Phenomenal things are happening in the City of Inglewood, from the L.A. Rams and the L.A. Chargers, to recent talks about the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, and the building of a new state-of-the-art stadium. Mayor James Butts, the man behind the City of Champions, spoke with the Los Angeles Sentinel on the city’s development and Inglewood’s positive and constructive movement forward, during his leadership.
“I don’t think that people can fully appreciate what’s happened in Inglewood and what continues to happen, without taking a little bit of a retrospective look at the city and what it has morphed into,” said Butts.
“It was a place that some would have you believe no one would come back and [attend] concerts ever again, because ‘it was in Inglewood’,” Butts said. “Well, along the way, we have compiled six consecutive lowest years of crime in history, on record in the City of Inglewood. Not only did people come back to the Forum, it is the number one concert venue in the state of California for booked events, 25 percent more than Staple Center. Its number two in the country, and number four in the world.”
Now, Mayor Butts is doing the unthinkable by bringing the NFL back to Inglewood. The city is now the new home to the Los Angeles Rams (announced January 2016) and the Los Angeles Chargers (announced January 2017). In June of this year, Mayor Butts opened up negotiations with the Clippers to build a state-of-the-art basketball arena, to be built across the street from what is said to become the largest and most expensive NFL arena in the world.
“We are going to have 2,500 residential units alongside of it, 300 key hotel, 6,000 seat performing arts theater, four parks, two lakes, one million square feet of office [space], and about one million square feet of retail and quality dining,” said Butts. “It will be the premier sports entertainment destination in Southern California.”
Arguably, with all of the new changes happening in the city, some residents are concerned about the challenges of gentrification, being priced out to make room for a new demographic.
“Gentrification is not what is happening in Inglewood,” said Butts. “I feel great that people want to move into Inglewood and I feel great that people are allowed to sell their houses for double what they bought them for and do as they please. No one is being forced to sell his or her property,” he said.
Butts says prior to his election, the city had an $18.5 million dollar structural deficit, a 17.5 percent unemployment rate (one of the highest in the state of California), a decaying infrastructure and more. Today, Inglewood’s unemployment rate is 5.5 percent (one of the lowest in the state), the general fund has more than quadrupled, and the city’s bond rating has increased. In 2014, they also negotiated a deal with Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) to reopen the iconic Inglewood Forum.
According to Butts, as a result of the rebuilding, the number of jobs for Inglewood residents will increase and so will the value of homes. As of the middle of 2017, since the end of 2012, property values have gone up 102 percent in Inglewood. Currently, 19 percent of the employees working on the construction project are Inglewood residents, and 40 percent of the employees who work at the Inglewood Forum are Inglewood residents.
“We feel that local people should share in this tide of wealth that is coming to Inglewood. We are very proud; we are now an economic center that is going to bring economic prosperity, not only to Inglewood, but also to South Bay and the Greater Los Angeles region. We have become an emerging economic center for the state,” said the mayor.
Still, the building of the new arena is not the most exciting news for some. In July, the Forum owners filed a claim for damages against the city for “quietly” entering a deal to build the new arena. MSG claimed the Inglewood mayor used a “bait-and-switch strategy” to persuade Forum executives into opening the way for the new stadium.
“Here in 2017, we have people who believe that they can tell a Black and Brown city the constraints of your dreams; that we need their permission to do greater and greater things, and we don’t agree with that,” said Butts.
Butts doesn’t view the situation as racial but sees the irony. “Within the last four years, the city has acquired two [NFL] football teams, the number one concert venue in the state, and moving on to an NBA team. “That anyone would deem to say, ‘now, we have decided the constraints of your aspirations … We are a city that took responsibility and did the tough things to stabilize ourselves financially, to renew our infrastructure, take care of our streets, our trees, our sidewalks, our water system. We improved public safety and than we reached out and positioned ourselves to bring back entertainment and made good partnerships that led the city to where it is right now.”
