Farmers Field or Blade Runner Stadium?

Farmers Field, upper left, portrayed with speeding freeway traffic -- and no billboards.

Click here for "A Field of Billboards for Farmers Field," by Tibby Rothman and Jill Stewart.

Over the next few days, Gov. Jerry Brown may be asked to sign a special bill pushed by Los Angeles politicians, which would set aside state environmental laws to make life easier for Farmers Field, AEG's unprecedented attempt to squeeze 72,000 fans, a $1.2 billion NFL stadium and a sea of ultrabright LED billboards into a tight space in a dense neighborhood next to two of the world's most congested freeways.

Under intense pressure from AEG president Tim Leiweke, who has proposed building the stadium downtown, the state Legislature this week will decide whether to send Brown the new law written specifically for AEG's billionaire owner, Philip Anschutz, to let AEG skirt the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Taking a hard-sell stance, Leiweke claims the Legislature must act before it adjourns late on Sept. 9, and cannot wait until lawmakers return on Jan. 4, or the stadium project could implode.

The law, still being hastily cobbled together at press time by Sen. Alex Padilla of Pacoima and Assembly Speaker John Pérez — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's first cousin — would "fast-track" court challenges to AEG's Environmental Impact Report (EIR), forcing citizens to go directly to the state Court of Appeals, which would have just 175 days to issue a ruling.

"The whole Superior Court process is eliminated, which is unprecedented," says David Pettit, National Resources Defense Council senior attorney. "Unless someone like us gets involved, and has the money to pay a litigator, you're out of luck."

Leiweke argued that AEG needed a special law so it can avoid time-wasting "frivolous" lawsuits by rivals — such as Majestic Realty. In return for getting around the state environmental act, Leiweke promised L.A. politicians he would build the most green-friendly stadium in the nation.

But the special bill appears to be aimed not so much at Majestic, which can afford to hire teams of top-flight attorneys for appellate court, but at ham-stringing neighborhood groups, local activists and other honest critics who might see the stadium's traffic congestion — and its up to 41 LED billboards and signs glaring into hundreds of millions of passing cars — as too much environmental degradation for the benefits.

Those key environmental issues were never investigated by the Los Angeles City Council during its several months of hearings and negotiations with AEG. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl concedes, "The transportation issue is the one issue no one's addressed."

Well, that and the sea of proposed billboards (see sidebar). Douglas Carstens, a well-known environmental attorney who has challenged the conclusions in several Environmental Impact Reports for L.A. developments, says, "I've seen carts put before horses before, but this is a whole new level of that. Sounds to me like the City Council bought a pig in a poke."

If legislators abide by Leiweke's wishes, Brown must decide whether to approve or veto the hotly debated environmental exemption by Oct. 9, his legal deadline for signing new bills into law.

Pettit, Carstens and other Sacramento watchers also are concerned that Pérez and Padilla may push the final wording of the law through shortly before midnight on Sept. 9, when the cameras have gone home, using a legislative tactic for reducing transparency and public debate, known as "gut and amend."

Using high-octane tactics, AEG has already pressed the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Villaraigosa to follow its oft-changing deadlines, implying the stadium project's demise if certain of its dates were not met.

Traffic congestion, infrastructure and urban livability experts say the 15 council members and Villaraigosa badly jumped the gun in early August by signing a "memorandum of understanding," or MOU, giving Farmers Field the city's blessing. They say City Council leaders Jan Perry, Eric Garcetti and Rosendahl needed far more information.

L.A. City Council members each earn $178,789 a year. They vote unanimously 99.993 percent of the time, with members often failing to read the fine print before making major decisions. They signed the MOU without knowing any public costs of environmental mitigation, and now, Carstens says, they "are going to find out later that traffic mitigation is going to cost millions," with taxpayers stuck with most of that bill. He warns that while City Council leaders insist "the MOU is not binding, it sounds binding to me, like the council already has made the commitment to build the stadium. Sounds like the Environmental Impact Report is an afterthought."

AEG spokesman Michael Roth promises that the EIR "will have the most extensive study of downtown traffic that will ever be done," and says the MOU was a business deal and was not meant to contemplate "things like 'signage' — but the EIR will contemplate things like that."

