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Inglewood must now prove it can manage success, mayor says

Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. speaks during a press conference for the Forum in this file photo. In a State of the City address Thursday, Butts was likely to focus on the multi-billion-dollar mixed-use project that includes a new NFL stadium on the site of the former Hollywood Park racetrack.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. speaks during a press conference for the Forum in this file photo. In a State of the City address Thursday, Butts was likely to focus on the multi-billion-dollar mixed-use project that includes a new NFL stadium on the site of the former Hollywood Park racetrack.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Inglewood is going through a major transformation, in no small part because of a new NFL stadium being built next to The Forum on the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack. The development includes a hotel, apartments and retail space.

Inglewood Mayor James Butts is likely to focus on this multi-billion-dollar mixed-use project during his State of the City address Thursday morning.

Butts spoke with KPCC ahead of the speech. The following transcript has been edited slightly.

There have been some big developments in your city since your last State of the City. The Rams — and perhaps another NFL team — will be playing football in Inglewood in about three years. How is Inglewood preparing for all this?

Well actually the preparation started probably five years ago, when we totally revolutionized our focus on fiscal responsibility and stability, have upgraded our infrastructure — our streets, our sidewalks, our water systems — and focused on economic development that started actually when the forum opened in January of 2014. So all this was a predicate for the negotiations that occurred that resulted in an entitlement and the relocation of the Rams.

So what challenges are you facing, such as traffic? I know you’re part of Metro’s board…

Well, when you say challenges as it relates to traffic, traffic is nothing new in the city of Inglewood. Up to the ’90s, the city was the home of the L.A. Lakers, the Kings, and Hollywood race track ran meets four to five days a week. They averaged 38,000 to 41,000 patrons at a meet, and that outbound came against the inbound of 17,658 coming into forum for Laker games, and this occurred during peak traffic hours during the middle of the week.

One result of the stadium is that housing prices have gone up in Inglewood — and rent is expected to keep going up. Are you concerned that longtime residents won’t be able to afford to live in Inglewood, and if so, how do you plan to address that?

Well, actually, you framed that setup a little inaccurately. Housing prices have been increasing pretty dramatically since the end of 2012. Between the end of 2012 and the end of 2015, housing prices based on actual sales in the city have gone up 85.6 percent. And so, the reality is that with the rise in housing prices, rents tend to go up, and rents tend to drop during eras of recession and they tend to climb during the boom eras of the stock market and housing. And as far as the impact the stadium will have on housing prices, that’s yet to be seen. The biggest difference we’ve seen since January 12, when the announcement was made, was the amount of time that properties stay up for sale before an offer’s been tendered, and that’s been pretty dramatic.

Last month, a California audit showed the finances and operations of Inglewood schools have not improved after nearly four years of being run by the state. How do you think the new state administrator will turn things around?

Well, as you know, the school district is a separate governmental entity from the city even before the state took control of it. And that being said, we’ve had disappointing results with the prior state administrator. But this new gentleman, Dr. Vincent Matthews, has done an outstanding job so far of making an assessment of the problems in the district, taking bold and decisive action to start to write the finances, and it’s our belief that we’ll get much better results with him at the helm.

From your perspective, how has the relationship between the Inglewood police department and the community evolved?

The Inglewood Police Department consistently, in polls that are done about city services, ranks amongst the highest of all city services and even compared to elected officials. They have an excellent reputation in the community. Every police department has its challenges from time to time, but this department has transitioned from an era when there was some doubt to one of the most respected and embraced institutions we have in the city of Inglewood. We’ve had our five lowest consecutive years of crime in the recorded history of Inglewood. And so, we’re proud of the predicate that we’ve set that led us to where we are now.

In you state of the city address, what kind of vision for Inglewood are you going to be sharing with the constituents?

If I could capsulize it, I would say that we’ve proven that we can handle adversity and transition ourselves into a position to maximize the opportunities inherent in our geographic location and the talent that we have in the city. So our next thing to do is prove that we can manage success and make sure that we take this three-year gestation period before the stadium opens to set up a plan that maximizes the opportunities, because in five years, the city is going to look much more different than it is now.

Butts is scheduled to speak at 11:30 a.m.