Science museum chief has 'serious concerns' about USC deal
The president of the California Science Center says he has "serious concerns" that USC's proposed takeover of the neighboring Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum could restrict public parking and cause disruptions at the state museum, which soon will be home to the space shuttle Endeavour.
Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph said Wednesday that he is worried that USC's bid to control state-owned parking lots near the Coliseum could limit their availability to Exposition Park's three museums. Rudolph also expressed fears that the museum operations could otherwise be overwhelmed by large events USC would stage at the taxpayer-owned Coliseum, apart from Trojans football games.
The Science Center board is considering USC's request to assume management of the parking lots under the private school's deal with the Coliseum's governing commission to run the stadium.
"We have significant, serious concerns -- as I believe others in [Exposition] Park probably would -- about operating and being able to operate our facilities," Rudolph said.
The Coliseum Commission approved the USC takeover in May after a financial scandal left the agency at the brink of insolvency. Three ex-Coliseum managers, two rave promoters and a janitorial contractor have been indicted on corruption and conflict-of-interest charges. A criminal investigation of the Coliseum management followed a 2011 Times report on financial irregularities.
In July, The Times and a 1st Amendment group, Californians Aware, sued the Coliseum Commission, alleging it violated open-government laws by deliberating the decades-long lease with USC in secret and withholding stadium records from public inspection. The commission has said it acted legally. The suit is pending.
Rudolph raised questions about the USC lease after some Science Center board members called for a quick resolution to the school's pursuit of the parking lots and dismissed the idea that museum staffers should be available for a public hearing on the merits of the deal.
"We can't function without parking," Rudolph said in an interview. "I'm talking about the ability to ensure there's parking available for school buses for children coming to the Science Center ... the African American Museum, the Natural History Museum and for families that come here."
In addition, Rudolph said a USC takeover of the parking lots could prevent the Science Center from reaching a long-standing goal to convert more parking areas into grassy open space, tree promenades and ball fields for use by the South Los Angeles community.
"Exposition Park serves as a community park in one of the most park-deprived communities in the nation," Rudolph said.
Rudolph said more talks are needed:: "Usually, after discussion, there is a solution that works for everyone. And I think that discussion has to happen."
Rudolph said he had informed Coliseum interim general manager John Sandbrook of his concerns but said his concerns were not addressed. Sandbrook disputed Rudolph's account but declined to elaborate.
A USC spokesman did not return a call requesting comment.
Meanwhile, Science Center board members sparred over how quickly they should act on the USC bid.
Chairman Robert L. Stein said there should be no hurry. He said if had he known several years ago about the alleged corruption taking root in the Coliseum Commission's management ranks, he would have opposed extending the state's agreement empowering the commission to run the stadium.
"The task by this board is to gather as much information as possible ... to make an informed and intelligent bet," Stein said.
Other board members, however, appeared frustrated by the pace of discussions.
William Chadwick, an advocate of the USC deal who has long sat on both the museum and Coliseum panels, said, "In my view, a public hearing is unnecessary, inappropriate and of questionable legal validity."
Chadwick said it was important that the Science Center act quickly on USC's requests. "Time is of the essence," Chadwick said. He did not explain how a public hearing might be invalid.
The Science Center board scheduled a hearing for Oct. 3.
-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the California Science Center
Photo: Jeffrey Rudolph, president of the California Science Center in Los Angeles, which is soon to become the home of the space shuttle Endeavour, is concerned about parking around the museum under USC's deal to take over the Coliseum. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times