced support for the pact. At a public hearing Saturday, Melody Nishida of Culver City, who is on a USC athletics advisory board, said parking guarantees were needed by USC in return for its promise to invest at least $70 million to renovate the Coliseum.

“Los Angeles unfortunately is still a car-centric city, and parking is truly a precious commodity,” Nishida said. “With the financial commitment from the university, this crown jewel of Los Angeles will be the envy of universities and colleges throughout the country.”

On Monday, a trustee of the California Science Center ‘s fundraising foundation called on Gov. Jerry Brown to stop the pending lease deal, calling it a lopsided pact in favor of USC at the expense of the taxpayers who own the museums.

“It’s imperative that the governor become personally involved,” said Marvin Holen. Brown is “a fierce guardian of the taxpayers’ dollars, and there are enormous losses in this entire transaction.”


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