By Veronica Mackey
Prompted by rumors that some residents would be kicked out to make way for the proposed L.A. Clippers arena, attendance within Inglewood City Council Chambers was wall-to-wall. People lined up on Tuesday to take their turn at the mic.
Many received fliers from an organization called IRATE (Inglewood Residents Against Taking and Eviction), which claimed the City of Inglewood would use eminent domain to remove families living in the vicinity of the venue, near Century and Prairie, across from the new NFL stadium, currently under construction. Hermosa Beach attorney Douglas Carstens, filed a lawsuit against Inglewood in July on behalf of IRATE.
Mayor James Butts and council members approved an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) with Clippers-controlled company Murphy’s Bowl LLC in June. The agreement gives the Clippers 3 years to conduct feasibility studies, and decide whether to build an arena in Inglewood. It is not an agreement to allow the Clippers to begin construction. The vetting process includes an environmental impact report. Inglewood was paid or will be paid $1.5 million to provide City services connected with the project.
Pressure from Inglewood renters and home owners has been mounting since the original ENA was signed. It was heightened, in part, by a separate lawsuit (also filed in July) by Madison Square Garden, which owns the Forum. MSG has accused Inglewood of taking back city-owned property leased to the Forum under false pretenses, and using it to negotiate for the Clippers arena, which they see as a competing venue.
Since protests began, the City has taken steps to revise portions of the ENA. The new wording specifically excludes residents and the Inglewood Southside Christian Church from eminent domain. On Tuesday, the council approved the revised version, which will also reduce the 4-block area to 2 blocks. The site would include the arena, practice facility, team headquarters and parking.
The affected area borders on Century Blvd. on the north, Prairie Ave. on the west, 102nd St. on the south and Yukon Ave. on the east. The deal also includes about six acres of city-owned land along West 102nd St. and off Prairie Ave. The ENA was amended for the City of Inglewood, City of Inglewood as Successor Agency to the Inglewood Redevelopment Agency and the Inglewood Parking Authority.
A woman named Nicole said she is “concerned and excited” to have a stadium in Inglewood, but “worried” that the City isn’t looking out for interests of residents. “It doesn’t look like our interests are prioritized. It looks like it’s (about) money, and if you don’t have money, you don’t have a voice,” she said.
Construction of the football stadium—and possibly, a basketball arena—has, in part, boosted home values and rent prices. Residents are concerned they won’t be able to afford to remain in Inglewood. Rent control was a request repeated by several speakers.
A man who calls himself “Brother Curry,” and who represents Uplift Inglewood, explained the group’s mission. “We are a community coalition. We are for affordable housing and rent stabilization and rent control. We are for living wages. But we don’t want jobs at the expense of our environment, our health or our community having what it deserves. We are demanding that you use that land responsibly, and an arena is not responsible,” he told the council.
District 1 resident and business owner, Curtis Mitchell said: “It’s outrageous that they (City) would get a lawsuit from an Hermosa Beach attorney, telling us they are representing a group in this city. I looked it up on the website. Who is this attorney paying all this money? If you are from Inglewood, why would you want to go against our city council? I can’t believe Madison Square Garden would go out and try to stop (progress) in this community. How can Madison Square Garden go on with this when they have made so much money?”
Chris Meany, partner at Wilson-Meany development firm, and contractor for the Hollywood Park Development surrounding the new football stadium, said, “Neither the City of Inglewood nor the L.A. Clippers (would) take action to take anyone’s home. Since our project (began), we have seen new websites and fliers that say homes are being taken. These are lies. The L.A. Clippers would never participate in that. It’s not who they are.”
A woman made the point that “just because some people won’t be displaced, doesn’t mean people’s rent is not going to increase. Unless we have a program that institutes citywide rent control we’re not going to have people living here. We have to address this is going to affect people, working class and low income people.”
While protestors claim the ENA amendment is a victory, Butts said amendments to negotiations agreements are common as a project move along. Reducing the size of the study area was a major factor in the revision.
A Clippers representative explained the team’s position. “The Clippers would play 40-50 home games a year. We think Inglewood would be a great home. The ENA identified 88 acres, but 88 acres is 4 times more than we would need. The reduced study area is still bigger than we want or need.”
Carstens told the L.A. Times that the new ENA still leaves open the possibility of displacing local businesses, and would still have a significant impact on residents in the immediate area.
"Even without displacing resident owners or a church, there could still be a significant disruption of long-established businesses and apartment dwellers, and the significant impacts to everyone of the large arena complex next door," Carstens wrote in an email.
The conversation about eminent domain morphed into a discussion on other possible uses of the land. School improvements are a top priority.
“I don’t think we need another stadium. Our kids are struggling to live in the neighborhood,” a long time resident said.
“People want to see more money going toward public schools,” Aldene Sligh said.
Another woman said conditions at her child’s school are deplorable. “The bathroom was dirty on the first day of school. That needs to be taken care of before anything else gets to be addressed.”
Butts said the city has no authority over the school district, and is not allowed to turn over tax payer’s money to Inglewood schools. Further, the FAA won’t allow residences or schools to be built on the property because it is located in a flight path. Portions of the land have lied unused for 25 years
Council members weighed in on public comments at the close of the meeting:
“We always look at what is in our city’s best interest. We said early on that we have no intention of displacing folks,” Councilman Alex Padilla said.
Councilman Ralph Franklin, whose district would house the new arena, said: “There have been a number of developers wanting to come to the site. We now have a much needed chance (to remove) blight in our community. I’m looking forward to this project moving forward.”
Councilman Eloy Morales, a 40-year resident, said: “We don’t plan on using eminent domain on any resident or any churches, period.”
Morales recalled how Inglewood voters blocked Walmart from building a superstore on the same site. “Had they won, we would not be having this conversation at all. Folks who lived in Inglewood would not still be here...The lack of housing is not unique to the city of Inglewood. This is a conversation that needs to be had throughout the state of California…We did what the City of Los Angeles failed to do—get a stadium built. This is a part of our success, not our failure. One thing we cannot do is to apologize for our success.”
“This discussion falls into the realm of ‘are you kidding me?’ Attorneys have to convince you, they have to convince us, we shouldn’t be able to use that land that has sat there for 25 years, generating no tax revenue, generating no jobs,” Butts said.
“We haven’t done anything wrong. There is no prohibition to keep us from exploring our options…We’re arguing over whether we’re going to build another arena and employ 500-600 more people? Are you kidding me? This is the transfer of wealth people, and two things men won’t give up on—that’s money and power. The opposition has a difficult task because they have to convince you to run away from prosperity.”