INGLEWOOD (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles Clippers stepped off the court and into the courtroom Tuesday to face off with attorneys for a group of Inglewood residents who said they are being squeezed out of the city by a development boom — including the proposed billion-dollar Clippers arena.

(credit: CBS)

The group, Uplift Inglewood Coalition, claimed in a June 2018 lawsuit that the city violated the California Surplus Land Act by failing to give first priority to a possible affordable housing development on the roughly 22-acre parcel of land before entering into an exclusive negotiating agreement with developers for the arena.

Lawyers for the city and developers argued that the property did not qualify as surplus land. Further, they said, the land was unsuitable for housing since it sits under a flight path for nearby Los Angeles International Airport. Attorneys for the city said that the Federal Aviation Administration gave the city grant money to remove homes from the land so it could be used for more suitable commercial purposes.

Uplift Inglewood members, however, maintained that public land should be used for the public good, with access to housing an integral part of building strong communities. The group’s lead attorney, Thomas Casparian, said the land should have been offered first for an affordable housing development before being offered to the Clippers.

John Spiegel, a partner with the firm Munger, Tolles and Olson, representing the Clippers, said that other developments have been proposed for the property but had not come to fruition. He further said the FAA, due to its previous work with the city to remove homes, would frown on repopulating the area with new residences.

“The FAA doesn’t want cities moving people onto property it gave money to move them off of,” he said.

However, Casparian said the FAA had not objected to other housing projects in the area, and he called the argument that the agency would oppose building affordable housing there a “red herring.”

Spiegel also said the project would be an economic boon to the city — Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has promised $75 million to fund affordable housing projects if the deal was finalized.

Spiegel said that commitment would be lost if the project were to fall through because of the coalition’s opposition.

But Casparian said the coalition was not trying to block the arena, rather their aim was to ensure the city provided increased housing for the community as rent costs and homelessness increase. Casparian also said, in a gathering with coalition members after the hearing, that Ballmer had not yet put the $75 million donation in writing.

Kish Lewis, a resident in Inglewood, said her rent jumped from $1,300 per month to $2,300 per month because of the increased development in the city.

“In 2018, I received a notice from a new global entity that is coming and buying up a lot of Inglewood property, that I needed to renew my lease for (an additional) $1,000 or move,” she said.

Casey Sypek, on behalf of the city of Inglewood, said the community was already doing many of the things the petitioners demanded in their court action, including expanding the amount of affordable housing.

Madison Square Garden, which owns the Forum, has also filed a suit against the development alleging that the city said it needed the land back from the Forum to build a tech center, but turned around and entered into negotiations for the Clippers arena deal.

The Forum had been using the land for overflow parking.

The city has denied that this claim was ever made to MSG as part of this development project.

Aside from the Clippers, the Rams are building a new NFL stadium alongside the 405 Freeway slated to open next summer and host the 2022 Super Bowl.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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