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Tim Leiweke's Green NFL Stadium 

EIR says fans would forsake cars

Thursday, Apr 12 2012
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On Christmas Eve 1994, both the Rams and the Raiders played their last football games in L.A. The Rams left for St. Louis, while the Raiders returned to Oakland. Since then, a generation of Angelenos has grown up without the NFL in its backyard.

If Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, which owns Staples Center, L.A. Live and the J.W. Marriott/Ritz-Carlton tower, gets his way, the next generation won't have to.

No sooner had AEG released its 10,000-plus-page Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Farmers Field on April 5 than lawyers, bloggers and environmental activists began poring over the document, eight times longer than War and Peace.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY KYLE WEBSTER
  • ILLUSTRATION BY KYLE WEBSTER

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Transportation blogger Damien Newton stayed up until 1 a.m., getting through about 1,000 pages. "If there's something terrible buried in there, I want to be the one to find it!" he said. But after days of perusal, he found it a pretty impressive effort.

"AEG is very good at this game" after building many big downtown projects, he says. "You get documents that make sense and are well thought-out."

The draft EIR analyzes the environmental and quality-of-life impacts of the stadium, whose 72,000 seats also will host concerts, rodeos and other events. The plan calls for demolishing and rebuilding part of the L.A. Convention Center and building parking structures. The report addresses noise, pollution, aesthetics and, above all, traffic.

The study looked at 177 street intersections in a big radius projecting out from downtown. It found that 72 crossings will suffer "significant, unavoidable impacts" due to weekday events at Farmers Field.

The phrase "unavoidable impacts," which comes up a lot, irks environmental attorney Doug Carstens, who says AEG has some real work left. "Does it really mean unavoidable? Or does it mean, 'not yet avoided'? Are there ways they could fix these things but they haven't found them yet?"

Despite its heft, the EIR omits in-depth study of alternatives to building the stadium downtown. Carstens calls this "shortchanging the public on the EIR." A single page is devoted to a rival stadium proposed in Industry. That wasn't fully analyzed because it doesn't meet objectives such as renovating L.A.'s Convention Center.

Becky Dennison, of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, is disappointed that the EIR fails to delve into potential effects on nearby housing — a big quality-of-life issue in L.A. "They keep claiming that they should not have to analyze impacts" such as rising values possibly pricing residents out of the area, she says.

The public has only 45 days to comment, and some people say that isn't enough time. "This stadium's gonna be there for 40 to 50 years," Carstens says. "They're giving the public 45 days?"

A major new poll shows Angelenos' unease toward Farmers Field, with a tepid 49 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.

One group wants public comment extended to 90 days, which the City Council Ad Hoc Committee on Farmers Field could grant. Once the comment period ends, AEG will create a final EIR, which is expected to breeze through city approvals. After that, if anyone sues AEG, the courts have just 175 days to rule or to work out a settlement — such as concessions from AEG to lessen the impact on nearby residents.

That short, 175-day lawsuit deadline was created by Senate Bill 292, a special exemption to environmental law approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown solely for AEG. Before it spent $27 million creating this Environmental Impact Report, AEG wanted to know the stadium couldn't be mired in court for years.

AEG got the exemption only after making two key promises to the Natural Resources Defense Council and Democratic legislators, who together hammered out the environmental exemption law for AEG.

First, Farmers Field must be 100 percent carbon-neutral. For every car arriving at the stadium, AEG must spend funds, known as "carbon offsets," somewhere else to offset those new greenhouse gas emissions. AEG might be required to retrofit old factories with green technology, or to plant trees.

The second concession requires that, five years after it opens, Farmers Field must have the lowest annual ratio of "cars to spectators" of any NFL stadium — bettering the next-best by 10 percent.

According to transportation planner Michael Bates, the lead author of the EIR's transportation section, if AEG fails on its promises, "The city of L.A. at that point can require additional mitigation measures."

But AEG's special state law didn't specify what that mitigation could be.

Carstens laughs at the vagueness of this clause in SB 292, saying, "Once the project is approved, there's really not much leverage the city of Los Angeles has."

Leiweke insists he is fully committed to following through — and even charged up about it. "This process has been completely driven by changing the habits of Southern California," he tells L.A. Weekly. "Farmers Field is one of the first major facilities in this community built specifically around light rail and public transportation. That to me is the best part of this entire process."

The EIR says AEG would spend $1.5 million to upgrade freeway ramp traffic-light meters; $2.5 million in seed money toward an extra lane on the northbound 101 (the expected cost is 10 times that); and $10 million to upgrade the Blue Line station at 11th and Hope streets.

In addition, the EIR says fiscally strapped Metro must add dozens of new railcars. It's unclear how high that bill might be, and some say AEG, not the public, should pay.

But better infrastructure won't be enough to offset traffic jams, carbon emissions and other environmental problems created by an NFL stadium, so AEG plans to nudge spectators onto public transit. AEG must somehow lure 27 percent of ticket buyers onto mass transit for weekday games.

When buying tickets online, AEG would offer pre-purchasing of passes to cover parking, buses or rail. "To some it's called up-selling," says AEG spokesman Michael Roth. "We're going to have to change the name. Maybe we'll call it enviro-selling."

To discourage driving, the EIR proposes that football fans be handed a square half-mile of city land on which to tailgate — without their cars. "We're gonna have the largest, best tailgating party in all of L.A.," Leiweke says.

Paid for by AEG, the proposed $10 million renovation of taxpayer-owned Gilbert Lindsay Plaza — a forgettable concrete square outside the Convention Center's West Hall — would create space near the stadium, which is going to be tightly squeezed. AEG would use the plaza, presumably rent-free (Roth says negotiations with the city are starting), as a food court and partying area.

Leiweke envisions stalls such as Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles, and says 15,000 ex-tailgaters would fit into the space.

"If you're trying to convince people to go on light rail, then Gilbert Lindsay Plaza's critical," Leiweke says.

Despite some problems, Newton, the blogger who was dying to find dirt, likes what he sees so far. Farmers Field, he says, "creates another opportunity for people to think about taking transit."

Others, like Dennison, want to know why, in 10,000 pages, AEG did not conduct a thorough analysis of how fans, despite a Blue Line station just two blocks away, get to Staples Center.

Transportation planner Bates, making a guess that he admits could be too high, says cars account for 90 percent to 95 percent of trips to Staples Center. But at Farmers Field, he says, "There will be aggressive promotion and incentivization" to leave your car at home.

Reach the writer at hillelaron@mac.com.

Reach the writer at haron@laweekly.com

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