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

Page 4 of 7

Lee, a Pico-Union Neighborhood Council board member, says that group has yet to take a stand, so he's speaking only for himself and his friends. He asked 20 business owners and residents in Pico-Union about their concerns.

"Fifteen of the 20 people I asked were in fear of the new stadium. Very scared of the size," Lee says. Beyond that, "The community is scared AEG is going to come in and buy property to build parking lots. They're scared about traffic from a 72,000-seat stadium. Are they going to block Pico [Boulevard] and make it one-way for games?"

One of his neighbors, teacher Victor Citrin, several years ago needed to get home to administer medicine to his son. He was blocked for nearly an hour from reaching his house near the Olympic Boulevard exit of the 110 — stopped by a typical mess of stalled traffic letting out of Staples Center.

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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"Why would you build a 70,000-seat stadium in downtown, with all its inherent problems, when people in the City of Industry support a stadium there?" Citrin asks.

But the traffic techies and neighbors in Pico-Union aren't thinking about the nearly 113 million cars per year that will drive past AEG's proposed field of billboards — a captive freeway audience whose huge numbers could allow AEG to charge top dollar to advertisers who place their commercials on signs affixed to parking garages and Convention Center buildings next to Farmers Field. Over time, the arrangement could bring AEG significant riches.

A San Diego Convention Center official laughs aloud when informed that L.A.'s Convention Center — particularly the giant, curving turquoise wall along the South Hall — would be slathered with advertisements. San Diego allows no commercial advertising on its widely admired convention complex.

Dennis Hathaway, a leading activist fighting L.A.'s forest of 10,000 billboards — many of which were illegally erected while L.A. politicians took billboard-industry campaign money and looked the other way — says that because the City Council hurriedly agreed in the MOU to language stating that "billboards are an essential element for the financing for the Convention Center and the stadium," the City Council members and Villaraigosa have backed themselves into a corner.

The MOU "implies that they can't do the whole deal without the billboards. So the billboards have become a necessity, even though those billboards have never been before a hearing before the City Council." Hathaway calls the emerging situation, and the never-discussed billboard blight it would impose on Angelenos, "outrageous."

Perry, Rosendahl and City Councilman Tony Cardenas are among those promising Angelenos that AEG will pay its "fair share" to lessen the environmental impact of its stadium on Los Angeles.

Yeah, right, Shanteau says. The problem is in the accounting and who's doing it.

Typically, Shanteau says, a developer will claim that a new project adds a small percentage to pre-existing traffic in the area — 10 percent, say. But once completed, the project might instead cause "a 100 percent increase in traffic delay." Under an ineffective math formula typically applied by cities, if roadway upgrades and mitigations cost $1 million, "the developer is only [held] responsible for $100,000" — reflecting the original false estimate that the project would cause a 10 percent bump in traffic. "The public would need to come up with the other $900,000."

He expects Farmers Field to be a far worse scenario, potentially doubling existing traffic delays — but with AEG still paying just a few cents on the dollar for expensive "mitigation," with taxpayers forced to foot the rest of the bill.

Shanteau warns that within Los Angeles City Hall, officials are rarely truthful about how badly the traffic will worsen from a specific project. The promised road widening, restriping, signal and left-turn lanes and intersection improvements "are either never made or happen long after the project is built."

Attorney Carstens agrees, saying traffic mitigation doesn't work 99 percent of the time in L.A. or other California cities. "In most cases, a city council approves a project, then comes up with costly mitigation that developers don't want to pay for." Instead of improving the 20 surrounding intersections where traffic is permanently worsened, a developer may offer to fix three — and the politicians agree to that.

"That's the way L.A. is set up," Carstens explains. "Let's say $40 million will be needed for traffic mitigation [for Farmers Field]. If the city says the streets three or four blocks away from the stadium need work, AEG might take the stance that those streets are the city's responsibility — that AEG is only responsible" for streets next to the stadium.

Rosendahl insists AEG will have to provide enough "mitigating dollars" for transportation infrastructure. "I haven't seen it in writing," Rosendahl says. "But that's one question I'm going to be clear about." As to how much of the tab AEG will pick up, he hastens to add: "We'll see. Time will tell."

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