L.A. Stadium Plan Soaks Thirsty Taxpayers
The Carson City Council has unanimously approved a plan to build a stadium that would house the National Football League's San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, marking pro football's return to Los Angeles. As is the case in most stadium deals, the vote was conducted in the shadows by politicians without any shred of perspective.
The council decided to forego a public vote that might have given taxpayers a modicum of say over where their money goes. The teams' proposal claims that the $1.7 billion stadium will be privately financed, but as we've seen with the St. Louis Rams' proposed stadium in nearby Inglewood and countless other arena deals, cities usually end up on the hook for millions of dollars in tax reimbursements and other subsidies. In February, Inglewood's City Council also bypassed a public vote to approve a $1.86 billion proposal led by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
By adopting the ballot initiatives, both the Inglewood and Carson developments managed to avoid long environmental review processes. This is particularly significant in the case of the Carson proposal, which offers few details. According to the Los Angeles Times, the site on a former landfill "sits above deposits of oil, solvents, and heavy metals" and has still only been 80 percent cleaned up, requiring another year of remediation measures.
A city-funded report on the site doesn't exactly sound promising. The engineers note that the environmental review "was completed without the benefit of a complete development plan application." Without a fully formulated stadium plan, the report relies on conclusions drawn from the reviews of other recent stadium projects in comparable environments, including New Jersey. Still, even without knowing such pesky details as structural design, the report concluded that the site "does contain some hazardous materials and remediation activities will be needed to ensure the Stadium project can be built and operated safely." It adds that the remediation efforts, which have now stretched to 15 years, must be adjusted to accommodate a stadium -- changes that one civil engineer told SBNation "could cost millions of dollars, and would probably take at least a year to enact."
Just in time for Earth Day, it seems the environment will be a recurring theme in the push to build a stadium in Carson. After the council approved the proposal, Mayor Albert Robles was so giddy he equated the 20-year absence of football in Los Angeles to his state's devastating drought. "There are two things that are needed here in Southern California," Robles said. "One of them is rain ... the other is football. And today, hopefully, we took care of that, because football is coming to Carson."
I expect any minute now that California Governor Jerry Brown will declare a state of emergency over the NFL's absence in Hollywood, just as he did in January for the drought that continues to endanger crops, jobs and lives, one that has created prime conditions for forest fires and landslides as well as slashed the state's agricultural productivity. The USDA estimates that corn acreage dropped 39 percent in 2014, while rice was down 25 percent.
Of course, that all pales in comparison to the injustice that Southern Californians have endured over the last two decades: living without a local professional football team. Like water, football is a life force; unlike water, it's a human right.
Never mind that an NFL team has already failed twice in Los Angeles and is sure to fail again, with competition from two of the biggest college football programs in the nation and a market that can be as tepid about its sports as it is in weather. But hey, Adrian Peterson and Tim Tebow have shown us that the NFL is all about second and third and fourth chances, so who knows?
In any event, with two stadiums approved to house potentially three teams in Los Angeles, it will be up to the NFL and the teams to decide pro football's fate in the city. Twenty-four of 32 teams must vote in favor of relocation, which can't happen until at least January 2016. It's more likely than not that Los Angeles will simply serve as a handy tool to threaten cities into conceding to existing teams' demands for new, taxpayer-funded facilities.
If the Chargers or Raiders or Rams do end up moving, there are still a ton of details that need to be fleshed out, such as parking and what to do if Philip Rivers really doesn't want to play in Los Angeles. Once those issues are resolved, I'd still be left wondering how they plan to water the grass on the field.
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