Affordable Housing Advocates Fight Proposed Arena in LA Court

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Residents of the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood argued in court Tuesday that city officials and the owner of the L.A. Clippers violated a state affordable housing law when they agreed to negotiations for a proposed new basketball arena.

Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard looks at the scoreboard during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 24, 2019, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer wants to move the NBA team from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to the city of Inglewood, about 10 miles south.

But members of the Uplift Inglewood coalition claim city officials violated a California housing law when they took their sale to a commercial developer instead of opening the property to an affordable housing project, which is a priority for the community.

The Los Angeles Rams are also building an NFL stadium, which many residents say has already driven up rents. Priority should be given to affordable housing and not another sports complex, according to the residents who sued Inglewood and Ballmer’s development company Murphy’s Bowl.

Uplift Inglewood claims the 15-acre piece of city property should be considered surplus land that is not being used by the city.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy asked the group’s attorneys what their definition of surplus land is and why Inglewood’s move for economic development falls short of that land being in use.

Uplift Inglewood attorney Tom Casparian with Cozen O’Connor said cities will often prioritize economic development, but state lawmakers have set a priority for affordable housing under California’s Surplus Land Act.

Murphy asked whether Inglewood officials are putting the land to use if they are using it for economic development.

Casparian said having a fire station or a park on the property would be considered a use under the law, and so would affordable housing. But he argued Inglewood officials instead entered into a three-year exclusive negotiation with Ballmer’s development company, which could result in transfer of the property for the Clippers’ arena.

Murphy’s Bowl attorney John Spiegel from Munger Tolles Olson said California has had its definition on the books for 50 years and the courts have never stepped in to stop economic development on so-called surplus land.

Inglewood and Murphy’s Bowl also argue the property in question is not zoned for residential homes, because it’s under a noise corridor in the flight path to Los Angeles International Airport.

Residents, on the other hand, have claimed Inglewood is short on affordable housing units.

The city’s attorney Casey Sypek with Miller Barondess said it will have a report on that issue by next spring. Murphy asked if he should issue an order for the city to produce that report now, but he made no decision from the bench Tuesday. Instead he said he will issue his ruling on Uplift Inglewood’s petition for a writ of mandate sometime in the next few days.

Last year, the owners of a different Inglewood arena that the L.A. Lakers and L.A. Kings used to call home also sued the city over claims that Mayor James Butts told them to terminate their contract agreement so the city could pursue tenants for a supposed business-technology center.

Madison Square Garden Company, the owners of The Forum, said the city was negotiating with the developers behind the proposed Clippers’ arena for months when Butts made claims of the tech park.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Casparian said Inglewood officials’ argument boils down to their claim that they know better than what to do with the land despite the Legislature’s intention.

“Nobody here is trying to stop economic development,” the coalition’s attorney said, adding that the city failed to offer the property to entities that could create affordable housing or parks.

Inglewood resident Derek Steele said displacement due to rising rents and homelessness are some of the largest issues residents are facing. More than ever, Inglewood is in need of both jobs and homes.

“I don’t understand why they always have to pit affordable housing against economic development,” said Steele, an organizer with Uplift Inglewood.

The coalition is also represented by the law firm Public Counsel.

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