The Inglewood City Council unanimously approved a three-year agreement Thursday that allows the Los Angeles Clippers to pursue the possibility of building a new privately-funded arena across the street from the city's future NFL stadium.
"This is like a promise ring that we hope will lead to an engagement that we hope will lead to a marriage," said Inglewood Mayor James Butts.
Citing the city's success in securing the stadium that will house the Rams and Chargers starting in 2020, Butts expressed confidence about Thursday's deal.
"Our expectation is it will culminate in an NBA arena in the city of Inglewood," he said.
Before that happens, the Clippers have to design their new home, secure permits and pass environmental reviews. (In the case of the NFL stadium Inglewood's council voted to bypass the California Environmental Quality Act). The Clippers agreed to pay Inglewood $1.5 million while the team develops a plan.
Butts said Inglewood owns most of the 300 acres where the stadium would be built, although some of the acreage is privately-owned.
The agreement with Inglewood has raised questions for some as to whether the Clippers are using it as leverage to get a better deal at their current home, the AEG-owned Staples Center.
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has made no secret of his dislike for the team's lease at Staples Center, which gives it the last pick of game dates after the Lakers and Kings.
"The prospect of a new state-of-the-art NBA arena would allow us greater latitude to influence our game schedule, particularly as it relates to weekend games that are so important to our fans," Ballmer wrote Thursday in a letter to fans. "We also want to offer our fans premium experiences in terms of technology, club spaces and other amenities; that's easier to realize in a new arena."
He said the Clippers will remain at Staples Center until at least 2024, when the team's lease expires.
Gillian Zucker, the Clippers president of business operations, said the Inglewood deal is not a negotiating tactic.
"We would not be entering into this agreement if we were not very serious, she said. "This about giving real options to the Clippers."
Financing is not an issue, since Ballmer - who's worth more than $30 billion - would finance the project.
AEG declined to comment on the Clippers-Inglewood agreement.
The council vote did not sit well with the Forum, which also sits in Inglewood. The Forum released a strongly-worded letter that accused the city of acting in bad faith.
"It appears the City of Inglewood has been doing a lot of backroom dealing," the statement read. "There may be a path forward, but not without a real public process that is done in the full light of day with the participation of Inglewood’s residents and many other stakeholders."
The Forum's attorneys also sent a letter to the council accusing it of violating California's Brown Act, which requires government agencies to give the public sufficient notice of upcoming meetings. Thursday's meeting was only announced late Wednesday, and some Inglewood residents complained it was held when most people were at work.
Butts was unapologetic, saying that the city had to seize on opportunities that came its way.
"You can’t have a vote citywide on everything you do," he said. "I don’t know of any other city that gets paid $1.5 million to negotiate."