The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Community leaders meet to voice their concerns and to discuss plans for the community to attend the next commission meeting
Last Tuesday a group of community leaders met to discuss a ‘scheme’ set in motion months ago to give the University of Southern California (USC) control of the historic and publicly-run Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The group included Charisse Bremond-Weaver of the Brotherhood Crusade; Leon Jenkins of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Blair Taylor of the Los Angeles Urban League; Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. of the Los Angeles Sentinel; Brenda Marsh-Mitchell of Mothers In Action; and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, in whose district the Coliseum is located and who is also a member of the Coliseum’s governing commission.
The focus of the meeting was to discuss the negative impacts of USC’s long-desired takeover of the stadium and to prepare to state its case at next Coliseum Commission Meeting scheduled to take place on Wednesday, October 5. And also, to view USC’s latest expansion attempt to acquire the surrounding real estate in its ever-expanding footprint in South Los Angeles.
Historically, the Coliseum has been a public facility since it opened in 1923 as a memorial to the veterans of World War I, and it is the only stadium to have hosted the Olympic Games twice: in 1932 and 1984. Furthermore, if Los Angeles ever hosts the Olympic Games in the future, the Coliseum will again be a prominent venue for the occasion. It is also the only Olympic stadium to have also hosted Super Bowls and World Series.
The Coliseum was declared a National Historic Landmark on July 27, 1984, the day before the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics. In fact, USC played the first ever football game at the stadium against Pomona College the same year it opened.
Speaking in one voice, the consensus of the meeting was that the Coliseum is a publicly-owned facility and if it is allowed to fall into private ownership, the community’s use will be severely restricted. In other words, the concern of the community is that if the reins of this hallowed venue are turned over to USC, the school would keep community and non-USC sporting events out of the stadium, such as soccer games, Fourth of July celebrations and even a third Olympic Games.
Councilman Parks stated it emphatically: “I don’t believe that I could realistically turn over a public facility to a private institution.” As a part of the negotiation, USC is seeking a master lease of the facility and to that, Parks’ response is, “I reject the idea of USC’s request for a master lease.”
While USC administrators like Thomas Sayles believe obtaining a master lease at the Coliseum, “… is in the best long-term interests of the community and the university,” others note that over time, the school has leveraged its position as the stadium’s only tenant to become more and more restrictive over its use, all while playing just six games a year there. On reaching Sayles and asking him for a comment, he said that he was busy and unable to respond.
Others in the meeting voiced similar concerns. Bakewell said, “We do have a great community interest, and there is no evidence that they (USC) have any interest in the community. Based on what we know, it is not in the community’s best interest that USC takes over the Coliseum. Right now, it is a public facility and it should remain so,” he said.
Observers also note that USC has benefitted for years by claiming the Coliseum as their own. They have never had to build a stadium like PAC-12 rival Stanford did in 2006 for $90 million. And they have never had to pay for the expensive upkeep associated with a huge facility, like the Coliseum.
“As a community member, I oppose USC having a master lease agreement,” Bremond-Weaver said, “or any private control of the facility. They don’t have the best interests of the community in this endeavor and have had a history of gross disregard for the needs of the community. Their past behavior reflects what their future plans are and that’s all we have to go by.”
The school has benefitted from these perks as they have continued to expand their boundaries into the South L.A. Communities, earning the nickname “Pac-Man” from protesting neighbors.
Referring to the negotiations that have already started, Jenkins said, “It seems like the train has already left the station; right now, we have an October 5 date for the next commission meeting. We really don’t want USC to have control over a public facility. Furthermore, we do not want just to be at the table; we have to be equal partners. We have to go there (to the next commission meeting) and say that we strongly oppose this.”
Taylor’s position was: “We are opposed to this without public discussion. In their (USC) negotiations, they might go to the commission and not consider the community at all.”
But one vote on the commission belong to Councilmember Parks, and he has been the only vocal critic of USC’s “power grab” and both the school and the Coliseum are in his district. The other members of the commission are appointees of Gov. Jerry Brown, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or are members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Most of these members have no connection to the South L.A. neighborhoods that surround USC. Thus, it’s argued that they have no reason or responsibility to act in the best interests of any party other than USC.
Lee stated, “Seems to me that we’ve already seen what USC is all about and that’s not in this community’s best interests.”
The lack of a connection between the majority of the commission and South L.A. is evident by the subcommittee selected to negotiate with USC on its modified lease with the Coliseum. The three charged with this responsibility are:
Commission President David Israel; a Brown appointee and former sports writer, Vice-President Don Knabe; a county supervisor from the South Bay and newcomer Jonathan Williams; a Villaraigosa appointee and the only African-American on the sub-committee.
Though not at the meeting, Fabian Wesson, an alternate commission member, voiced a similar position as those attending. She said, “I would like to see all of Exposition Park remain a public entity accessible to everyone in the community, especially those that surround that area; they would not like to see it become a private entity at all. I recognize USC as being good neighbors, but I would like to see the Coliseum remain in the hands of the triple authority, which is the city, the county and the state. I’ve been involved with this commission for about ten years and it’s a passion for me. So that’s where I stand,” she concluded.
Discussions will continue regarding USC’s attempt to gain control of the stadium at the upcoming Coliseum Commission Meeting at 2:30 P.M on Wednesday, October 5.
THE COMMUNITY IS URGED TO ATTEND!!!