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L.A. Coliseum panel to weigh giving up management to USC

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Credit: Rong-Gong Lin II / Los Angeles Times
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission could take a critical step Wednesday afternoon toward handing over day-to-day control of the publicly owned stadium to the University of Southern California.

In return for getting the right to manage and operate the Coliseum, the private university has promised to upgrade the dilapidated venue, the home of its football team.

But the Los Angeles City Council voted 13 to 0 Wednesday to call on the Coliseum Commission to hold off settling on deal points in a proposed new lease with USC.

The commission's push for a new agreement with USC comes amid the Coliseum’s growing financial troubles, leaving the panel unable to pay for badly need renovations. The upgrades were promised to USC, in its current lease, which was approved three years ago.

The money problems have been compounded by an ongoing conflict-of-interest scandal at the Coliseum, which erupted after The Times in February began reporting on a series of financial irregularities.

In September, USC spokesman Thomas Sayles said a new lease giving the school effective control of the venue "allows the Coliseum to be restored to its former glory and ensures its viability for many generations to come." In the past, USC has offered to invest $100 million in the Coliseum, and has promised to make the property available for public events.

One commissioner, City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, opposes the deal, saying any agreement should be “thoroughly vetted” by the state, county and city, which jointly operate the Coliseum and companion Sports Arena.

Parks also criticized the secret negotiations between USC and three Coliseum commissioners: the panel’s president, David Israel; County Supervisor Don Knabe; and a city parks board member, Johnathan Williams.

“It is important to have this decision properly and publicly vetted,” said Parks, whose council district includes the Coliseum. “Both the Coliseum and [adjacent] Sports Arena are public assets located on public land, which are best managed and overseen by elected representatives of the public....

“Transferring management and operations of these public assets to a private entity, even if it is a university, raises legitimate concerns over accountability to the public in their day-to-day operations and prevents the public from having a voice in the operations and future development of these assets,” Parks said.

Speaking at a board meeting of the state-run California Science Center, Coliseum interim General Manager John Sandbrook said commissioners received a packet of information last Thursday and a term sheet, but declined to provide details. The science center is the Coliseum's landlord.

Sandbrook said Coliseum officials have met with USC representatives eight times to discuss the agreement.

The commission's discussion about the lease will be held in closed session, said panel lawyer Thomas Faughnan.

It’s possible that the nine-member commission will not take a vote on the deal points, but would direct its attorneys to draft a formal agreement.

When complete, the draft would be posted and subject to a public vote next year, according to officials. But it was not immediately clear how much time the public would have to review the deal.

For the record, 4:16 p.m. Dec. 7: A previous version of this post said the Coliseum Commission is the stadium's landlord. The science center is the Coliseum's landlord.

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the California Science Center and Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Credit: Rong-Gong Lin II / Los Angeles Times

 
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