California Science Center board member Irene M. Romero stresses a point… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)
Supporters of Exposition Park museums were successful Wednesday in stopping a plan that they said would cripple the institutions by giving USC control of public parking as part of the school's pending takeover of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
"We're going back to the drawing board," said Fabian Wesson, chair of the California Science Center board, which had been poised to approve the proposal granting USC parking spaces and revenues from them during Coliseum events. A scheduled vote on the plan was put off until June 25 while the terms of the parking deal are reworked.
Backers of the Science Center and the neighboring California African American Museum said the loss of garage spaces would have slashed attendance at the institutions and diverted millions of dollars in parking receipts to USC. They also said the negotiations between the Science Center board and the private university had been opaque.
Allegations of secrecy have also marked the broader lease arrangement to have USC run the taxpayer-owned Coliseum and Sports Arena. Wednesday's hearing came a day after the Coliseum's top administrator testified that he could not recall details of how he responded to document requests under the state's open records law, including the search for a missing email from a stadium manager indicted in a corruption scandal.
The parking pact attracted intense opposition. In public hearings, state lawmakers lectured negotiators for proposing a deal that they said favored USC over taxpayers, and one senator threatened to write legislation to overturn it.
Even the Science Center's fundraising foundation said it would sue if a vote was taken Wednesday, with one trustee calling the proposal "a war being waged on children," and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to intervene.
"As a result of listening to you, we have a lot of work to do," board member Anthony Williams said to the audience,
USC wants the parking in return for investing at least $70 million to renovate the 90-year-old Coliseum.
"In exchange for this considerable financial investment, USC is asking … that adequate and affordable parking be available," Todd Dickey, a USC vice president, said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Coliseum interim General Manager John Sandbrook testified in a deposition that was taken as part of a lawsuit by the Los Angeles Times and a 1st Amendment group, Californians Aware. The suit alleges that the Coliseum Commission broke state law by withholding records from the public and conducting months of secret deliberations on the USC lease of the stadium.
Sandbrook refused to answer questions in a March deposition after his lawyer objected to the presence of Times reporters. The attorney, Deborah Fox, asked the court to bar the reporters from the deposition, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin rejected that motion and ordered Sandbrook to testify.
According to Fox's estimate in court papers, the unsuccessful bid to oust the reporters cost the public more than $33,500 in legal fees.
The deposition focused largely on Sandbrook's efforts to locate documents that The Times sought under the California Public Records Act. Some records were not produced for seven months, despite a requirement in the act that they generally be made public within 10 days and, in some cases, 24 days.
Asked by Times attorney Jeff Glasser when he started the search for the records, Sandbrook said: "I have no recollection of when I began that process."
Sandbrook said the commission never released the email from Leopold Caudillo Jr. — a copy of which The Times obtained from a third party — because the Coliseum staff could not find it. He said the absence of the email was "puzzling."
He said the records search may have been "partially lacking, but 20-20 hindsight is always useful." Caudillo is accused of felony conflict of interest for allegedly directing Coliseum business to a firm he controlled. He has pleaded not guilty.
Documents sent by USC to the commission show that a school official was concerned that Coliseum software had been "pirated." The commission failed to release the documents after The Times asked for any records about allegations of software licensing violations.
Sandbrook testified that he did not believe the documents should have been released because "the term 'pirated' can mean various things to various people." The Times eventually got the documents from USC through the lawsuit.
When asked if more documents could be missing, Sandbrook said: "Anything is possible." He said he did not believe any records that should have been released were destroyed when the commission discarded 545 boxes of older documents, an undertaking that he called "spring cleaning."
Sandbrook also said during the deposition that he did not consider himself a negotiator of the lease proposal, even though he identified himself as such on meeting agendas he drafted.
The deposition zeroed in on the commission's closed-door deliberations on the proposed lease. Agendas repeatedly identified the lease talks as a real estate negotiation.
Sandbrook said the proposal was discussed in secret because the commission faced a potential lawsuit by USC over its failure to renovate the Coliseum. Government agencies are allowed to discuss some legal matters in private, but confidential commission records obtained by The Times for most of the nine months of deliberations show the USC lease was not among the many items the panel listed as subjects of "anticipated litigation."