A judge Wednesday threw out a lawsuit in which a citizens group sought to block the proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena by arguing that the Inglewood should have given first priority to affordable housing.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy rejected the primary argument by the Uplift Inglewood Coalition that the city violated the state Surplus Land Act when it entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Clippers involving the proposed $1.2 billion arena and entertainment complex on 23 acres of city-owned property at Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard. The talks are still ongoing.
The law requires that any land deemed unnecessary for a civic purpose must first be considered for affordable housing development. However, Murphy accepted Inglewood’s argument that the Clippers site had for years been reserved for the legitimate purpose of economic development, and thus is not surplus.
“The city did not abuse its discretion in determining the property remains necessary for the agency’s use and is not surplus land,” Murphy wrote in a 31-page opinion.
Murphy heard arguments Tuesday from lawyers for Uplift Coalition, the city and the developers, then took the case under submission before ruling.
Murphy also agreed with the city’s contention that despite the surplus land law, no residential housing could be reintroduced on the site because it lies directly under the Los Angeles International Airport flight path, where long-term exposure to jet noise poses a public health hazard.
The project site is among the many noise-impacted parcels the city acquired with Federal Aviation Administration and LAX funds to relocate residents and convert to more appropriate commercial and industrial uses.
“The city could reasonably conclude … that residential or school uses are inconsistent with the FAA grant assurances and city’s land-recycling program,” Murphy wrote.
The Uplift Inglewood Coalition plans to appeal the ruling.
“The Uplift Inglewood Coalition demonstrated to the court that the only obstacle to compliance with the Surplus Land Act and other affordable housing laws, and building healthy housing on these sites, is political will,” said Katie McKeon, an attorney with Public Counsel.
“The court’s decision gives the city a pass on compliance with the SLA at a time of grave affordable and homeless crisis. As part of its #HomesBeforeArenas campaign, Uplift Inglewood will continue to consider all of its options to hold the city accountable to state affordable housing laws.”
Louis “Skip” Miller, lead attorney for Inglewood, said: “The Uplift claim had no legal merit. Their sole purpose was to block economic development in Inglewood and the court saw through what they were doing and made the correct legal decision.”
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts hailed the ruling as a “tremendous victory for the people of Inglewood and a major step forward.”
Butts said it would have been a “travesty to allow a few malcontents to sabotage so much prosperity for this community.”
John Spiegel, an attorney for the developers, said the hearing paves the way for a project that will return not only professional basketball to Inglewood, but bring $75 million for affordable housing that has been promised by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.
Construction and operation of the proposed 18,500-seat arena complex is predicted by its backers to generate 8,500 new jobs, inject $268 million into the local economy, and yield $190 million in additional tax revenue for Inglewood over the next 25 years.
While the city has successfully recruited many businesses for land acquired with FAA funds, the 65 parcels in question at the heart of the proposed arena site have been particularly difficult to develop, as they are closest to LAX. In its court filings, the city cited six potential commercial developments that have fallen through between 1987 and 2008.
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