The Proposed Inglewood Clippers Arena Cleared One Legal Hurdle, but More Lie Ahead

A judge ruled against a community coalition this week, but several suits are still pending against the billion-dollar sports complex

On Tuesday, a judge ruled that a proposed Clippers arena in Inglewood does not violate the Surplus Land Act, rejecting the arguments of a community coalition that filed suit against the development last year. In the lawsuit, Uplift Inglewood argued that by entering into a 36-month “exclusive negotiating agreement” with Murphy’s Bowl, a company controlled by the Clippers, the city had failed to prioritize the use of the land for affordable housing, parks, and schools, as required by the state law.

In Tuesday’s decision, Judge Daniel S. Murphy said that the parcel, which is in an LAX flight path, does not qualify as surplus land, since the city had acquired much of it as part of an Federal Aviation Administration- and Los Angeles World Airports-funded program intended to redevelop residential areas impacted by aircraft noise.

“A key goal of the city’s redevelopment efforts was the removal of incompatible residential uses and the conversion of these areas to noise-compatible commercial, industrial, or other revenue-generating uses,” Murphy wrote. The FAA has said that it does not support the reintroduction of residential units to the site, since it would increase residents’ exposure to aircraft noise.

Murphy also determined that although the exclusive negotiating agreement with Murphy’s Bowl prevents the city from considering any other offers for three years, Inglewood has technically not yet violated its obligation to consider other offers.

“Even if the ENA leads to an offer from Murphy’s Bowl to acquire the Property, Petitioner cites no evidence or contractual terms that would prevent City from complying with the SLA prior to entering a final sale agreement with Murphy’s Bowl,” wrote the judge. “While Petitioner argues that SLA negotiations by City at that point would not be in good faith, the court is not persuaded that the evidence supports that conclusion.”

D’Artagnan Scorza, executive director of Uplift Inglewood, called the judge’s ruling “ridiculous,” and said the coalition will continue to fight the stadium and push for more affordable housing in the community. He expressed skepticism over the fact that Murphy, a former prosecutor for the city of Long Beach, had replaced a another judge who was more familiar with the case at the last minute. “We’re exploring all of our legal options including the option to appeal, and frankly I’m pretty certain that we’re going to do that,” said Scorza.

Home prices in Inglewood surged 63 percent from 2014 to 2018, and according to a recent report, the city is far behind on its goals to construct more affordable units. Currently, the city has several major developments in the works, including three stops for Metro’s Crenshaw line, a $4.9 billion NFL stadium, and the 238-acre neighborhood and shopping complex set to accompany it. Advocates have expressed concern that these, as well as the proposed Clippers arena, will spur further gentrification in the longtime black enclave.

Despite Tuesday’s ruling, the proposed arena still faces many other legal challenges in the coming months. Madison Square Garden Co., which owns Inglewood’s Forum, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the land the arena would be built on was provided to Clippers owner Steve Ballmer fraudulently. A community group called Inglewood Residents Against Taking and Evictions (IRATE), whose legal fees are being paid by MSG, has also filed suit, accusing the city of violating state open government laws by having meetings about the arena deal without the public’s knowledge. Scorza says that Uplift Inglewood is not associated with MSG or any of these lawsuits.

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