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Judge rejects affordable housing argument, sides with city in Clippers arena battle

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The mayor called the ruling a “tremendous victory for the people of Inglewood”

A rendering of the Clippers arena, designed by AECOM.
Renderings courtesy of LA Clippers

The Clippers cleared a hurdle today in their push to build an arena in Inglewood, with a judge ruling the city-owned land on which the venue would be built does not need to be vetted first as a potential site for affordable housing.

A community group had sought to at least temporarily halt the NBA arena’s development, but in his ruling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy sided with the city and Clippers. He determined that housing cannot be reintroduced to the site because it’s under the LAX flight path and could pose a public health hazard.

Inglewood Mayor James Butts in a statement hailed the decision as a “tremendous victory for the people of Inglewood.”

John Spiegel, a partner at Munger, Tolles, and Olson, which represents the Clippers, said the project would pave the way for the “return not only professional basketball to Inglewood” but also $75 million for affordable housing.

The Clippers have agreed to give the city of Inglewood a $100 million community benefits package, including $75 million that will be set aside for up to 400 affordable housing units, a rent relief program, and financial assistance for first-time homebuyers.

Uplift Inglewood Coalition sued the city last year, claiming it had violated the California Surplus Land Act. It asked the courts to void the contract between the city of Inglewood and the Clippers in order to give affordable housing developers, and other entities, such as park developers, a chance to bid on the land for 60 days.

“We are extremely disappointed and perplexed by the court’s ruling,” the attorneys representing Uplift Inglewood Coalition said in a statement to Curbed. “The court’s decision gives the city a pass on compliance with the Surplus Land Act at a time of grave affordable and homeless crisis.”

Inglewood is quickly transforming, with several major developments underway. There’s the $2.6 billion NFL stadium set to open in the summer, the Crenshaw/LAX Line that will have three stations in Inglewood, and a massive mixed-use community at Hollywood Park.

Housing prices, meanwhile, have skyrocketed. The median home price in Inglewood shot up 64 percent from 2014 to 2018, according to PropertyShark.

In that time, Inglewood did not produce a single unit of affordable housing, according to a report from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

At the trial, which concluded Tuesday, an attorney representing the city said the coalition was using any argument it could to try to thwart the project, calling the tactic the “spaghetti method.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has said it “does not support the reintroduction of single-family or multi-family residential uses” on the 22-acre site, which the city acquired with FAA grant money.

“Such residential redevelopment would increase residents’ exposure to aircraft noise, and is inherently inconsistent with the intent of the city’s land acquisition noise mitigation program, approved and funded by the FAA,” the administration wrote in an August letter to Butts.

The letter “not only proves, but it confirms our position that it should not be offered for affordable housing,” Royce Jones, an attorney representing the city, told the Daily Breeze last month.

Murphy agreed. He wrote that the city “could reasonably conclude ... that residential or school uses are inconsistent with the Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances and city’s land-recycling program.”

D’Artagnan Scorza of Uplift Inglewood has said the organization’s members understand that the city wants to take care of its residents in multiple ways that include providing “good paying jobs and community benefits coming into the city.” But he has also said it’s important to make sure residents have access to affordable housing as developer money pours into he city.

“We’re going to continue to fight,” Scorza said.