Butts gives weight to a city revitalizing itself through sports and entertainment with the addition of two NFL teams, the potentiality of an NBA team, the Olympics coming in 2028 and the Super Bowl in 2022. “There’s where the irony was, that with doing all of the things that we’ve done to make ourselves probably the new sports entertainment capital of Southern California, we, still at this point, have to fight for the right to self-determination. And that’s the irony. You don’t see Black and Brown cities in the position that we are, that come as far as we have in four years, he said.
As a continuation of the mayor’s and the City Council’s vision for Inglewood, Senator Steven Bradford ushered a new senate bill for revenue in Inglewood. The measure will facilitate the move of the Clippers, and the new stadium for the Rams and Chargers. SB 789 will also streamline Inglewood sports and entertainment projects, expedite transit projects to serve the city and the upcoming Olympic games, while ensuring the protection of existing members of the community and their homes.
The bill was introduced early September on the assembly floor.
“We must take action now to ensure the city’s vision comes to fruition,” said Senator Bradford. “It is critical that this is done immediately for the timely implementation and success of forthcoming projects. These major projects will help boost the economy in Inglewood and the greater Los Angeles region, while improving investments, entertainment, and highlighting Inglewood’s significance to California.”Mayor Butts addressed the challenges on police violence and his vision for helping create an ethical policing system. He says he has always had a passion for serving people and public safety. Prior to his career as a politician, he spent 37 years in public safety, starting in Inglewood in 1972, serving 19 years there. He was the city’s first Black motor officer, one of the first of two Black sergeants, first Black lieutenant, a captain, the only Black deputy chief in history of the city, the first Black officer in SWAT and became SWAT a commander.
But some might question if his experiences remove him from the everyday realities of civilians on the streets, that come into contact with corrupt officers.
“I balance [my career] with growing up in 77th division area, near Florence and Van Ness, attending Horace Mann Junior High, Crenshaw High School and Cal State L.A. So, I know that there was deeply entrenched history of police being discriminatory towards minorities and African Americans specifically,” he said. But Butts feels relations between officers and civilians have gotten better. “Where that trend started to change, is when people like myself began to rise in police departments and brought that level of sensitivity to what was going on in the cultures of police departments, and I am proud to say I had an impact on the culture in Inglewood.”
According to Mayor Butts, he served 15 years as police chief for the City of Santa Monica, which is one of the most highly regarded police departments in the country, particularly for its diversity and the way that it treats people of color. He also supervised a staff of 1,100, when we managed the airport police and the counter terrorism operation. A career in working with people helps his perspective on bad officers.
“I do have a great sense of what’s going on but I will tell you this, the culture of police departments are directly impacted by the quality of leadership of a police department. The most important thing that cities can do is to pick a good police chief and hold him or her accountable for outcomes,” Butts said. He went on to address exposing and dealing with problems with the department. “You will never be able to stop bad things from happening, and no matter how you screen, you will find that you end up employing people [who] are going to do some very bad things. It is not whether or not you can ever stop a bad person from being hired, its how you deal with them when you discover [the issue]. You will get more of what you reward and less of what you sanction.”
Butts is proud of the Inglewood police department. “We have come a long ways, in terms of our recruitment, regimen and the culture in the organization. Our police chief, Mark Fronterotta, who happens to be White, is turning out to probably be the best police chief that we ever had in the City of Inglewood.
Looking back at his accomplishments in law enforcement and throughout his career in public office, Butt’s views community pride as the legacy of Inglewood.
“At the end of the day, what you want is for everyone who works, lives, and comes through [Inglewood], to be proud to be there, for whatever period of time they are there and that our residents are proud to say, ‘I live in Inglewood,’ and we have accomplished that,” he said.
“We have reached a degree of greatness and we haven’t played a single (NFL) football game here, or a single (NBA) basketball game yet. But, our residents are so proud … wherever they go, if they say, ‘I live in Inglewood,’ they become the center of attention. And so we say, the only thing that has changed in Inglewood, is everything, and that capsulizes what has happened here.”
Kimberlee Buck contributed this article.