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Lawsuit, legislation threatened to halt USC-museum parking deal

June 01, 2013|By Rong-Gong Lin II
  • Kindergartners from the Science Center School interact with a video exhibit showing highlights of Endeavour's missions during opening ceremonies at the California Science Center.
Kindergartners from the Science Center School interact with a video exhibit… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

A trustee of the California Science Center's fundraising arm on Saturday said his organization is considering legal action to block a deal that would give control of the museum’s parking to USC, part of a larger pact that would turn over management of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the private university.

A state lawmaker also warned at a public hearing on the far-reaching deal that he would push for legislation to overturn the lease-agreement if it hurt nearby public museums. The California Science Center is the stadium’s landlord, and its board of directors is scheduled to vote on the agreement Wednesday.

“We don’t want this where the process ends up being bad…because it’s just going to go through the legislative process and be circumvented altogether,” state Sen. Kevin DeLeon told the center’s board of directors.

DeLeon said giving away state-owned parking and its profits to USC could mean fewer visitors to the California Science Center, which recently acquired the space shuttle Endeavour, the California African American Museum and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

“Let’s cut to the chase. You’ve got to get the best deal for the taxpayers,” DeLeon said in a subsequent interview. “You don’t give up assets for others to profit on. … It can’t be a 90/10 proposition, you know? A 90/10 proposition doesn’t work well for the taxpayers of California.”

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Former state Sen. Richard Polanco, who attended the hearing, gave the board a letter signed by more than a dozen state lawmakers “specifically stating that they strongly oppose the proposal that would give the state parking lots to USC.”

Polanco said state law already says the Science Center “shall manage or operate its parking facilities in the manner that preserves and protects the interest of itself and the California African American Museum.”

Commercial and entertainment needs “should not dictate the availability of parking for the education, cultural and recreational needs of the community,” Polanco said.

The deal pits some of the Science Center museum’s most vocal supporters and fundraisers against the institution’s own board of directors, whose members are appointed by the governor.

Marvin Holen, who is on the board of trustees of the Science Center’s fundraising arm, told the board his organization has already talked with its own lawyers on blocking the USC deal, which he said was brokered behind closed doors.

RELATED: USC-Coliseum deal could cripple 3 public museums, critics say

He noted that a summary of the agreement was only released two weeks ago, and no one has provided a copy of the actual full-length legal contract, despite a vote that could come in days.

“The issue of secrecy … has been endemic to the entire process,” Holen said. “We would strongly recommend you defer any action at your coming Wednesday, June 5 meeting, because the implications are so severe, and so damaging, to the children of Los Angeles.”

“We’re just asking for this to be deferred” beyond the Wednesday meeting, Holen said. “If we go to court, we have a very good case” at asking a judge to put an injunction on the agreement.

Fabian Wesson, the chairwoman of the Science Center board, called the negotiation process “very inclusive” and transparent, and said that no agreement has been finalized with USC.

“You have the commitment of this board and the governor’s office that the legacy and future of this park as a state community asset, where both museums and sports and entertainment can get along and thrive,” Wesson said.

Renata Simril, a Science Center board member who helped broker the deal with USC, defended the pact as one that would ensure that USC would pay at least $70 million in renovations to the 90-year-old stadium.

“This is not about USC taking over Exposition Park,” the state land on which the stadium and museums sit, Simril said. “What this is about is USC stepping into the Coliseum Commission’s position of managing the Memorial Coliseum and the Sports Arena.”

The issue of potential conflicts of interest by Science Center board members was raised by one person who spoke. Christy Seki, a Science Center foundation grant writer, told the board members that any conflicts of interest need to be made “available to the public.”

Simril has come under criticism for her time as a manager for a commercial real estate services firm that advised USC. Another Science Center board member, Robert Stein, wrote Simril in an email that “I am concerned that given [your] past real estate involvement with USC, that your judgment is flawed and decisions are misguided.”

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