Robert Shanteau, a California consulting traffic engineer who helped create statewide standards for traffic signals that detect bicycles and motorcycles, is bothered that no City Council member seriously broached the subject of the massive costs to rebuild downtown roads and possibly freeway on-ramps and off-ramps. Those infrastructure needs were left out of both the MOU and the city's key analysis, the so-called "Comprehensive Economic Analysis of the Proposed Downtown Los Angeles Stadium and Convention Center Project."


"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.

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.


Perhaps as soon as late this fall, the "transportation portion" of a preliminary EIR will be completed by a team hired by AEG, according to the City Council's chief legislative analyst, Gerry Miller. "Don't worry," Leiweke says, "because professional football games are played on Sunday, when there is little traffic along the 10 and the 110."

Traffic, shmaffic, according to Leiweke, who's been quoted as saying, "You can fire a cannonball down the 110 on Sunday and you wouldn't hit a thing." On the Farmers Field website, AEG makes the claim that "to limit congestion, Farmers Field will utilize four freeways and over 20 interchanges (on-/off-ramps), and continue to use the successful traffic and parking model employed by Staples Center, L.A. Live and the Los Angeles Convention Center."

AEG spokesman Michael Roth says AEG expects traffic will move in and out of Farmers Field like it does with a Lakers game, because people leave early to get home.

"This is L.A. Have you looked at a Laker game with 10 minutes to go?" Roth asks. "The stands are half-full. Same at Dodger Stadium. We never have horrendous traffic problems at Staples. On Sunday, at 10 in the morning, 11, at noon, the 110 is desolate."

Many neighbors dispute that claim, but even if true, a Lakers sellout game is just 18,000 people. An NFL football sellout is 72,000 — nearly four times as many humans and their cars.

Quentin Fleming, a consultant who teaches strategic management at USC's Marshall School of Business, was at a June meeting in Mar Vista where Leiweke and an AEG traffic engineer again touted downtown's easy-in/easy-out access.

Fleming couldn't believe what he was hearing. "AEG's claim defied reality," he says. "If the stadium is going to be as 'successful' as AEG claims, traffic is going to be a nightmare."

Traffic experts say the most likely surface streets to require significant upgrades would include Venice and Pico boulevards, South Grand Avenue, Olympic Boulevard, Ninth, 11th and 12th streets, Figueroa and Flower streets, Olive, Hill and Main streets, South Broadway and South Union Avenue in Pico-Union west of the 110.

The City Council's Memorandum of Understanding with AEG fails to mention any of this. And the key report paid for by the city, its "Comprehensive Economic Analysis," manages to say exactly nothing about traffic — or the millions of dollars in roadwork the stadium will necessitate.

AEG's choice of location — in the center of a crowded downtown entertainment destination — has some traffic experts scratching their heads. It doesn't make sense to Lisa Schweitzer, associate professor at USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development. Schweitzer also is part of the METRANS Transportation Center team at USC and California State University, Long Beach, charged with analyzing large transportation issues in the region for the U.S. Department of Transportation and Caltrans.

"The 10 and the 110 are already a mess, and AEG is wrong about a couple things," Schweitzer says. "AEG is assuming no one travels on Sunday. That's not true. Weekend traffic can flare up. People go shopping on Sunday. They go to the beach. They go to Home Depot and Walmart. People do things on Sunday they don't have time to do during the week. The 10 and the 110 can get bad on Saturdays and Sundays."

James E. Moore II, a USC professor and director of the school's Transportation Engineering Program**, says, "We have no business making the stadium decision without this level of [traffic] analysis in all dimensions."

Despite nearly a year of talks between the Villaraigosa administration, City Council leaders and Leiweke, "Thus far the analysis has not been done," Moore says.

Like Schweitzer, Moore isn't buying Leiweke and AEG's claim that downtown congestion during weekend football games from August to mid-January — Saturday college tilts, Sunday NFL matches — will be minimal. Some 20,000 fan-filled cars will meet crowds of Angelenos as they return home from trips to the desert, mountains and other locales. Downtown's many weekend events "have impacts on the freeway and street congestion," Moore says. "It is true of Dodger Stadium, it is true for the Coliseum and Staples Center, and it would be true of the proposed facility."

