At Least Two More Lawsuits Aim to Block NBA Team's Effort to Build Venue in Inglewood, California
L.A. Clippers seek to build a new arena on 22 acres in Inglewood, California. (L.A. Clippers)
A court victory by the National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Clippers scored a key point but not a victory in the team's effort to build a new arena in Inglewood, California.
Opponents are still challenging the $1.2 billion project even after a judge rejected the argument of a community coalition that the city shirked its responsibilities under California law to residents by failing to consider building affordable housing for the site.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy dismissed allegations from the Uplift Inglewood Coalition alleging Inglewood’s agreement to sell the vacant 22-acre site to arena developer Murphy Bowl LLC, a company controlled by the Clippers, is illegal under California's Surplus Land Act, which requires that municipalities give first priority to affordable housing development for any public land deemed as surplus property.
Analysts say the team still faces a challenge in winning approval. "Though the Inglewood developers scored a key victory here, there are still other legal hurdles that they will need to jump before the arena can be completed," said Joseph Hanna, a real estate attorney for Buffalo, New York-based law firm Goldberg Segalla, who represents professional sports franchises, athletes and property owners in business issues and isn't involved in the Clippers case.
For example, Clippers arena opponent Madison Square Garden Co., owner of the nearby Forum which is reported to have approached Clippers rival Los Angeles Lakers to abandon Staples Center and return to their original L.A. home at the Forum, has filed two lawsuits to block the project. Another local coalition, Inglewood Residents Against Takings and Evictions, better known by its acronym IRATE, is appealing the court’s rejection last year of a lawsuit filed against the project, Hanna said.
Uplift Inglewood Coalition said in a statement that "while we were disappointed in the ruling, we are not deterred" and vowed to keep fighting against the arena development.
"This judgment shows that money can tip the scales of justice and allow billionaires to shape the future of our city," Uplift Inglewood spokesman D’Artagnan Scorza said in the statement. "We still contend that state laws, which require cities to prioritize affordable housing, must be enforced, and we will keep all of our legal options open, including the potential to appeal this ruling."
Clippers officials did not respond to requests for comment on how the team will proceed following the latest court ruling.
Murphy ruled in a 31-page opinion last week that Inglewood doesn't have to comply with the act, in part because the city originally purchased the land at West Century Boulevard and South Prairie Avenue, next to the nearly completed SoFi Stadium for the Los Angeles Rams and L.A. Chargers, so that residents wouldn't have to live under the flight path of Los Angeles International Airport just a few miles west of the site.
Inglewood city attorneys contend that land set aside for economic development and aircraft noise mitigation doesn't quality as surplus under the state law. The city paid $120 million for the parcels with a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration aimed to reducing the impact of airport noise on communities.
The judge ruled the city was reasonable in finding that the land was unsuitable for residential housing due to its presence under the airport flight path. Attorneys for Uplift Inglewood countered that the judge’s decision is a "tortured interpretation" of the Surplus Land Act that allows municipalities to avoid their legal requirement to first consider public land for affordable housing and park development.
Hanna said the arena development "would not receive a dollar of public funding," but would be funded entirely by the team’s billionaire owner and former Microsoft chief executive Ballmer, and up to 400 affordable housing units would be built as a part of the project.
The Clippers agreed to give the city a $100 million "community benefits" package that includes $75 million to be used on the creation of up to 400 affordable housing units, a rent relief program for low-income tenants and financial assistance for first-time homebuyers, according to city and court documents.