Tue, Aug

Parsing the Times

COMMENTARY - The Los Angeles Times believes AEG's downtown football stadium is a very good idea, and makes the case, in a long editorial, that the city council should respond now to AEG's ultimatum threatening (yet again) to abandon the project unless the city council makes a show of support by approving

a "memorandum of understanding" that outlines (but does not put in place) the public/private financing scheme AEG wants [link] for the stadium.

The Times isn't a tub thumper for NFL football, per se. Although the editorial reminds readers that there are reasons of pride and prestige and "We're a big city, so how come we don't have a football team?" to support a stadium for an as-yet-unnamed team, the Times believes that there are more sober reasons why the city council should act now.

As I interpret the case the Times editorial tries to make:

1. AEG has done such a fine job of leveraging the city's subsidies and tax rebates to convert L.A. Live into a profitable and privatized pleasure island that AEG's success in enriching AEG should be rewarded with more subsidies and tax rebates.

2. The stadium (to be used about ten times a year for football) will generate jobs at the stadium and spill over more jobs nearby . . . except, no un-biased, independent study has ever shown that the "spill over" effect is real.

3. The Convention Center, according to the Times, requires even tighter integration with the privatized L.A. Live complex . . . which requires that one wing of the center be demolished and new convention facilities (including parking structures) be built and that the stadium floor become a venue for convention center events - a novel use of a stadium that no one knows will appeal to convention planners. (A stadium also would complete the walling off a public asset - the Convention Center - within AEG's LA Live compound. From a design perspective, a public facility will be transferred to a corporation.)

4. Estimates by AEG's consultants are so rosy (naturally) that the Convention Center's current indebtedness could easily be paid off and the stadium would still make money for the city . . . except no one knows what kind of revenue sharing deal the NFL will extract from AEG to bring a team here or how much AEG will expect the city to backfill AEG's bottom line. And so the real costs to the city cannot be calculated and revenue assumptions are not even guesses.

The editorial treats these issues superficially (and the news side of the paper has not made them the subject of an in-depth investigation), but the Times does raise concerns that balance its enthusiasm for giving AEG want it wants:

1. A mere football stadium won't make the rosy predictions come true, the Times notes, but a truly successful stadium-as-event-venue would make traffic downtown even more hellish. The editorial fails to mention that mitigations to traffic impacts (and other infrastructure needs) will be a cost the city will pay, since AEG's revenue stream won't be able to generate profits for AEG and subsidize the NFL and cover the city's bonded indebtedness for new facilities and repay the city for the traffic and infrastructure improvements.

2. AEG wants an exemption from environmental review regulations just like the exemption that was granted the stadium proposed for Irwindale. The Times doesn't like this idea, but it's almost certain that AEG will insist on getting its own exemption as a sign of fealty from the city and the state legislature and to level the playing field with its rival (despite the rival's apparent decline).

3. The Times thinks the city council should resist being pushed around by AEG and be prudent and suspicious when it comes to figuring the public costs, but the Times also thinks the city council should act now, before AEG takes its ball and goes home. The editorial urges a near impossibility:

The council doesn't do anything fast. And, in this case, it's dealing with a project of considerable complexity and uncertainty. It should protect the environment, look for ways to make sure that traffic and parking problems are anticipated, and make AEG pay its share of a project that will reap significant returns. And it should do so quickly.

The editorial has an "on the one hand and then on the other hand" texture that is the curse of editorializing but not wanting to seem too conclusive: And so the Times opines that the stadium would be a wonderful addition to the life of the city, but the stadium would be just another AEG profit center . . . that the stadium would be traffic mess, but so is the Times own Festival of Books, and people will just have to get used to it . . . that the stadium would generate revenue and create jobs, but doesn't question if those assumptions are ever true . . . that the city council members are wusses when AEG bullies them, but they are the taxpayers' watchdogs too . . . and the council should act with all prudence, but the council has no time left.

The editorial reaches a predicable conclusion: that AEG should get what it wants and get it quick. Just saying that would have needed a much shorter editorial.

(D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. This commentary was posted first at KCET.org) Photo credit: flickr user Melissa Wall      –cw

Tags: AEG, stadium, LA Times, Convention Center, City Council

Vol 9 Issue 50
Pub: June 24, 2011