The downtown neighbors see all this up front. Mark Lee and other business owners and residents of the heavily Latino Pico-Union neighborhood, just across the 110 from the Convention Center and proposed stadium site, are scared for their little corner of L.A., a hodgepodge of mom-and-pop businesses and old homes inhabited by working-class and poor Angelenos.


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.

"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."


He says he was promised by city staff that the upcoming EIR will provide the answers to these many questions. But Rosendahl, formerly a local political talk-show host, knows the pitfalls of such assurances. People sue over the "answers" provided in Environmental Impact Reports, in part because those details can downplay the negative effects of development on a community's environment or livability. If Brown and the Legislature exempt AEG from key requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, and the new law's language leaves enough vagueness and wiggle room for AEG, honest challengers to the Farmers Field EIR could be quashed.

Shanteau notes that in the EIR, "The impacts will be identified by the traffic engineer paid for by AEG. Are there likely to be impacts? Well, yes," he laughs. "The freeways in L.A. are not efficient. The first intersections next to a freeway are almost always bottlenecks."

Schweitzer's gold standard calls for replacing the ramps leading from the 10 to the 110 and replacing the 10's exit onto Grand Avenue. But she says the proper Farmers Field upgrade will never happen because "there's no money and no political will" to tackle such an undertaking in these fiscally strapped times. "If they're going to make it work, they're going to have to really reach out to public transit. It's a better strategy than saying, 'Traffic is light on Sunday.' "

AEG believes that persuading NFL fans to use mass transit is one answer to traffic congestion, while other solutions are "still to be determined," says AEG spokesman Roth.

"We're committed to light rail," Roth says. "Tim [Leiweke] was in Portland [in mid-July] taking a look at their system. ... Our goal is to have a Super Bowl where 50 percent of the people walk to the game from public transit stations and hotels."

But Schweitzer says a key part of the transit plan — a proposed 1.7-mile streetcar between ritzy Bunker Hill and Staples Center/Farmers Field, championed by downtown city councilman Jose Huizar — will be a hole down which to pour taxpayer money.

Schweitzer estimates the cost to be $150 million, dismissing the streetcar idea as "a very expensive toy that takes a lot of money to build and operate."

Perry, who hopes to ride her leadership of the council's Stadium Ad Hoc Committee to the mayor's office, says she, too, is counting on public transit to make it all work.

"If you go look at the Blue Line platform after a hockey game, it's pretty packed," Perry says. "We have the Blue Line, the Red Line, 50 or 60 other bus lines. I want AEG to help us maximize that potential."

Even Pettit, the NRDC attorney fighting the special legislation AEG is demanding in Sacramento, says of possible future NFL games, "I'd love to get on a train, go downtown, drink all the beer I want, get back on the train and go home."

But for now, it seems a stretch to imagine persuading a major portion of Southern California NFL ticket-holders to rely on mass transit.

The issue was touched on — barely — at the City Council's July 29 meeting. AEG is going to build parking lots for 4,000 cars, with a net gain of 1,600 parking spaces after it tears down parking at the city-owned Cherry Street Garage and Bond Street Garage. AEG also plans to use extensive parking spaces at the TCW building at Figueroa and Ninth and another parking structure on Flower, buildings AEG already leases for Lakers parking, Roth says.

For all the talk of mass transit and streetcars, AEG is assuming 20,000 cars will stream downtown for games and Farmers Field concerts.

Around Los Angeles City Hall, the cheerleading for AEG is so thick it's easy to forget that Leiweke and company aren't the only football game in town.

Majestic Realty, led by developer and longtime player on the L.A. political scene Ed Roski, wants to build a stadium 15 miles east of Los Angeles, at the Grand Crossing site in the City of Industry, with 75,000 seats and 22,400 parking spaces.

Roski's stadium is just over a mile from the 60 (Pomona) freeway, one of the least congested freeways in the Los Angeles region, used by east-west commuters as a relief valve when the 10 is impacted like a wisdom tooth.

Compared to squeezing a stadium onto cramped space at the 10 and 110 freeway interchange downtown, a stadium built near the 60 is a traffic no-brainer. The 60 in the City of Industry is less jammed for more hours of the day than the 110, 10 or 5 downtown. Majestic Realty's Grand Crossing site would absorb more game-day traffic — far more cheaply and easily.


