A California judge handed the city of Inglewood a win by ruling against a group of local residents who sought to block the city from selling public land for a $1.2 billion arena for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.
The city of Inglewood accepted $1.5 million for an exclusive negotiation agreement with Murphy’s Bowl LLC, the developer of the proposed arena. The arena is located at a site near Los Angeles International Airport and the land was acquired by the city so that residents would not live in an airplane flight path. The arena would not receive a dollar of public funding; instead, it will be funded entirely by the team’s owner, former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer. In addition, up to 400 affordable housing units will be constructed as a part of the project.
Uplift Inglewood, a coalition of local residents, filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that the sale would violate California’s Surplus Land Act (SLA). This law requires that any land that is unnecessary for civic purposes be considered for affordable housing development first. Uplift Inglewood argued that, since the city had struggled to sell this plot of land for years, it was surplus land that should have been offered to affordable housing developers or other eligible entities first.
Attorneys for Inglewood and Murphy’s Bowl countered, arguing that it did not constitute surplus land since it had been used by the government for the purpose of economic development. They argued that government land use is not restricted to municipal functions.
Superior Court Judge Daniel S. Murphy agreed with the city, finding that there was no violation of the SLA. Since the arena site was reserved for economic development purposes for years, it did not constitute a surplus. Murphy wrote, “[e]ven if the city could exercise its discretion to comply with the SLA at this time, petitioner has not shown that the city has abused its discretion in declining to do so during the negotiation period.” Murphy also found that the city was reasonable in finding that the land was unsuitable for residential housing due to its presence in the LAX flight path.
The attorneys for Uplift Inglewood stated that Murphy’s “tortured interpretation” of the SLA allows municipalities to avoid their legal requirement to first consider public land for affordable housing and park development.
Though the Inglewood developers scored a key victory here, there are still other legal hurdles they will need to jump before the arena can be completed. Madison Square Garden Co., owners of the nearby Forum, have filed two lawsuits opposing the project. In addition, another local coalition, Inglewood Residents Against Taking and Evictions, is currently appealing a lawsuit it filed against the project.