In the days of yore, say 1911 or so, the grandest designs for “Developing America” were more Skyscrapers, Sports Arenas and Suburbs. A mere twenty years later the boosters of these designs had led the nation into the Great Depression. Now, almost 100 years later, with abandoned shopping malls littering the countryside, the boosters of indiscriminate building are at it again. With no plan in hand, the city leaders of Los Angeles are chortling about how a new Football Stadium for an imaginary NFL Team will usher in an era of jobs, jobs, jobs for all Angelenos. And with even greater fanfare, they proclaim that it will not cost us a single nickel. Like a preening reality show star, with little oversight or vetting of the facts, L.A. Downtown Democrats are busily jamming this one down our throats. But what if it all is a mirage? Could there be a downside? Why has the public debate been buttoned up? Is this actually a “Deal with the Devil” in the clever old disguise of “Civic Improvements?” These are questions unanswered and worth asking. So, dear citizens, let us examine together this precarious proposition.
For the sake of this discussion I will divide our inquiry into three parts: The Imaginary NFL Team, The True Cost of a Stadium and Alternatives for Jobs and Development of Greater Los Angeles.
The obvious first question regarding the new and heretofore “Imaginary” NFL team coming to Los Angeles is ~ which city in America will it be stolen from? San Diego? Oakland? Indianapolis? You see, in order for us to have a team, some billionaire owner of a current team in the NFL would have to dislodge themselves from their current cozy home and head for the gold country of L.A. I suppose if the team snuck out in the middle of the night from some far-flung outpost of the NFL Billionaires Boys Club that we would not feel the pain of the fans and jobs it leaves behind. If though, it came from SoCal or NorCal, would the sharp stick in the ribs of our neighbors be more acutely experienced? Just think back to all of the hapless Rams & Raiders fans left holding their season tickets and soiled seat cushions, their commemorative jerseys and festooned hats, as the buses rolled out of town in the darkness for Oakland and St. Louis. Lest we forget, there are all of the jobs that left with the teams as well. So, Los Angeles would have to “poach, rob or steal” another cities’ team and then run the risk of losing that gregarious bunch of ramblers in no short amount of time. Déjà vu all over again.
Looking deeper into the fray of NFL real politik, we see that no attempt has been made to make the new L.A. NFL team “citizens-owned” like the current champions, the Green Bay Packers. Smug pols at City Hall and Sacramento chide us that “the NFL owners would never go for that!” How do they know? Have they tried? Go ahead, make a guess. If the big boys in the NFL want Los Angeles so bad then they should be made to pay our price ~ L.A. residents will own all of the shares of the team ala Green Bay. That will take care of the skipping out in the middle of the night issue. Even then, without sellout games local fans will not see the cherished lads in tights on any given Sunday. That is the NFL rule and who can afford the high-priced tickets in the first place? Beyond all of that lies the larger looming and most perplexing question of why are Los Angeles and California Big Wigs in the Democratic Party so anxious to get further into bed with Tea Bagger Billionaire Philip Anschutz and his AEG corporate colossus? Has it been lost on them that Anschutz, along with his Billionaire Boyfriends the Koch Bros., is actively supplying millions of dollars of his personal fortune to destroy the Democratic Party and the United States Government? And adding insult to injury, that Anschutz derives a large portion of those heinous funds from his ownership interests in L.A. Live and Staples Arena? Now that, dear readers, is a “Deal with the Devil!”
If that, my friends, is not enough to give you pause, then turn your attention to the question of the stadium itself, putatively monikered, “Farmer’s Field.” I could go on about the irony of that name at great length but it is crazily apparent. No, the heart of the matter regarding this new Cenotaph to Combat is how much it will cost, who will pay those costs (now and in the future) and just exactly how many jobs will it create, on how many days of the year and at what wage levels? If you were to ask those questions of any of the elected officials who voted for this project they will give you generalities - “about 10,000 construction jobs, lots of jobs during the games and more jobs at the businesses surrounding the stadium” (even the Farmer’s Field website uses the important word “could” to preface the jobs and environmental promises). This is how they have been selling the stadium to the Unions and the neighbors in the area.
AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke has been on a furious pace, all over California, to roll over any objections to the undertaking. More importantly, AEG is making demands and the L.A. & Cali Pols are complying like obedient children. Here is a blurb from the Farmer’s Insurance website itself, “SB 292, authored by State Senator Alex Padilla, provides Farmers Field with crucial protections against lawsuits by opponents of the project aimed at derailing the stadium’s groundbreaking, and the thousands of jobs that will come with it. It also makes Farmers Field the most environmentally friendly stadium in the United States. Farmers Field will be carbon neutral, and will have the lowest ratio of “cars per game day ticket holder” in the NFL.” So, everything looks great right?
