Coliseum deal could go forward today

The California Science Center Board of Directors could vote at its meeting June 5 to approve the latest terms of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum lease agreement with USC.

If approved by the Board, the agreement would give USC full managing rights at the state historical landmark and guarantee the university 70 percent of the parking spaces in the Science Center’s deck on 25 event days per year (33 if the NFL uses the stadium temporarily). It would also extend USC’s lease from 2054, the expiration date agreed upon in a December 2012 plan, to 2111 — a 98-year deal.

But opponents of the deal spoke out at public forums this week, saying that the loss of parking would take both revenue and visitors away from the California African American Museum , the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

“It goes too far,” said Charmaine Jefferson, CAAM’s executive director. The state cut the museum’s budget in half ten years ago, and since, CAAM has relied heavily on revenues from the Exposition Park parking lot, which is owned by the state. Ordinarily California divides the lot’s revenues among the museums. For USC to keep excess revenue would be wrong, she said.

Under this lease, USC will pay $10 — the standard weekday rate — for each parking spot on each day it controls the lot. But on special event days, the state has been able to charge as much as $16 for those spaces. And if USC raises prices, it can keep the profits.

The leaders of all three Exposition Park museums share Jefferson’s concern that the lease agreement is lopsided in USC’s favor.

“[This deal] doesn’t adequately ensure the cultural integrity of Exposition Park,” said Kimberly Freeman, a CAAM board member. It requires all Exposition Park entities to schedule “special events” — those attended by more than 3,000 people — 24 months in advance, which is unreasonable for a small institution like CAAM, Freeman said. Plus, she said CAAM projects a $31 million shortfall over 50 years because of lost parking revenue.

“These are free museums and they will be clearly damaged from the loss of parking revenue and the loss of parking itself,” added Science Center Trustee Marvin Holen.

Bobbie Jean Anderson, a Vermont Knolls resident, asked the Board to reject the deal and take more time to negotiate. As it stands, the deal would “surrender some of our most treasured landmarks for next to nothing,” she said.

Further, the terms of the deal were published May 20, just 10 days before the first public hearing. Community members hardly had enough time to review it and make judgments, and a Science Center Board vote today would be premature, Holen said. He has threatened to seek an injunction against the deal.

“Secrecy … has been endemic in this entire process,” he said at the hearing.

Generally, however, stakeholders agree that USC is best equipped to manage and repair the Coliseum, which needs $70 million to $100 million in renovations.

Three current USC students, all alumni of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a seven-year pre-college enrichment program that rewards the neighborhood’s most successful students with full scholarships to USC, joined  current NAI students to defend USC’s record of acting in the neighborhood’s best interest.

“We all want USC to manage the Coliseum. They will do this superbly,” Jefferson said. But she doesn’t think the deal is satisfactory yet. “I don’t think they’ll approve this on Wednesday.”

State Sen. Curren Price, who will represents City Council’s ninth district, which includes the Coliseum, beginning in July, called the deal a “clear violation” of the board’s legal obligation to protect its and CAAM’s interests. State Sens. Kevin deLeon said he will ask the legislature to overturn the lease if approved. State Sens. Richard Polanco and Rod Wright have also voiced their dissatisfaction.

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