Farmers Field or Blade Runner Stadium? 

The downtown NFL arena deal allows a sea of billboards, congestion and millions in public costs

Thursday, Sep 8 2011

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"In working for public agencies," Shanteau says, "I have found it impossible to provide unbiased professional input on a project when the City Council members have already made up their minds they want it."

Greg Nelson, who was chief of staff to ex–City Councilman Joel Wachs and later was a L.A. city department head, agrees. There's a real danger, Nelson says, that "AEG will present [the EIR] the way it sees it, and the City Council will just OK it."

An expert on the inner workings of City Hall, Nelson worked for Wachs in the 1990s, when the councilman famously accused Tim Leiweke and AEG of trying to soak taxpayers to construct Staples Center. Rabble-rousing and finger-pointing, the colorful Wachs made enemies but also became a local hero, wrenching concessions from AEG. No worse for it, AEG has raked in a fortune from Staples Center since.

click to flip through (7) PHOTO BY SIMONE PAZ - Farmers Field, upper left, portrayed with speeding freeway traffic -- and no billboards.
  • Farmers Field, upper left, portrayed with speeding freeway traffic -- and no billboards.

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But no nervy, Wachs-like leader exists among city-level politicians in L.A. today. At a July hearing in Van Nuys, shortly before the City Council approved the MOU, Rosendahl — a former cable executive and the council's supposed "tough questioner" on AEG — appeared befuddled. He admitted that Farmers Field traffic could cause "gridlock — paralysis trying to get around," but as to the pricey infrastructure fixes that will necessitate, he said, "The cost? I don't have any idea what the cost is going to be."

Traffic engineers and environmental leaders say congestion downtown can be expected to worsen drastically, despite rosy depictions by AEG, with "mitigation" around Farmers Field easily costing tens of millions of dollars. Under the city's longtime approach to development, they say AEG won't pay for more than a fraction of that, while taxpayers can expect to pay about 90 percent. And they expect the mitigations to fall short, leaving downtown with permanent new traffic problems. Roth sees it differently, assuring L.A. Weekly that an extensive traffic study launched by AEG, which he says has long been under way, will show that "we will be OK on traffic."

Another potentially key negative impact that was never investigated by city leaders Villaraigosa, Perry, Rosendahl and Garcetti allowed AEG to include in the MOU specific language that would let AEG erect a vast array of up to 41 bright signs including LED billboards along the 10 and 110 freeways near Farmers Field.

The plan, if fully realized, could fundamentally alter the southwest section of downtown, turning a key entryway to the city for 113 million visitors, commuters and other motorists annually into a Blade Runner–like scenario. Daily, 311,000 motorists on the interchange of the sluggish 10 and 110 freeways would be forced to view dozens of brightly lit displays, many of them commercials. The plan is an extreme departure for the Los Angeles Convention Center next to the proposed stadium, upon whose publicly owned land — and walls — AEG's dozens of displays would be mounted.

Nobody on the City Council — not Garcetti, who claims to be "green"; not Rosendahl, who says he is "accountable" — ever asked Angelenos if this is what they want downtown to be. Instead, Greg Nelson saw the attitude from AEG toward a compliant City Council as: "Approve this [stadium deal] now — or the whole thing is in the shitter.' "

The bottom line is that Farmers Field — the stadium that's free to L.A. taxpayers — will be far from free.

Longtime Pico-Union resident Jane Scott painted an ugly urban tableau when she told the City Council what has happened to her neighborhood in the 12 years since Staples Center opened. Scott lives on the west side of the 110 freeway, just a football field or so away from the future stadium's end zone. When the Lakers, Clippers or Kings play, Scott is trapped — afraid to go out because the Staples traffic snarl might not let her get home.

"We have trouble with parking, and traffic, and crime since Staples Center was built. Limos and Staples employees park in the neighborhoods," Scott told a recent standing-room-only crowd squeezed into the City Council's ornate marble chambers. "There are prostitutes, and 11th Street is closed off numerous times so we can't get to our neighborhoods."

Scott and another neighbor were the only two dissenting voices during the long public-comment session held July 29. They were drowned out by 48 speakers who praised AEG's football dream.

The only trouble with dreams, though, is you eventually wake up. That's what worries Shanteau, the consulting traffic engineer. He has been critical of two L.A.-related Environmental Impact Reports, writing a rebuttal of Metro's report on the Metro Rail Expo Phase 2 planned to run from Culver City to Santa Monica and castigating another EIR for its absurdly upbeat take on traffic congestion at a proposed complex in West Hollywood.

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