Here are some of the other elected Democrats who think so and are pushing the project: California Governor Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, President Pro Tem of the State Senate Steinberg, Assembly Speaker Perez, Los Angeles City Council Members Reyes, Krekorian, Koretz, Cardenas, Alarcón, Parks, Perry, Rosendahl, Wesson, Garcetti, and Huizar, Los Angeles County Supervisors Molina, Ridley-Thomas and Yaroslavsky, California Assembly Members Feuer, Blumenfield, Brownley, Fuentes and Portantino, State Senators De Leon, Pavley and Padilla and a host of others across the state. Their names will forever be etched into this “Big Rock Candy Mountain” as the grease on the wheels of this boondoggle. I am sure they will be fervently hoping that it does not sink like a stone into the Pacific.
Also, we must consider all of the associated costs of a stadium this large in this part of our fair city. Who pays for the sewer, electricity, police, parking, traffic, air quality and so many other additional costs of this monument to the late 19th Century? Farmer’s Insurance, AEG and all the various politicians and Downtown interests have insisted that every associated cost will be borne by the owners of the stadium - AEG. You heard me right. No costs will accrue to Los Angeles citizens, now or in the future, only benefits. Mark Twain would have loved this Duke and the Dauphin grift. Can anyone imagine that this could be true? Not I. There are too many cities in trouble around the country because they bought this mirage, this desire for pro sports teams and their edifices to “revitalize” the city center.
When the monumental collapse of these schemes spread like a plague from Minneapolis to New Jersey to Seattle, the new mantra became “Privatize the Stadiums.” If crony corporate interests buy the team and build the arena then the public can rest easy, the new and improved canard goes. Here is an example. After failing to get the public to buy in, San Francisco, with Pac Bell, built a privately owned stadium for their privately owned baseball team. It looked like a sweet deal with the MLB title last year. But this year attendance began to fall. If they don’t win big again it will fall further. If it falls too far, like their public stadium Candlestick Park did, then the owners will not have the revenue to make the payments, will go into default, move the team to another city and the “public” will have to buy the “private” asset for it to retain any value at all. Remember, private stadiums and arenas have to borrow the money to build them. If anything goes wrong, the private interests will default and the public will have to assume the debt. Think of this entire social experiment as crawling on the edge of a razor. Or better yet, Privatizing the Gain and Socializing the Loss.
Amid all of the hoopla surrounding the impending arrival of the Imaginary NFL Team, stolen from another American city, and the great hollow celebration of civic pride based on Billionaire largesse, something has been lost. Where is the master plan for Los Angeles of the 21st Century? Where is the alternative to this 19th and 20th Century tarnished and tattered chimera of civic planning? Los Angeles sits on the Western edge of the Western World. California is an innovator of fashion, style, arts and entertainment on a global level. Does not this panegyric to the past make a mockery of the future? Is this not an abdication of leadership? What a stupendous failure of imagination and lack of perspective this represents for our elected officials and ultimately for ourselves if we allow it to go forward.
I am not alone in envisioning Los Angeles as, dare I say it, “Tomorrowland.” Yes, and why not! This is the city where two brothers and a close friend can draw a cartoon in a shed behind their house in East Hollywood and create the Mouse that Roared - Disney. This is the city of dreams and dreamers. Rather than having the Unions building another Tomb of the Unknown Player, let us put them to work manufacturing Solar Panels, installing them and maintaining them on every roof in Greater Los Angeles. Take all of the heavy industries making weapons of war and put them to work making Mass Transit Systems and then put the Unions to work making Los Angeles the showcase of Modern Mass Transit. Transform every mile of the Los Angeles River system into parkways with cisterns underneath and runoff reclamation so we can stop importing 50% or more of the water from other parts of the planet. Imagine all of the jobs that these ideas alone will create. Local, sustainable, renewable and humane jobs that Go Green and Go Big. Why not see our city and ourselves on the cutting edge of the possibilities of a new paradigm for cities, nations and the world? Let us escape the trap of the narrow-minded, self-centered, Wall Street, Sky Box Billionaires, their incessant arrogance and their obscene need for more buildings, more concrete, more gravestones to their greed.
I urge our politicians to rethink their support of this Stadium Swindle. I encourage my fellow citizens to educate themselves on the myriad of unasked and unanswered questions, the complexities of this turning point in the history of Los Angeles. We should slow down this entire process and spread the discussion around into every corner of the city at civic events. Every Angeleno should become part of the planning committee for the Los Angles Master Plan with input and study before we commit our fortunes to a shoddy future. We need a 100-year Master Plan for Los Angles and we need it now, before any new projects.
Then again, we could all just go back to sleep and hope that this “Deal with the Devil” all works out in the last frame of the movie. I guess it all comes down to your definition of - make believe…
October 31st, 2011