GELFAND’S WORLD-Am I the only one who is a little miffed at the plan to sell off naming rights to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? We've lived our entire lives with that name. It has dignity and it has historical meaning. The name has been repeated thousands of times by sports announcers, typically explaining why Notre Dame didn't win. The same words were used to report on John F Kennedy's acceptance speech for the presidential nomination in July, 1960.
That name carries with it a certain level of gravitas. Some other parts of the country add a nickname to their particular football field. Death Valley is what one of them is called (Clemson, if you were curious.) Michigan nicknamed its stadium the Big House. Some stadiums have appended the name of a retired coach or former college president, such as Bryant-Denny Stadium used by the University of Alabama.
But even with the nicknames and the tributes to retired coaches out there, only a few universities play in a stadium named for a commercial sponsor. The news media tell us that out of all the college football fields in the United States, only 19 are as yet named in this way. Now USC wants to be the 20th, by somehow appending some extra words to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
We might usefully consider the origins of those words. At the time that the stadium was under consideration, the nation was binding its wounds from the First World War. The idea of a memorial to the local war dead was fitting, and so it came to be. Over the years, the meaning of the name expanded to being a memorial to all of the nation's casualties from that dreadful time.
But now, the University of Southern California is talking about selling the naming rights for the Coliseum. This would not have been likely in the past, since the Coliseum was administered by a multi-agency Coliseum Commission. But the recent contract with USC gives the university administrative authority. USC intends to do upgrades to the Coliseum that will cost somewhere on the order of 300 to 600 million dollars. Selling the Coliseum name to Budweiser or Visine could bring in a lot of money, estimated on the order of a few million dollars a year.
As news articles explain, USC has done a deal with Fox Sports in which Fox gets to market the naming rights. That is an issue in itself. I guess we won't be seeing the Apple iPhone Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Now I get to worry about driving past the Hobby Lobby Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Then again, imagine the Donald Trump Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. After all, it's just a matter of money, and TEN BILLION DOLLARS goes a long way. (Note: the ALL-CAPS is a joke on the way Trump expressed his holdings in a campaign finance report.)
Presumably Mike Huckabee doesn't have the cash to outbid Trump or Allstate. That's a relief.
What sort of name might we expect to see? Alicia de Artola, at a site calling itself Reign of Troy, suggests that the Coliseum name might be partially spared in a deal in which the field itself gets a new name. We could imagine something like British Petroleum Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
They did this same kind of a deal up at Cal. It's not much comfort, is it?
I'd like to think that Los Angeles still has the kind of pride that we had when we built and dedicated one of the world's most recognizable structures. Future generations of Notre Dame football teams should understand that they are coming into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, just as our locals will understand that they will be walking down the tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium. If it was good enough for Knute Rockne and Howard Jones, it should be good enough for us.
College football players, coaches, and press agents like to talk about the value of tradition in college football. This is a significant point, and one that should not be forgotten. USC, above all other west coast schools, flogs the idea of tradition. They shouldn't toss it away so easily.
And just to repeat one point for a more senior generation, one which remembers JFK with sadness, here is a link to the acceptance speech he gave at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1960.
Last Thursday, I published a piece CityWatch here about the design of the city bus. The main point I wanted to make (and I think I did) was that there is an incongruity between the width of the standard city bus and the width of the standard city street. That was the central point, and I stand by it.
There may be some way of repairing this design flaw, but I don't see it happening easily or quickly; at least it won't happen unless we think about the whole transportation system from top to bottom. You may notice that I didn't actually argue that we have to get rid of the buses.
I just mentioned it as the kind of frustrated thought one has while stuck in traffic. One could just as easily imagine making crosstown streets one-way, as the previous city administration suggested. That would reduce the interface between stopped buses and auto drivers. You may also recall that the idea didn't get very far.
However, I also mentioned the issue of air pollution, and I got one thing demonstrably wrong. As at least one writer pointed out, the LAMTA has converted its entire fleet to non-diesel engines. I stand corrected. That doesn't mean that I haven't sat in traffic behind a bus that is putting out clouds of soot, but it couldn't have been an MTA bus. There is lots more to this particular story which probably merits a column of its own. A quick internet search suggests that California bus fleets are about 60% non-diesel. That leaves about 40 percent still diesel.
At the air pollution level, we can consider the engine that runs on compressed natural gas, which is the current replacement for diesel. CNG burns cleaner in terms of the soot that the older diesels put out. At the same time, there is considerable debate about the health hazards of CNG buses because those engines put out ultrafine particles too. Some studies suggest that when a CNG engine is put under load (ie: pushing a full load of passengers to higher speed or up hill), it puts out lots more ultrafine particles. That's not a good thing for the people riding behind that bus.
One other point that I would like to take a crack at. One writer pointed out that the bus is a lot more efficient way to move a lot of people along a city street when you consider the length of street that is required to hold one bus vs. the length it takes to hold 10 or 20 cars. I don't think there is an argument on that. What I would like to remind the reader is that you might think about taking people's time into account as having some value in and of itself. If you take the personal time investment into account, you can't just calculate the number of people able to ride along Wilshire Blvd in buses compared to cars. It's all the other journeys to get to the bus and to walk from the bus that need to be considered, not to mention taking one bus to get to a connecting bus. The private car saves a lot of that time provided that traffic isn't too congested. That last line about whether or not traffic gets too congested is the gist of the matter, and worthy of a whole book shelf full of studies. There is also the issue of the time you spend waiting for the next bus.
There are obviously a lot of tradeoffs on both sides, and most everyone would like to see a comprehensive system of rapid transit that would provide a more equal choice between the car and rail.
On a personal note, I would love to be able to get from San Pedro to the Egyptian Theater by rapid transit. Then I wouldn't have to drive the 110 during one of the 12 hours a day it seems to be jammed. The problem is that getting up to the Redline subway system isn't all that easy without going by car and paying downtown parking fees. After considerable complaining from us locals, the MTA is now extending its downtown freeway bus connection to San Pedro. We'll see how that pans out.
(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)
Vol 13 Issue 59
Pub: Jul 21, 2015