LOS ANGELES - Pressing a legal challenge to a proposed Clippers arena in Inglewood, attorneys for a residents' group told a judge Tuesday the city violated the California Surplus Land Act by failing to give first priority to a possible affordable housing development on the property.
But lawyers for the city and developers argued the property does not qualify as surplus land. The also argued the property -- which sits in the flight path of Los Angeles International Airport -- is unsuitable for housing, noting that the FAA provided funding to remove homes that were previously on the land so it could be used instead for more suitable commercial purposes.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy did not make an immediate decision on the petition by Uplift Inglewood, saying he wanted to consider the issues further. He said he may have a decision by Friday or early next week.
Uplift Inglewood filed its petition in June 2018, alleging the city did not comply with the law before it entered into formal negotiations to sell roughly 22 acres of city-owned land for the development of a Clippers arena.
Uplift Inglewood members maintain that public land should be used for the public good and access to housing is central to building strong communities. Their lead attorney, Cozen O'Connor, said the land should have been offered first for an affordable housing development before being offered to the Clippers.
At one point, in discussing the potential economic benefits to Inglewood of using the land to build an arena for the Clippers, the judge said he assumed that other cities would be happy to have the NBA team in their communities.
O'Connor said the group is not trying to block the Clippers project, but only to provide a basic need in the community at a time of rising rent costs and homelessness.
Attorney John Spiegel, on behalf of the arena developers, said the project would be an economic boon to Inglewood, noting that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has promised $75 million to fund affordable housing projects if the deal is finalized. Spiegel said that commitment would be lost if the project falls through because of the coalition's opposition.
Spiegel said other developments have been proposed for the property but have not come to fruition. He also said the FAA would frown on housing being built on the land.
"The FAA doesn't want cites moving people onto property it gave money to move them off," Spiegel said.
Casey Sypek, on behalf of the city of Inglewood, said the community is already doing many of the things the petitioners are demanding in their court action, including expanding the amount of affordable housing.
But in a gathering with coalition members outside the courthouse after the hearing, Thomas Casparian, another attorney for the petitioners, said Ballmer has not put the $75 million donation in writing. He also said the FAA has 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."
Inglewood resident Kish Lewis said Inglewood is in dire need of more affordable housing, saying rents have been skyrocketing due to new development in the area, most notably the soon-to-open NFL stadium at the former Hollywood Park racetrack. She said major companies are buying up property in the area.
"I needed to renew my lease for a thousand dollars (increase) or move," she said, noting her rent went from $1,300 a month to $2,300.