USC-Coliseum deal robs museums of parking and money, critics say

Two girls play in the mist from a fountain at the California Science Center.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A trustee of the California Science Center’s fund-raising arm denounced as a “robbery” Wednesday a revised proposal that would give USC control of the museum’s parking as part of a deal that allows the university to run the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Marvin Holen, the Science Center foundation’s point person on the USC arrangement, said state negotiators have failed to come up with better terms for the taxpayer-owned museum since reopening talks with the university earlier this month. The museum’s governing board could vote to approve the parking proposal as soon as Tuesday.

“It’s a robbery,” Holen said. “If anyone had any sense, they’d dial 911.”


Paula Madison, another Science Center trustee, also criticized the revised lease terms because, like the previous proposal, it entitles USC to parking that is the museum’s “lifeblood … not just for personal cars, but also for school buses. These are vital to the education of Los Angeles residents and beyond.”

Science Center parking is at a premium because of the arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour. Before the shuttle exhibit opened last fall, the museum received 1.4 million visitors a year; it is now projected to get 2.5 million. Parking revenues also help fund programs at the Science Center, the neighboring California African American Museum and Exposition Park.

“The state is going to be denied income it should properly obtain,” Holen said.

He said he fears that USC, as the manager of the Coliseum complex and the recipient of nearly all its revenues, would “utilize every opportunity that they have” to stage large events at the stadium beyond the school’s football games. That could squeeze out more museum parking, he said.

Holen also questioned the length of the USC agreement — 98 years — and the push by some members of the Science Center board for the vote Tuesday. “What we don’t understand is why there is such a big rush,” Holen said.

“Orville and Wilbur Wright barely got out of their cockpit 98 or 99 years ago.”

DOCUMENT: Read the latest proposal

The Science Center board members who negotiated the parking arrangement with USC declined to be interviewed. A spokeswoman for the state agency that oversees the Science Center, Melissa Figueroa, said in an email that “we continue to meet with stakeholders in hopes of addressing their concerns.”

Figueroa did not answer questions on how much money the museums would lose under the proposal.

In a statement, USC spokesman Thomas Sayles did not specifically respond to Wednesday’s criticisms: “We are pleased with the progress that has been made toward a mutual agreement on parking issues with the governing board of the California Science Center. This agreement will ultimately result in the restoration of a national public treasure, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.”

Under an agreement first negotiated with the Coliseum Commission, USC has promised to spend at least $70 million on stadium upgrades and pay $1 million a year to the state in rent. The state would also receive 5% of the proceeds from the sale of naming rights to the Coliseum. USC would get 95% of those proceeds and all other revenues, including from non-football events. The public would be guaranteed no other money.

Three weeks ago, state lawmakers upbraided the Science Center negotiators for drafting what the legislators called a lopsided deal in USC’s favor at the expense of taxpayers. The museum panel vowed to go back to the drawing board and released the revised agreement late Friday.

Both museums have increasingly relied on parking revenues. An Exposition Park fund that gets about 80% of its revenues from parking provides 11% of the Science Center’s state money and 5% of the California African American Museum’s money, according to documents obtained through through the California Public Records Act.

The reserve in the fund has been declining, from a balance of $7.5 million four years ago to $2.5 million, the records show.


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