Owners of the The Forum filed suit Friday against the city of Inglewood after officials refused their demands to stop negotiations for a new Los Angeles Clippers arena.
Madison Square Garden Co. argues that the city violated the state constitution when it suddenly approved a complex agrement to negotiate with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer last month without a public process.
They say Mayor James Butts tricked them into giving up a leasehold on an off-site Forum parking lot along Century Boulevard. That allowed the city to make way for the Clippers deal, even though their contract stated the lot wouldn’t be used by a competing business.
Madison Square Garden attorneys Latham & Watkins demanded explanations and documents describing how the deal came about and filed a claim for damages against the city, a precursor to a lawsuit.
When they didn’t receive a satisfactory response, they sued.
“The city failed to produce a single draft of the 22-page, single-spaced agreement regarding the new arena, nor any memorandum, note, comment, email, voice mail, text, calendar entry, phone message or any other document or communication” before signing off on it, said attorney Marvin Putnam.
The suit says Butts told them the city was going to build a business-technology park on a portion of the parking lot. Madison Square Garden returned the lease to the city under the condition it wouldn’t be used for a competing business.
The Clippers deal, they say, came as a major shock. It allows for up to three years of negotiations with Ballmer, and is secured with a $1.5 million payment to the city.
In response to the threatened suit last week, the Inglewood City Council held a redo of the June 15 meeting and reaffirmed the negotiations for the 18,000- to 20,000-seat arena about a mile south of The Forum.
“Working together, we have seen the Forum become one of the top concert venues in the country,” Butts said last week in response to the threatened lawsuit. “The City Council’s first responsibility is to ensure continued progress, opportunities for employment, improve public safety and the quality of life for Inglewood residents. In the end, we will come together in a resolution.”
Ballmer wants to move the NBA team from Staples Center, which the Clippers share with the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, to a new state-of-the-art facility. The team’s Los Angeles lease is up in 2024.
But a competing concert venue so close to The Forum clearly violates the agreement they made when giving back the parking lot lease to the city, the lawsuit states.
“The public has the right to access information concerning the conduct of public business,” Putnam said. “Apparently, the city of Inglewood would have the public believe that this comprehensive agreement magically sprang to life in final form without a single draft document.”