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Clippers negotiating with Inglewood for new arena

INGLEWOOD — The Los Angeles Clippers could soon be joining the Rams and Chargers as future residents of Inglewood, after the City Council June 15 unanimously approved an exclusive negotiating agreement for development of an NBA basketball arena on a 22-acre plot of land.

The agreement authorizes a three-year negotiating period with a developer planning to build “a premier and state-of-the-art National Basketball Association professional basketball arena consisting of approximately 18,000 to 20,000 seats.”

The proposed developer is listed as Brandt Vaughan of Murphy’s Bowl Inc. Brandt Vaughan is a former Microsoft executive who now serves as chief financial officer of Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s Bellevue, Washington-based Ballmer Group. Also listed as a contact for the company is Dennis Wong, Ballmer’s former college roommate and a Clippers co-owner.

As part of the agreement, the developer must make a $1.5 million non-refundable deposit with the city to cover “administrative costs” and other expenses.

“I don’t know of any other city that gets paid $1.5 million to negotiate,” Inglewood Mayor James Butts said. “Go around and check around this country.”

Media reports had circulated for months that the Clippers were eying Inglewood — which used to play host to the Lakers at the Forum — as a possible new home.

Ballmer, in a message to fans posted on the team’s website, said having “a new state-of-the-art NBA arena would allow us greater latitude to influence our game schedule, particularly as it relates to weekend games that are so important to our fans.”

“We also want to offer our fans premium experiences in terms of technology, club spaces and other amenities,” he said. “That’s easier to realize in a new arena.”

He said the arena would be “100 percent” privately financed.

“I have said from day one that we need to plan for the future,” Ballmer said. “This agreement helps us do that by expanding our options.”

The proposed new arena would not be at the under-construction entertainment district at the former Hollywood Park race track site, where an NFL stadium is being built for the Rams and Chargers. The proposed NBA arena would be adjacent to that project, south of Century Boulevard between Prairie and Yukon avenues.

The Clippers’ lease at Staples Center runs through June 2024, and Ballmer said the team will honor that lease.

The NFL stadium for the Rams and Chargers is scheduled for completion in time for the 2020 season.

News of the deal with the Clippers was criticized by Madison Square Garden, the owner of the Forum, which was renovated and reopened in 2014 as a concert venue. Attorneys for the Forum owners sent the city a letter objecting to the June 15 vote, saying there was no advance notice given to the community.

In a statement, the company said the city appears to be “doing a lot of backroom dealing,” and called for a “real public process that is done in the full light of day with the participation of Inglewood’s residents and many other stakeholders.”

The two-page letter from Latham & Watkins attorney George Mihlsten accused Inglewood of not giving proper notice for the City Council meeting — as required by the Brown Act — and violating “numerous agreements and requirements of law.”

“Further, approval of the exclusive negotiating agreement would be a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act as it precommits the city without conducting any environmental review,” the letter said. “Given the limited amount of time and lack of notice, the Forum reserves all rights to object to the proposed exclusive negotiating greement and arena project.”

Mihlsten, considered one of the top land-use attorneys, previously worked on matters related to the construction of Staples Center and represented the Chargers in their quest for a new stadium.

His letter urging the City Council not to vote on the agreement went unheeded.

Butts said during the council meeting the city acted quickly when the framework of a negotiating agreement came together — leading to the special council meeting.

“Were we going to wait for another Tuesday to do it? No we weren’t,” he said. “We’re gonna do the deal.”