Majestic Realty vice president John Semcken calls Roski's proposed location "our greatest asset," modeled after highly successful NFL stadiums built several miles outside of their big host cities.

The popular Dallas Cowboys stadium was built not in downtown Dallas but in a less congested suburb, Arlington, about 20 miles west. The Jets/Giants stadium was built not in New York City but in less congested East Rutherford, N.J., several miles away. Gillette Stadium, home to the New England Patriots, was built not in Boston but in Foxboro, 22 miles southwest. The proposed Majestic stadium site is closer to Los Angeles — 15 miles away — than all but the Jets/Giants facility are to their host cities.

"Football stadiums require a lot of space to provide an NFL game-day experience and meet the demands of the fans," particularly to cater to the huge and prized tailgating subculture, Semcken says. "We have 600 acres and 25,000 parking spaces offering fans everything they need to have the ultimate experience before, during and after the game. A football stadium's location and the fan's experience go hand in hand.

"We are 20 minutes east of downtown Los Angeles, 15 minutes north of Disneyland, equidistant from Beverly Hills and Newport Beach and at the center of this ever-growing region. Our stadium sits at the crossroads of four counties and two major freeways and presents perfect access to over 15.5 million fans."

Yet much as AEG hopes to do over the course of the next several days, Majestic pulled off a masterful lobbying trick in Sacramento two years ago, getting special legislation passed to avoid complying with the California Environmental Quality Act. Majestic in turn promised to create a hard-to-believe 50,000 jobs. Frothing at that possibility in bad economic times, the Legislature jumped at the opportunity.

Now with the tables turned, Majestic is complaining that AEG is twisting arms in Sacramento, with one Majestic official telling the Weekly that AEG's recent protestations that it was not " 'asking for anything' [from legislators] after traveling to Sacramento several times just doesn't hold water."

The NFL, for its part, isn't picking sides. Brian McCarthy, the league's vice president for communications, says, "We are monitoring all stadium-related developments in the Los Angeles area. ... We have been briefed by their executives on their plans. We would like to return to the Los Angeles area but will only do so under conditions that make sense for the NFL and the community."

Most importantly, while locals like Leiweke, Perry, Rosendahl, Garcetti and Villaraigosa have been in a great hurry, the NFL's McCarthy warns: "We don't have a time line."

Former District 10 city councilman Nate Holden was around when AEG proposed building Staples Center in the mid-1990s.

In Holden's eyes, AEG is working the city over pretty good to get what it wants this time around. Holden, currently president of the Marina City Club Condominiums Association in Marina del Rey, has nothing but praise for Leiweke's PR skills. "He has the personality, the ability to communicate with people, and he's likable."

Make no mistake, Holden says, "AEG and Tim Leiweke are doing this for themselves, for their business. They gain the confidence of the city and show the benefits, but sometimes you think the city doesn't read the fine print."

But there is no Joel Wachs doing serious homework and advancing truly tough questions. And there's no skeptical Nate Holden–style council member breaking up the council's troubling, 99.993 percent unanimous voting record on issues large and small.

Holden was in Washington, D.C., when the City Council, led by Wachs, approved the Staples Center deal. Even with the Wachs-won concessions, Holden voted no by telephone. Later, privately, top Staples Center negotiators reveled in how they had squeezed several million dollars out of Wachs at the eleventh hour, when he'd been worn down.

The Los Angeles City Council can make gross errors in deliberations, and no one knows the damage they've done until later, Holden says.

"The council is not stupid. They're just not aware of the way things transpired that led to where we are today. Nobody on the City Council knows how this deal is going to move from A to Z. Only AEG and Tim know how it's going to move from A to Z. Tim Leiweke is a smooth operator."

** Correction: The original version of this story mistakenly reported that James Moore was director of RAND's Corporation Operations Research/Transportation Space and Technology Program. In fact, he was a visiting scholar at RAND during the 2010-11 academic year.  p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

Corporation Operations Research/Transportation, Space, and Technology Program


Reach the writer at


Tibby Rothman contributed to this report.


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