Community group Uplift Inglewood takes direct action to stop the basketball development

In a coordinated effort Tuesday, members of the Uplift Inglewood Coalition made public a lawsuit filed against the City of Inglewood to stop the negotiations to build new basketball arena for the Los Angeles Clippers.

It began with the lawsuit’s filing, early Tuesday morning. In the afternoon, members of Uplift Inglewood held a telephone press conference along with their representatives from Public Counsel, a widely respected pro bono law firm, and Cozen O’Connor, a private firm that specializes in ensuring cities to comply with state law.

“While new outside investments pour in, countless longstanding residents are finding that they can no longer afford to live in the community they’ve called home for so long,” said Woodrow Curry III, who founded Uplift Inglewood in 2015, on the call.

“We’re talking about the families, residents, and working people who have been sustaining and investing in this community long before it caught the attention of billionaire developers.”

Uplift’s lawsuit claims that in offering to sell public land to the Clippers – in particular, a set of vacant lots across the street from the already in-construction Rams stadium – the City of Inglewood has violated California’s Surplus Land Act.

The Surplus Land Act mandates that government-owned land should be “made available” for affordable housing or parks and open spaces before being offered for other purposes. According to Uplift’s lawsuit, that means Inglewood should have attempted to entice affordable housing developers for the unused parcels before offering them to the Clippers.

Reverend Francisco Garcia of the Uplift Inglewood Coalition speaks to protesters outside City Hall
Reverend Francisco Garcia, Pastor of Holy Faith Episcopal Church and member of the Uplift Inglewood Coalition, speaks to protesters outside Inglewood’s City Hall.

This is not the first time the City has heard that charge. In October, Public Counsel sent the City a letter demanding it comply with the Surplus Land Act. According to Public Counsel lawyers, that letter went unanswered.

Mayor James Butts has repeatedly claimed the public land cannot be used for housing since it falls under LAX’s flight path.

Just last week, Mr. Butts said at a private LA Clippers press conference: “[The Clippers] are going to build on land that the FAA long ago declared unfit for residential use.”

It seems that matter will be up to the courts to decide.

Antonio Hicks, a senior attorney at Public Counsel, said he’s “not buying” the argument that there is no legal pathway for the land to be used for housing.

“We have yet to see any documents that actually say that,” he said in the press conference. “We have asked for those documents and have not received [them.] So until I see it I won’t believe it.”

Immediately following the press conference, Uplift staged a brief rally outside Inglewood City Hall, featuring several speakers to retread the ground covered in the phone call.

Reverend Francisco Garcia of Holy Faith Episcopal Church, an Inglewood faith group that is a member of the Uplift Inglewood coalition, spoke about the importance of the city representing its residents – about two-thirds of whom are renters.

“Inglewood needs to be a guiding light in how we treat our most vulnerable,” he said before a small crowd gathered at the rally. “When they City talks about prosperity, they need to include all Inglewood residents.”

In an interview after the rally, Reverend Garcia shared his congregation’s motivation for joining the Uplift coalition.

“We have serious concerns about the vision for this city and the well-being of its residents,” he said. “What are their plans to engage and produce affordable housing? We are willing to be a partner and help do this work.”

“I should have gotten involved in what’s happening here in Inglewood a lot sooner … If not now, when?” – Durina Abraham, new member of Uplift Inglewood

At about 2:15 PM, the crew of 20 or so people headed to the 9th floor of Inglewood City Hall, planning to present the lawsuit to the Mayor in council. They had prepared an array of speakers, each with a few pieces to say publicly.

Unfortunately for them, the Mayor wasn’t having it. Uplift’s first speaker, Michael Wilson, took a bit long to get through his lines, bringing him over the one-minute time limit just as he began to announce the lawsuit. Police began pulling Mr. Wilson from the podium, and Mayor Butts, perhaps seeing the line of waiting speakers, abruptly adjourned the meeting and filed out with the rest of the council in tow.

While the action didn’t work out how members of Uplift Inglewood had hoped, Tuesday was aimed at generating attention for their cause and bringing new concerned residents into the fold. It seems they made strides toward that goal. Beyond receiving national attention from the likes of ESPN, Tuesday’s protest did reach new people.

Durinda Abraham attended the City Council meeting with Uplift and said it was her first time engaging with the group. She works at a Santa Monica non-profit that builds affordable housing, but her rationale for coming was personal, not professional. Her mother lives in Inglewood and has seen dramatic rent increases this year despite living on a fixed income.

“She got two rent increases in a three-month period that increased her rent by 33% for this year alone,” said Ms. Abraham. “She happens to live across the street from all the development, so obviously the goal is to get people out who normally would stay in the community.”

“I should have gotten involved in what’s happening here in Inglewood a lot sooner … If not now, when?”