When LA Weekly reporter David Futch showed up at L.A. City Hall this morning for a hearing on Anschutz Entertainment Group's proposed L.A. football stadium, he thought he was in for just another L.A. City Council meeting.
What Futch failed to realize is that, when one attends a meeting on the NFL coming to L.A., one is in fact enlisting oneself in the freaking American Revolution, round two.
"This is the second biggest media market in the country, and we don't have a professional football team. How un-American is that?'' the Venice High football coach said at the meeting. "Some people say baseball is America's pastime. I beg to differ.''
(Careful, man. You know how those Dodgers fans can get.)
Cue breathtaking mock-ups of AEG's plans for the $1.2 billion stadium -- with a giant red Farmers Insurance logo running across the top, for helicopter tourists to fawn over -- and dozens of testimonies from sports nuts, construction workers and businesspeople on how a home for the NFL in the City of Angels would truly make it heaven on Earth.
Futch says that of over 50 cards turned in for public comment, only two speakers opposed the stadium. (Illegal immigrants or terrorists, obviously.)
With the hall at full capacity, 200 to 300 more interested parties couldn't fit -- spilling out onto the sidewalk and into two makeshift overflow areas where the meeting was being broadcast.
Not even the president of Farmers Insurance could get into the room, says Yusef Robb, a member of L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti's staff. (Though we're sure that was quickly taken care of.)
Today's hearing was vetted as the very first consideration of AEG's plan -- but of course, as plans go in L.A. City Hall, this one has been shaped behind closed doors for months. Today was just the fireworks show for hopeful high-schoolers in jerseys.
Hence the mayor's impeccably timed announcement, on Monday, that L.A. was about to reach a memorandum of understanding with AEG, just as the NFL ended its lockout. Convenient!
Another curious obstacle that Weekly reporter Futch encountered at the meeting: In order to get onto the council floor as media, he had to have an LAPD press pass.
Though Garcetti's staffer claims media have always needed an LAPD pass to enter the councilmembers' quarters -- it's just not often a necessity, as the public chambers aren't usually filled to capacity -- we find this fact ridiculous, and must take a moment to vent.
LAPD passes are issued only to crime reporters; on each personalized application, a journalist must either prove he's on the police beat or, essentially, lie about it, or the application will be denied. For a political writer to need to prove he's buddy-buddy with the LAPD in order to avoid dickish police hassling at a purely political meeting is childish, and reminiscent of Los Angeles' overly protective, V.I.P. approach to press regulations. Like the LAPD can somehow prevent the next Loughner by screening every journalist that comes within 15 feet of a precious local politician.
OK, we're done. More important question, re: AEG Stadium. Who's paying for all this, again?
Farmers has reportedly agreed to pitch in $700 million of the $1.2 billion total, and another $275 million in bonds will be issued to AEG by the city, to be repaid with stadium profits.
But Futch noted at the meeting that City Councilmembers have no idea what the surrounding infrastructure -- roads, on-ramps, etc. -- is going to cost, and won't know until October or November.
Councilmembers kept reassuring the crowd, and each other, that AEG is going to have to "pay its share." But that language is worrisome -- implying there's some other share involved. Likewise, AEG honcho Tim Leiweke has reassured us, time and time again, that not one cent of taxpayer money will go toward the stadium. He's even promised bonus tax revenues and economic perks for downtown L.A.
"This project brings hope to the city in a time that the city needs hope," said Magic Johnson at today's hearing. (Yes, that Magic Johnson.) "And the main thing it's going to be bringing is jobs." (Yes, he sounds every bit like he's getting paid for this.)
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Veteran citywatchers are more than skeptical. Via ex-LA Daily News editor Ron Kaye:
Harder to get around is the problem of how often NFL stadiums are a financial disaster for local government, as the Wall Street Journal reported today and increasingly frequent questions asked even by the gadflies about what is in this deal for the city, direct benefits that will end the bleeding of city services and punishment of city workers.
But this is the developer's stadium, and the L.A. City Council's meeting space -- we're just sitting in it. Or standing outside it, as the case may be.