By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Summer is nearly upon us, and, in what has become almost a biennial rite, so is L.A.’s professional football season. What, you say we have no pro football team in L.A.?
Exactly, folks; the game is about getting a team.
Because seemingly every two or three years a bunch of guys with a bunch of bucks gets together to say: “L.A. ought to have NFL football.” The reasoning goes: Here‘s (at least for the pre-secession-vote moment) the second largest city in America. And here’s the largest city without pro football. This bothers this million-billionaire clique because conventional wisdom has it that pro football, big cities and big money all go together. Just look at what a pro team costs. And look what it brings in urban respect. Which presumably departed from L.A. with Al Davis and his Raiders in 1995 and turned Oakland into an earthly paradise.
So why can‘t L.A. get its own big-league team again, the promoters ask, and go back to being a really important city like, say, Jacksonville?
This year’s “Get Football in L.A.” starting lineup includes solid players from past contests. There‘s Ed Roski, the affable captain from City of Industry, who brings to the field the muscular family business of Majestic Realty.
There’s Phil Anschutz, the elusive (you‘ll be affably slapping George W. on the back to dislodge a pretzel fragment before Anschutz returns your phone call) Denver billionaire who lives far up Forbes’ list of the fiscally mighty: His AEG company owns more hunks of more sports than anyone else in this country. And there are newcomers like Casey Wasserman, a kid in his 20s who has a nice grandpa named Lew and a going franchise with arena football.
But basically, these are the same guys who gave a 1999 news conference with the PowerPoint promise of an NFL expansion franchise for this fair city that would be housed in a gloriously redesigned Coliseum. Charlton Heston did the voice-over. But the almighty NFL didn‘t want the Coliseum. So the expansion team went to Sandusky or Shreveport or someplace like that. Thus went all of L.A.’s post-Raider football attempts so far. On the basis of this pattern, I am prepared to make a hazardous double-barreled prediction: Los Angeles may not have a pro-football future. And it won‘t matter if it doesn’t.
But first, in approved football fashion, a timeout. This NFL proposal is somehow part and parcel of a $2.4 billion downtown Community Redevelopment Agency project. No one, perhaps, knows exactly how. But the proposal to land the pigskin near Staples Center -- in the designated redevelopment area -- came at the same time the council signed off on the CRA thing, and it‘s easy to doubt that the two are independent. It is also questionable whether CRA redevelopment funds should be used to condemn land needed for the stadium. County supervisors, urged by Zev Yaroslavsky, voted to sue if that happens because this would divert property-tax revenues from needy county agencies.
People are saying a lot of things. What no one is saying, however, is that there’s been a major compromise since that ‘99 proposal: L.A. is no longer insisting the new team (let’s call them the L.A. Loons) occupy the Coliseum.
The NFL, in turn, is saying L.A. no longer has to put up any cash -- just to loan more than $100 million to the project.
Regardless, some City Hall watchers predict a run on the treasury -- like the city‘s 5-year-old flummoxed commitment to put nine figures into the Staples Monster. Except no one has yet discovered such a commitment this time: The council vaguely endorsed the CRA master plan without mention of football. Last week, the council revisited the proposal with the provision that any L.A. stadium contribution would have to be paid back to the city. Two Times columnists sounded off in the same Sunday paper that the council better get ironclad terms for that loan. Some council members were already trying to: “The spirit of Joel Wachs,” the recently departed Valley populist member who fought the Staples Center deal, “still hovers over this council chamber,” said Councilman Eric Garcetti.
The superior importance of the overall 1.3-square-mile CRA downtown-revival proposal -- which is highly contingent -- probably should not be obscured by the region’s latest gridiron will-o‘-the-wisp. Although that is exactly what I am doing here. But this game is football, folks -- we’ll talk about the CRA proposal some other time. First down and 10 to go. Wachs is in New York now, embarked in another career, so I talked to Wachs‘ former council staff chief Greg Nelson, who quarterbacked Wachs’ team during that Staples tourney. To my surprise, Nelson -- who now runs the neighborhood-council franchise downtown -- took the whole thing quite calmly.
He doesn‘t see much comparison with Staples and even doubts the future of Los Angeles big-league football. Going against the NFL grain, Nelson suggests that, whatever the outcome of the current scrimmage, pro football may be something this city has outgrown.
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