Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr.'s voice rose as three big-screen televisions played slow-motion drone footage of the desolate blocks along West Century Boulevard where the Clippers want to explore building an arena.
“That we’re even discussing this is like being in the twilight zone,” Butts said during Tuesday’s meeting of the Inglewood City Council. “The opposition has a difficult task because they want to run away from prosperity.”
The mayor sounded exasperated as he looked out at the packed and cramped room at Inglewood City Hall. He had listened to more than a dozen people raise concerns about the potential arena. Then Butts and the four other council members unanimously approved a revised agreement with a Clippers-controlled company to shrink the four-block area where an arena could be built so homes and a church aren’t displaced.
But the meeting’s contentious exchanges highlighted a lingering divide over the possible project.
The original agreement with Murphy’s Bowl LLC, first approved by the City Council in June, outlined four blocks where the Clippers could construct an arena, practice facility, team offices and parking lots. Two of the blocks are largely residential, home to an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 people with a median income of $30,000 in a slew of single-family homes and apartments. The deal noted those buildings as “potential participating parcels” and broached using eminent domain to acquire property.
The backlash included two lawsuits, red-lettered fliers, protests by residents worried they might be forced from their homes or businesses and a series of sharp words on Tuesday.
Leena Patel, whose family has owned the Rodeway Inn and Suites along West Century Boulevard for more than 40 years, assailed the deal. The property remains vulnerable to potential eminent domain proceedings under the revised deal.
“This new stripped-down ENA [the deal between the Clippers and Inglewood] is a sham and a fraud,” she said.
Butts interrupted when Douglas Carstens, a land use attorney who sued Inglewood in July on behalf of a group called Inglewood Residents Against Taking and Eviction, started to address the council.
“Who is the leader of the group?” Butts asked.
Carstens declined to provide a name.
“I didn’t think you’d be able to,” Butts said.
Some project supporters faulted the Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the nearby Forum, for the opposition and called it “fake news.” The Forum has vigorously opposed the project, including a statement saying “no owner of private property in the area is safe” even with the new deal.
Chris Meany, co-founder and managing partner of Wilson Meany, which serves as development manager for the project, spoke on behalf of the Clippers. He seemed to take a subtle jab at the Forum, attributing the controversy to opponents who don’t want competition and tried to mitigate damage from the first version of the exclusive negotiating agreement.
“I want to make very clear a truth that has been lost among the misrepresentations that have been thrown out by people organizing opposition to our project,” Meany said. “Neither the City of Inglewood or the Clippers have taken any action or will take any action to take anyone’s home or church. Period.”
He added that the Clippers “would never” participate in any effort to displace residents or a church.
While virtually no details about the possible privately funded arena have been made public, Meany said the Clippers would need between 15 and 20 acres for the project. The city owns several parcels of land in the area under consideration, but its largest contiguous parcel is just five acres. No detailed site work has been done. The lack of details has led to speculation that this is little more than a negotiating ploy for the Clippers to extract a better deal from AEG, owners of Staples Center.
“To the citizens of Inglewood, I say: Isn’t this what you want?” Meany said.
About a dozen attendees answered “No!”
When a couple of attendees noted Meany’s allotment of time to speak had expired — something that happened to others who addressed the council — Butts shot back.
“That is so rude,” he said.
The revised agreement runs for 36 months, same as the previous one. The Clippers already gave Inglewood a $1.5-million deposit to cover costs associated with the effort.
Shortly before the vote, Butts took the floor. He reiterated Inglewood never planned to remove people’s homes and lashed out at opponents. But he rejected calls to forsake using eminent domain to remove businesses from the area.
“This discussion falls into the realm of ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” he said. “Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?”
He told the audience to look at the television screens.
The two-plus blocks covered by the new deal floated past. Much of the land is vacant, at least for now.
Follow Nathan Fenno on Twitter @nathanfenno