Giving Science Center parking to USC could hurt museum, some say
A proposal to guarantee USC most of the parking spaces in a state-owned garage during Trojan football games and other events could hurt the neighboring California Science Center by driving down attendance, some supporters of the Exposition Park museum say.
As part of a lease package to grant the school control of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, USC has asked the state for about 70% of the spaces in the garage 25 days of the year. That would mean a loss, for each of those days, of about 1,400 spaces to both the Science Center and the California African American Museum.
“If they take over the parking structure, they’re virtually closing down the museums, because there’s no place to park,” said Robert Stein, a member of the Science Center board of directors.
Public hearings on the proposals are set for 6 p.m. Thursday at the African American Museum and 10 a.m. Saturday at the Science Center. A vote by the Science Center board could happen as soon as June 5.
In the wake of a corruption scandal and funding shortfalls, the Coliseum Commission already has decided to hand USC the keys to the taxpayer-owned stadium complex under a lease that runs to 2054. The Science Center vote could extend that lease to 2111 and throw in the extra parking for USC.
The arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour at the Science Center has pushed the underground garage to beyond capacity on many days. The garage is in a prime spot, a short walk to the museums, the Coliseum and adjacent Sports Arena.
USC also wants a discount of up to 60% on parking fees when the private university manages special events at the Coliseum, such as concerts. The lower fees would mean less money for museum programs and Exposition Park. The school could sell the parking spaces to the public at higher rates and keep the profits.
“There’s a wackiness on how they’re giving away the state’s revenue streams,” Stein said of the plan’s backers. “We have the only space shuttle on the West Coast. Attendance is off the charts -- we’re getting tourists from all over the world.”
Developer Steve Soboroff, a prominent Science Center backer, said the museums should not pay the price for the Coliseum Commission’s hand-off of the two-time Olympic venue.
“They’ve got to protect the Science Center and the African American Museum,” he said. “You don’t do that by eliminating their parking for that many events.”
The proposal was put together by USC and two Science Center board members, including Renata Simril, a Dodgers senior vice president who was appointed to the panel by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Simril said USC deserves the parking guarantees because it has promised to fund at least $70 million in improvements to the 90-year-old Coliseum. The trade-off “is not unreasonable given the investment and risk they are taking,” Simril said, adding that USC would be required to use the parking revenue for Coliseum operations or renovations.
She noted that the university has backed off its initial demand to manage the surface parking lots in Exposition Park year-round.
Simril worked as an adjunct professor at USC several years ago and holds a master’s degree from the school. A real estate services firm that used to employ her also has performed work for USC, although Simril said she had nothing to do with that arrangement and did not benefit from it financially.
A spokeswoman for the state agency that oversees the Science Center, Melissa Figueroa, said by email “there is no conflict” between Simril’s USC ties and her role as a negotiator for the museum, labeling questions about them a “misguided attempt to distract from the merits of the deal.”
The parking battle has made waves in Sacramento. Earlier this month, the state Senate voted unanimously to oppose any plan to give USC the power to operate the museum parking lots. The proposal before the Science Center would not run afoul of that bill.
But Stein said another state rule could endanger the USC plan. The California Food and Agricultural Code requires the Science Center to “manage or operate its parking facilities in a manner that preserves and protects the interests of itself and the California African American Museum and recognizes the cultural and educational character of Exposition Park.” The museums are in a state agricultural district.
According to a Legislative Counsel opinion provided to state Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), the requirement was adopted because of complaints that Coliseum events were “taking up all the parking space at Exposition Park.”
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