Forum Owner Sues Inglewood Over Clippers Arena

INGLEWOOD (CBSLA.com) – The owner of the Forum is suing the city of Inglewood, accusing officials of violating state public records laws over a negotiating agreement with the Los Angeles Clippers for a proposed new arena.

“The public has the right to access information concerning the conduct of public business,” said attorney Marvin Putnam, representing Forum-owner, the Madison Square Garden Company. “In response to several Public Records Act requests, however, the city of Inglewood has produced zero documents leading up to the public announcement of its exclusive negotiating agreement for the proposed arena.”

City officials could not be reached for comment late Friday, when the lawsuit was filed.

Madison Square Garden officials filed a legal claim with the city last week, contending Mayor James Butts used a bait-and-switch strategy to coerce Forum executives into clearing way for the proposed new Clippers arena on a Century Boulevard parcel across from an NFL stadium now under construction.

They say Butts persuaded them to give up the company’s leasehold in April on part of a parking lot to make way for a new business-technology park. Instead, the City Council in June announced their deal with Ballmer for an 18,000 to 20,000-seat arena that also could host concerts on the site about a mile-and-a-half south of the Forum, according to the claim.

When Madison Square Garden relinquished the parking lease to the city, its approved contract stated the land would not be used for anything that would hurt Forum business, according to the company.

Butts said last week he was confident the city can resolve its differences with the owners of the Forum.

“The city of Inglewood cherishes its relationship with The Madison Square Garden Company and Live Nation,” Butts said. “Working together, we have seen the Forum become one of the top concert venues in the country.”

Butts did not directly address the allegations of a bait-and-switch raised by Forum officials.

“We disagree on the city’s right to self-determination and the scope of that right,” Butts said. “The Inglewood City Council’s first responsibility is to its residents and their quality of life while ensuring continued progress, opportunities for employment and improved public safety.

The lawsuit does not address the alleged bait-and-switch, but accuses the city of failing to adhere to the state Public Records Act and failing to produce any documents regarding the agreement prior to its initial approval on June 15.

In response to complaints from Madison Square Garden about improper notice of the June 15 meeting, the Inglewood City Council held another meeting last week to approve the deal with the Clippers again.

City officials said the second vote would resolve “unfounded” allegations that the public wasn’t given proper notice of the original meeting.

MSG officials said the second meeting was attended by a host of opponents of the deal, which the Forum owners say includes the possibility of the city seizing the “hundreds of families’ homes, small businesses and a local community church” through eminent domain.

According to the lawsuit, MSG submitted a request for public records regarding the agreement, but the city failed to provide any documentation pre-dating the June 15 meeting.

“Apparently, the city of Inglewood would have the public believe that this comprehensive agreement magically sprang to life in final form without a single draft document, email, calendar entry, memorandum, text, phone message or other record leading up to its June 15 announcement and approval,” Putnam said.

“This contention is simply impossible to believe. We call on the city of Inglewood to comply with state law and the California Constitution and fulfill its duty to the public.”

The city’s agreement with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, secured with a $1.5 million payment to the city, gives him and Inglewood three years to negotiate for the new arena proposed for the corner of Century Boulevard and Yukon Avenue.

Ballmer wants to move the NBA team from Staples Center, which it shares with the Los Angeles Lakers and the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings, to a new state-of-the-art facility.

The Clippers’ Staples Center lease is up in 2024.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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