Stadium Wars

Rendering for new Inglewood NFL stadium | HKS Architects

It's official: the powers that be, and would be, in Inglewood have declared war on anyone who dare opposes the plan to build an NFL football stadium in the middle of town. So besotted is our mayor and government with this plan, so taken with their own genius, they cried foul to a rather routine announcement by the L.A. County Federation of Labor that it was trying to negotiate stronger local-hiring requirements for the massive project, should it come to pass (and there are plenty of us who think that it won't).

Such a requirement sounds totally reasonable to me, especially given the fact that the stadium project, which was tacked on to an already overstuffed redevelopment project in the works at Hollywood Park, got rubber-stamped by the city council last month. That means that it won't have to go before Inglewood voters, who would have decided whether they wanted a project this size to be built without the normal planning and environmental oversight (up until a state Supreme Court ruling last year, projects of this scope asking for such exemptions were required to go before voters, which is how a WalMart SuperCenter got turned back in Inglewood in 2004). But evidently no fast-tracking is fast enough for stadium devotees. Shortly after the County Fed's announcement, which included starting a new petition to put the development to a citywide vote this summer, I started getting robocalls from Mayor Butts, who warned me about "outside interests" meddling in the glorious forward motion of "our dream" -- language that sounded like some bastard philosophical offspring of Martin Luther King Jr. and the white racists who opposed him. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Butts also complained about the County Fed's petition being carried out by signature gatherers "who don't live in Inglewood."

An interesting criticism, in light of the fact that the army of signature gatherers who got the 22,000-plus signatures for the pro-stadium petition earlier this year very likely didn't live in Inglewood either. I didn't ask for anybody's address, but let's just say that the ones I saw pounding the pavement for a couple of weeks didn't look like they were from around here. Which is fine, or at least the way all ballot measures are done these days, with day workers whose addresses are entirely immaterial. For Mayor Butts to make an issue of residency is not just a red herring, it's mildly ironic because he himself was accused of not living here long enough when he first filed to run for mayor in 2010, a controversy that never quite died. But I digress.

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Last week, I got a visit in my neighborhood from yet another signature gatherer. As far as I could tell he wanted me to sign a pledge to support the development -- a kind of loyalty oath to "the dream." I could also, if I wished, retract my signature from the County Fed petition asking for the development to go to the ballot. I declined on both counts, though I didn't sign that new petition because I never ran into those guys. I would sign it, too, but it's a moot point: The deadline for getting the 8,000 signatures required to get the measure onto the citywide ballot is up this week.

All of this intolerance of debate on the part of our local government (fueled by the stadium developer, of course) feels more than slightly panicked to me. If this football stadium is such a fantastic idea whose time has come, why not just let it take its course? If Stan Kroenke and company are going to back out of the stadium deal because it's delayed a bit by a real vote or by hiring negotiations, then this really isn't the commitment that we're being assured that it is. It isn't the deal of the century, no matter of state-of-the-art the stadium.

My neighbors on the block are all in a suspended state about this. They're longtimers who are both skeptical of local government that historically hasn't done enough for black and brown Inglewood, and skeptical of big developers like Kroenke who they see as acting only in their own interests; too often Inglewood is just a means to an end, for both parties. Residents like them don't really figure into either scenario. My neighbors would rather see progress than not, of course. They'd like to believe that the mega-development in the Hollywood Park/Forum corridor that I call Inglewood Island really is an idea whose time has come. They'd like it to lift up the city, increase property values, all that. But they aren't sure if belief is warranted this time.

Actually, in terms of progress, they're far more interested in the basics -- better street lighting, trees trimmed and roads re-paved on time, development that brings a significant number of permanent jobs beyond minimum-wage retail or food service. And a Trader Joe's, naturally. My neighbors want all this not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren who they worry about floundering in an economy that doesn't care a whit if a football stadium comes here, or doesn't. And even if it does, it won't make a bit of difference to one of my neighbors who only follows one team: the Dallas Cowboys. She's from Texas, and she's not the only one around here from that state, or thereabouts. If Mayor Butts and company really wants Inglewood to buy into the dream, it would behoove him to first figure out what it is.

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