On Friday my breakfast meeting at the Homegirl Cafe was delayed for an hour. I decided to use the time for a walk through nearby Chinatown. As often happens with me, it was a walk through history—L.A’s and my own.
Rain was threatening. I had neither raincoat nor umbrella. I hoped I would be lucky enough to avoid getting wet.
I headed west on Alpine Street and turned right on Broadway. The guides for walkers posted on light stanchions told the story of immigrants in Chinatown, moved here when Union Station was built in the late 1930s. Before it was New Chinatown, it was Little Italy. About all that’s left of that in Chinatown is the shell of Little Joe’s Italian restaurant, which has been closed for several years.
I passed a bank. I had interviewed the owner years ago. He had been involved in some city hall scandal. I had dressed in a conservative dark suit, carried a briefcase for the interview and tried to be charming. He talked too freely about the bank’s relationship with the then mayor and I had a good story. He later told my publisher that he didn't understand how such a nice person could write such a mean story. I’ve always felt a bit bad about using those reportorial tools and my guilt was renewed as I walked by the bank. .
Most of the stores and restaurants I passed hadn’t opened yet. It was 8 a.m. Children were exercising in an elementary school yard and young men—and one older one—were playing basketball at a rec center. Chinatown—a name made synonymous with civic evil in Robert Towne’s film—was just another business district waking up for the day.
I returned to Alpine Street. Up on the hill to the north was Dodger Stadium, where I waste many hours each baseball season. During World War II, sailors in the naval station below the present stadium poured down the hill and into the Alpine barrio, fighting with the young Latino men who lived here. They continued downtown and beat every young Latino and terrorized Latinas for days in what became known as the Zoot Suit Riot. I don’t know if there’s a plaque that memorializes that ugly bit of history.
At Spring Street, I paused and looked south toward the Times building, where I had spent many years telling the L.A. story, past and present. All around me were places where I used to gather news—City Hall, the Criminal Courts Building, the site of the old school district headquarters on Fort Hill.
It started to sprinkle. My luck was running out. I headed to the shelter of the Homegirl Café where the new deputy mayor for communications, Sarah Sheahan, would tell me what the mayor is doing for L.A. 2011.
Luncheon with Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry showed just how well the downtown football stadium promoters have wired city hall.
Perry, who represents the downtown area where the stadium may some day be built, appeared at a Current Affairs Forum at the Wilshire Grand, organized by public affairs consultant Emma Schafer. Dave Bryan, the political reporter for CBS2/KCAL9, interviewed Perry.
Perry will be at the center of getting the stadium proposal through city hall, She’s smart and experienced, having been crucial in putting the Staples Center deal together when she was a city council aide. At lunch, she seemed thoroughly in back of the plan by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the developer and owner of Staples Center and L.A. Live, to build the stadium in their entertainment complex. That would permit AEG to land a National Football League franchise and make many more millions. If the deal goes through, the city will sell $350 million in bonds to help finance the deal. The city must repay the bonds, although AEG has promised reimbursement.
Although Perry spoke in the muddy language of City Hall, I could see this stadium idea is like a speeding train with a clear track ahead.
For example, when Bryan asked her about financial details of the deal, she said that such matters would be in the hands City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller and three to five council members. Perry said the group will have to make sure no city money will be used for the stadium " otherwise the deal won't go through." She, of course, will be an influential member of the committee.
She sought to give the impression that the CAO and the CLA are independent, like the Federal Reserve Board. That’s not true. These officials work hand in hand with the council and the CAO works with the mayor, an enthusiastic stadium backer. CLO Miller has already said he thinks the plan is good. When Bryan asked her about complaints the council was moving too fast, Perry said "I don't know what fast is I don't know what slow is." When she was asked about concerns about costs to the city expressed by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a former television public affairs host, she dismissed him as a “TV guy,” a response I thought denigrated questioner Bryan, a TV guy, as well as anyone else appearing on the medium.
In the end questions remained. What if AEG can’t repay the city for the $350 million bond issue? What if a Los Angeles NFL team is so lousy it can’t draw fans, sell luxury boxes and expensive season tickets? What if the team moves, as the Raiders and Rams have done in the past? Taxpayers would be stuck with $36 million a year in debt repayment.
The stadium may be a great idea, but it’s impossible to know for sure with the council and the mayor in charge of asking questions.