For years, an NFL team has been considered the ultimate prize for any municipality in the Greater Los Angeles area. The city of L.A. tried for years; so did the city of Carson. But in the end, it went an unlikely candidate: the rather maligned city of Inglewood.
The unlikely coup is the latest victory in James T. Butts’ remarkable five years as mayor of the town Tupac Shakur immortalized as “always up to no good.” When the muscle-bound ex-cop was elected in 2011, Inglewood was spiraling toward collapse. Its previous mayor of 10 years had just pled guilty to public corruption. Its state senator, Rod Wright, resigned after being convicted for voter fraud. Its school district was broke and about to be taken over by the state. Crime remained stubbornly high. And the city was on the verge of bankruptcy.
“On average, we burned more than $50,000 a day more than we were taking in,” Butts says. “At that rate, we would have been bankrupt in about six months. We wouldn’t have made payroll.”
Butts, a longtime Inglewood police officer, had served for 15 years as Santa Monica’s chief of police. “Then I became mayor and I found out it wasn’t like running a police department, because the councilpeople, they don’t know instinctively what’s best,” Butts says. “Well, they don’t instinctively fall in line with someone with a vision. Because there had never been a vision put forth before.”
There were tough decisions to be made. Inglewood shed 140 full-time workers, cut employee benefits and privatized services such as street sweeping, tree trimming and parking enforcement. The budget stabilized, and crime has fallen every year since Butts took over as mayor, including 2015, when it actually rose in the city of L.A.
There was no greater sign of Butts’ success than his re-election in 2014 with 84 percent of the vote.
Investment, meanwhile, is pouring into Inglewood. The Forum — once home to the Lakers — was bought by the Madison Square Garden Company and renovated.
“We had championships here,” Butts says. “And when you saw the banner at the Laker game, you saw a picture of Inglewood, California. That was pride. And now that pride has returned with a vengeance.”
Inglewood’s future looks even brighter. When the Metro Crenshaw Line opens in 2019, it will have a stop in downtown Inglewood.
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“We hope to make Market Street something like Old Town Pasadena,” Butts says.
And then there’s the $2.6 billion, 70,000-seat NFL stadium, future home of not just the Rams but a plethora of housing and retail space — in theory, at least.
Butts still remembers every slight, every story that expressed skepticism that the NFL would really choose Inglewood, of all places.
“Time and time again, we’ve had reporting that’s twisted, based in an attempt to hold onto the fallacies,” he says. “At what point do people just accept that this is the best stadium deal for a city, actually, in the history of stadium deals?”