Fantasy football

The game plan for a downtown football stadium lost momentum after the pep rally the other day. And that worries the stadium's supporters, who know the fate of big development projects in Los Angeles. Shark-like, they must move forward or die.

And this project is very big - an estimated $1.35 billion when all the parts of private equity funding and public subsidy are factored into the final cost. That includes replacing the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center, which inconveniently occupies a key part of the proposed site of newly-named Farmers Field.

[Update: Some of the issues in this post were covered by the Los Angeles Times here.]

Farmers Field might just become another "potters field" - a place for the burial of the forgotten and unmourned - if the confluence of developer influence and city council submission fails to sustain the stadium's forward motion. Any delay gives opposing forces the opportunity to slacken the apparent inevitability of its construction. After all, earlier drives to build an NFL-worthy stadium somewhere in Los Angeles County failed to find the right mixture of legislative juice and campaign contribution grease to keep them moving.

Except Ed Roski of Majestic Realty Company. He already has the all-important waivers from environmental quality reviews to build his dream of a stadium in the City of Industry, near the junction of the 57 and 60 freeways.

As the San Gabriel Valley Tribune pointed out yesterday, "Roski has two things (a downtown stadium) doesn't - nearly 600 acres of open space to build on and an Environmental Impact Report approved by the Industry City Council . . . On top of that, he also received relief from the state legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the form of an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act, which effectively dismissed a lawsuit against the project brought by eight residents of nearby Walnut. All that's stopping Roski from immediate construction is an ownership deal with an existing NFL team - something that is unlikely until the league and the players union reach a new collective bargaining agreement . . ."

Unfortunately for the proponents of a downtown stadium, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for something as big and disruptive as a football stadium will require 14 to 18 months of hard work just to bring the document to the Los Angeles City Council. Worse, the EIR will open up the project to every possible objection, each of which the EIR will have to explain away or conclude that no mitigation of the environmental impact is possible.

And that's exactly what the state's environmental quality review process is supposed to do - allow complainers to question the big plans of big business, to slow down their momentum, and occasionally to let some very nasty sharks die.

And that's why the downtown stadium team - captained by Tim Leiweke of Anschutz Entertainment Group - demands the same relief from the momentum-killing effects of the EIR process that Ed Roski got from the state legislature two years ago. Unfortunately for Team Leiweke, Sacramento politics is now more important to the downtown stadium than the giddy enthusiasm of Los Angeles city council members.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Assembly Speaker John Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg support the idea of a downtown stadium but neither is eager for another round of environmental concessions for another controversial project. "I'm not interested in California Environmental Quality Act exemptions," Steinberg told the Times.

In fact, they have larger ambitions than a billion-dollar-plus stadium in L.A. What interests Pérez and Steinberg is a weaker, less grassroots-enabling EIR process, one that would protect big money momentum in the building of big projects whose developers would be eager to continue the flow of big campaign contributions to city council members and candidates ready to rubber stamp project entitlements if only they didn't have to listen to all the complainers.

That's how Ed Roski gave his stadium deal the momentum that Tim Leiweke so envies. By the beginning of 2010, Roski had given more than half-a-million dollars to campaigns that favored current state legislators, as well as their efforts to weaken term limits. Roski spent $300,000 alone on giving power brokers like Pérez and Steinberg more years in Sacramento. The term limits ballot measure Roski backed will be on the ballot in the next statewide election, which could be the special election Governor Brown has proposed for June.

Protecting development projects from the "go slow" effects of the current EIR process through changes in state environmental regulations could take years - of little value to Team Leiweke but of significant value to Roski. And legislative leaders can still offer the possibility of an EIR waiver to developers who have learned what gave Roski's stadium proposal the momentum it needed to live.

In the meantime, NFL owners have exactly what they want: not one, but two competing dream stadiums that team owners can use to bludgeon their respective hometowns. What frightened mayor, threatened with loss of "his team" to L.A., wouldn't knuckle under for more and more public giving? The NFL has more to lose in granting a franchise to Los Angeles than waiting two or three years - until every possible dollar is squeezed out of every available taxpayer pocket everywhere an NFL team owner turns.

Sacramento heavyweights, dueling billionaires, pompom girls in skimpy outfits, delirious city council members, and frightened mayors . . . who could ask for anything more.

This is fantasy football at its finest.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user the Library of Congress. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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