NBA basketball franchise the Los Angeles Clippers’ plan to develop a new arena in Inglewood will head to trial in September after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that a lawsuit contesting the project can proceed.

The Clippers’ ambition to leave Staples Center (pictured) and move to an arena seating between 18,000 and 20,000 fans in Inglewood has been hit with multiple legal challenges and the latest development in this regard came on Friday. Uplift Inglewood, a community group that supports affordable housing, filed a lawsuit in June 2018 arguing that the City of Inglewood’s exclusive negotiating agreement with Murphy’s Bowl, a Clippers-controlled company, violated the state’s Surplus Land Act (SLA).

This Act stipulates that public agencies must give first preference to affordable housing, recreation and schools when surplus land becomes available. In June 2017, Murphy’s Bowl and Inglewood reached an agreement to use 22 acres of vacant, city-owned land to investigate the development of a privately financed arena.

The Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that Judge Mary H. Strobel rejected arguments from both Inglewood and Murphy’s Bowl, who had called for the case to be dismissed in the belief that the city’s ownership of the land meant they didn’t breach the SLA. A trial has now been set for September 24.

In a statement reported by broadcaster CBS Los Angeles, Uplift Inglewood Coalition hailed the ruling as a “significant victory”. The group added: “In the midst of booming development — which has caused skyrocketing rents and the loss of affordable housing — it simply does not make any sense to prioritise an NBA arena over the needs of Inglewood residents. Public land should be used for the public good, and access to housing is central to building strong communities.”

D’Artagnan Scorza, an Inglewood resident representing Uplift Inglewood, said in a statement reported by the Times: “Today’s ruling is a step forward for our neighbours … who are simply asking the City of Inglewood to follow California’s affordable housing laws.” A spokesman for the project stated the team behind it is looking forward to victory at trial.

The latest news comes after the Clippers in January secured the removal of one legal obstacle for its long-term vision of developing a new arena in Inglewood. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled that a three-year exclusive negotiating agreement between the City of Inglewood and Murphy’s Bowl to explore building the arena didn’t violate California’s Environmental Quality Act.

Plans for the arena project, which is in the midst of an 18-month environment review, remain unclear. In August, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reiterated the team’s desire to leave Staples Center and build a new arena in Inglewood. The Clippers have played at Staples Center since 1999 and the team’s lease at the venue expires following the 2023-24 NBA season.

Image: Los Angeles Clippers