In­gle­wood’s deal riles Fo­rum’s peo­ple

State­ment and let­ter make it ap­pear that a pos­si­ble Clip­pers arena could face fight.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Nathan Fenno nathan.fenno@la­times.com Twit­ter: @nathanfenno Times staff writer Brod­er­ick Turner contributed to this re­port.

Min­utes af­ter In­gle­wood’s City Coun­cil unan­i­mously ap­proved an ex­clu­sive ne­go­ti­at­ing agree­ment with a Clip­pers-con­trolled com­pany on Thurs­day to ex­plore build­ing an arena, a state­ment is­sued on be­half of the Fo­rum as­sailed the deal as the prod­uct of “back­room deal­ing.”

The terse two para­graphs raised the first com­pli­ca­tion for a pro­posed project that is far from a sure thing.

“Many con­sider our work to re­vi­tal­ize the Fo­rum to be the cat­a­lyst for In­gle­wood’s re­cent busi­ness suc­cess,” the state­ment said. “Now, it ap­pears the city of In­gle­wood has been do­ing a lot of back­room deal­ing. There may be a path for­ward, but not with­out a real pub­lic process that is done in the full light of day with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of In­gle­wood’s res­i­dents and many other stake­hold­ers.”

In­gle­wood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said he hadn’t seen the state­ment, but is “100% com­fort­able” with the way the city han­dled the arena agree­ment.

But be­fore the brief spe­cial meet­ing of the City Coun­cil on Thurs­day morn­ing to vote on the deal, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the Fo­rum emailed a strongly worded let­ter to Butts and the four city coun­cil­men.

The state­ment and let­ter suggest that the arena, which bil­lion­aire Clip­pers owner Steve Ballmer plans to pri­vately fi­nance, could face se­ri­ous op­po­si­tion be­fore the first ren­der­ing is re­leased or any en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies are com­pleted.

The com­plex, in­clud­ing team of­fices, park­ing and a prac­tice fa­cil­ity, would oc­cupy land across the street from Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s 298-acre sports and en­ter­tain­ment dis­trict that’s un­der con­struc­tion. A $2.6-bil­lion sta­dium that will house the Rams and Charg­ers and is the project’s cen­ter­piece is sched­uled to open in 2020.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Clip­pers pre­vi­ously ap­proached the Fo­rum about build­ing an arena in the venue’s park­ing lot, but the dis­cus­sions never ad­vanced.

The two-page let­ter from Latham & Watkins at­tor­ney Ge­orge Mihlsten ac­cused In­gle­wood of not giv­ing proper no­tice for the City Coun­cil meet­ing — as re­quired by the Brown Act — and vi­o­lat­ing “nu­mer­ous agree­ments and re­quire­ments of law.”

“Fur­ther, ap­proval of the ex­clu­sive ne­go­ti­at­ing agree­ment would be a vi­o­la­tion of the Cal­i­for­nia En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity Act as it pre­com­mits the city with­out con­duct­ing any en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view,” the let­ter said.

“Given the lim­ited amount of time and lack of no­tice, the Fo­rum re­serves all rights to ob­ject to the pro­posed ex­clu­sive ne­go­ti­at­ing agree­ment and arena project.”

Mihlsten, one of Cal­i­for­nia’s lead­ing land-use at­tor­neys, pre­vi­ously worked on mat­ters re­lated to the con­struc­tion of Sta­ples Cen­ter and rep­re­sented the Charg­ers in their quest for a new sta­dium.

His let­ter urged the City Coun­cil not to vote on the agree­ment Thurs­day, ad­vice that went un­heeded.

The deal be­tween In­gle­wood and the Clip­pers-con­trolled com­pany, Murphy’s Bowl LLC, runs for 36 months plus a pos­si­ble six-month ex­ten­sion. It in­cludes the team’s pay­ing the city a non­re­fund­able de­posit of $1.5 mil­lion to cover costs as­so­ci­ated with the ef­fort.

The po­ten­tial arena land, cur­rently home to a va­ri­ety of busi­nesses that in­clude a mo­tel and an auto de­tail­ing shop south of Cen­tury Boule­vard, is owned by the city, In­gle­wood’s Suc­ces­sor Agency and third par­ties. The agree­ment men­tions the pos­si­bil­ity of In­gle­wood’s using em­i­nent do­main to ac­quire pri­vate prop­erty for the project.

Mihlsten’s let­ter said the agree­ment “fails to com­ply with re­quire­ments of law” in re­gard to using em­i­nent do­main and could open “the City and other pub­lic agen­cies up to fi­nan­cial ex­po­sure.”

Fo­rum rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­clined to elab­o­rate on the state­ment and let­ter, while the Clip­pers de­ferred com­ment to In­gle­wood.

Though the Clip­pers’ lease at Sta­ples Cen­ter runs through June 2024, Ballmer has long ex­pressed a de­sire for an arena of his own.

The Clip­pers and An­schutz En­ter­tain­ment Group, which owns Sta­ples Cen­ter, re­main in dis­cus­sions about rene­go­ti­at­ing the lease for the Clip­pers to play there.

In a let­ter from Ballmer to Clip­pers sup­port­ers af­ter the vote, the owner com­mit­ted to play­ing out the re­main­der of the team’s lease at Sta­ples Cen­ter while ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial arena in In­gle­wood.

“I have said from day one that we need to plan for the fu­ture. This agree­ment helps us do that by ex­pand­ing our op­tions,” Ballmer’s let­ter said.

“The prospect of a new state-of-the-art NBA arena would al­low us greater lat­i­tude to in­flu­ence our game sched­ule. … We also want to of­fer our fans pre­mium ex­pe­ri­ences in terms of tech­nol­ogy, club spa­ces and other ameni­ties; that’s eas­ier to re­al­ize in a new arena.”

Gina Fer­azzi Los An­ge­les Times

THE FO­RUM is the one­time home of the Lak­ers. “Many con­sider our work to re­vi­tal­ize the Fo­rum to be the cat­a­lyst for In­gle­wood’s re­cent busi­ness suc­cess,” said a state­ment in sup­port of the arena.

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