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April 22, 2011

Call it MLB Stadium at Chavez Ravine

Thursday, I visited what should now be called MLB Stadium at Chavez Ravine. The name on the ballpark is still Dodger Stadium, but a change is in order after Major League Baseball took over the Dodgers from Frank McCourt.

Availing myself of our many colorful public amenities, I took the Blue Bus to Wilshire Boulevard, then the Red Bus to the Western Avenue Metro station where I caught the Purple Line subway to Union Station. There I met my friend Tony Finizza, who had just emerged from Gate 12 after his Amtrak ride from Orange County. We boarded the shuttle to the stadium; bought big Dodger Dogs and large beers and settled into the excellent seats Tony had obtained behind the Atlanta Braves dugout.

The stadium has always been an important stop in the many years I’ve wasted watching sports events. There have been great ones —my first World Series, playoff games, beer, friends, and harmless, mindless days. Through it all, I’ve never completely given my heart to the Dodgers. When Kirk Gibson crushed the A’s with his 1988 World Series home run, I had a bad feeling in my gut that Oakland, my hometown’s team, was doomed. I still feel bad about it. I am probably the only person in the Southland who feels that way.

The stadium also has great allure for me as student of the political fix. Its construction was one of the greatest fixes in Los Angeles history, a brilliant collaboration between Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, City Hall and the Los Angeles Times, with its slanted political coverage. If Walter had been alive and running the Dodgers, instead of his son Peter, the fix would have been in again and a football stadium would have been built next to a refurbished baseball park. The O’Malleys would have been richer and we wouldn’t have had McCourt.

All that open space around the stadium cries out for development. A friend who was then a City Hall aide and I used to fantasize about it during slow innings. We’d ring the fringes of the parking lot with condos—Stadium Gardens. We’d put restaurants, bars and shops all around the ballpark. You couldn’t get out without surrendering to the temptation of buying a drink or a meal. We had the vision, but not the money.

McCourt had a similar vision but he and his wife Jamie couldn’t resist the temptation of becoming high spending, flashy LA big shots. As has happened to so many like them, their story has become one of broken dreams and the sudden shock of no longer being able to get a good table.

Enough of broken dreams. The game was great. After Matt Kemp won it with a homerun, scoring Andre Ethier, Tony and I high fived like mad with the two nice guys seated in front of us Then we rode the shuttle back to Union Station and joined our wives for dinner at Traxx. Tony’s wife Carol had no trouble getting us a good table.


April 6, 2011

L.A. public campaign finance law threatened

The Los Angeles city public finance law is in trouble. The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority is likely to overturn an important part of Arizona’s finance law, which is like L.A’s. If that happens, L.A. will have to follow the court ruling and its statute will be greatly weakened.

At issue is the provision of the city law providing for partial public financing of city election campaigns. Candidates who can show serious public support—collecting a certain amount of contributions on their own—are entitled to city funds. Including the primary and general elections, these range from up to $225,000 for city council candidates to $1,467,000 for mayor. In addition, the city will provide more funds to candidates who are outspent by a candidate who is not accepting public funds and is not subject to its requirements, including participation in debates and spending limits.
The Arizona law has a similar provision. When an Arizona publicly financed candidate is being outspent by a candidate outside the system, the state provides a certain amount matching funds.

The idea behind these provisions are to level the playing field, taking away some of the advantages of rich or well funded high spenders. But at a hearing on a suit to overturn this section of the Arizona law, Chief Justice John Roberts objected to whole notion of leveling the playing field.

This hostility toward public financing was behind a previous high court conservative majority vote in the Citzens United. As a result, corporations and other organizations to give unlimited amounts of money to so-called independent groups that support candidates. Given the vote on Citizens United, it appears the high court will rule against the Arizona statute.

“Depressing,” is how the principal author of the Los Angeles law describes the situation. Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said that if the Supreme Court weakens the Arizona law, Los Angeles would have to abandon its matching provision.

The goal of the court conservative majority and the conservatives who support them, Stern said, is “non-regulation” of campaign finance and “let the market place run wild.” It would, he said, unleash a “tsunami” of campaign contributions.

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