Mon, Aug

Grandstander-in-Chief of LA’s Downtown Football Stadium Debate

UNLOCKING THE CLOSED-DOORS ATTITUDE - If you cherish democracy and the public’s involvement in government’s decision-making process, be glad that you missed the meetings of the City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Proposal Downtown Stadium and Events Center.

The committee was formed shortly after the Anschutz Entertainment Group announced plans to build a football stadium next to the Convention Center and Staples Center.  

The first red flag was when Councilmember Jan Perry was named as chair.  That’s not a knock against Perry personally, but the stadium is being proposed for her district so it’s reasonable to assume that the interests of the city as a whole and the city budget would take a back seat to an opportunity to erect a shiny new building in her backyard.

The conduct of the first meeting several weeks ago, and last week’s second meeting would have made any democracy geek run away screaming.

Closely following the Stadium Builder’s Guidebook, the agendas for each meeting weren’t made public until the last minute, something that a committee chair would do if the goal were to ensure that the gallery would be filled only with insiders.

Weeks before last Thursday’s meeting, the stadium developer was telling people which day the meeting would be held, but the agenda wasn’t posted until 24 hours before the 9:30 a.m. start time at City Hall.  See the pattern?

All of the items on the agenda but one were verbal reports.  That eliminated the ability of anyone, including the committee members, to prepare for meaningful discussions.

Those who believed that the decisions were being made behind closed doors had their fears confirmed when Councilman Ed Reyes went out of his way to assure all who were listening that no backroom dealings were going on.

The city attorney’s representative was well prepared to explain why an ad hoc committee doesn’t have to follow the modest public notification rules in the state’s open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act.  

However, there was no explanation from the committee members why they were comfortable conducting their meetings with the minimum amount of transparency just because they could do it.

Most puzzling was the attorney’s explanation that exemption given to the ad hoc committee was rooted in the fact that it was not making any decisions regarding the project, but rather just developing recommendations for the full City Council, which as yet has never discussed the AEG proposal or had any role in adopting the negotiating instructions given to the city staff.

All of this then begs the question:  who has decided what the city’s negotiating principles are?  If the city isn’t going to simply give AEG everything they want, who’s drawing the line in the sand for the taxpayers?

The City Council has never discussed the matter.  Perry said the committee isn’t negotiating the deal. It can’t be the city staff because they aren’t policymakers.

At the end of last week’s meeting, Perry wanted the committee to meet behind closed doors for a while.  It wasn’t clear what the discussion would be about, but the Chief Legislative Analyst said that the negotiating team needed guidance on two or three issues regarding development of the Environmental Impact Report.

The deputy city attorney explained that if it were to meet secretly its conclusions would have to be affirmed by the City Council.  Seemingly shocked at the prospect of other elected officials being a part of the process, she dropped the idea.  It isn’t clear who answered the CLA’s questions.

Before the meeting ended, Perry took a verbal shot, but not by name, at Councilman Bill Rosendahl for daring to ask questions about the proposal, suggesting that the ad hoc committee follow the Brown Act, and holding all of its discussions in public.  Radical!

Perry criticized those who were “grandstanding.”  

If it’s grandstanding to ask the kind of questions that are reasonable to expect from elected officials trying to ensure that the city gets the best deal possible, then Rosendahl is guilty.

But at least he wasn’t standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the developer as the project and the plan for a taxpayers’ subsidy was announced, tossing around footballs and waving pom-poms for the cameras.

(Greg Nelson participated in the birth and development of the LA Neighborhood Council system and served as the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. He also served as Chief of Staff for former City Councilman Joel Wachs. Nelson now provides news and issues analysis to CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected] .) Photo Credit: LA Times          -cw

Tags: transparency, democracy, City Council Ad Hoc Committee, Convention Center, Staples Center, downtown stadium, Anschutz, AEG, grandstanding

Vol 9 Issue 53
Pub: July 5, 2011