By the time I reached the Mar Vista Recreation Center Monday night, the placed was overcrowded with Westside neighborhood activists and union people braving a hot, stuffy room to have their say on the proposed downtown National Football League stadium.
The crowd extended outside the rec center. Neighborhood representatives hammered Tim Leiweke, the stadium developer, with questions so painfully detailed that they could have only come from veterans of many neighborhood council meetings. The union members, one by one, hailed the stadium as a sure cure for unemployment in Los Angeles. Alice Walton, who runs the City Hall Maven blog, twittered furiously, reporting on the proceedings for those fortunate enough not to be there.
In any case, we all could have stayed home. There was no need for comments. The meeting showed this deal is wired for City Hall approval. As the late broadcaster Chick Hearn used to say when the Lakers clinched a victory, ''You can put this one in the refrigerator. The door's closed, the light's out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the Jell-O is jiggling.''
Leiweke, president of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which wants to build the stadium, pretty well tied up the deal when he told the town meeting at the rec center that he is reducing the amount of the bonds he is requesting from the city from $350 million to somewhere in “the high 200s.” This would reduce the city’s interest payment on the bonds, which should give the few City Hall doubters reason to vote for the deal. AEG can do this, he said, by paying for two parking structures for the stadium, rather than using city bond funds.
Two potential city council skeptics told me it sounded pretty good to them. Bill Rosendahl, who convened the town meeting in his district, said Leiweke’s revised proposal was “a very great plus.” Paul Koretz, who represents a neighboring Westside district, said, “the project keeps improving. Anything that reduces the city’s cost is a real positive.”
Leiweke dominated the show. Coat off but still wearing a vest, he was a star salesman as he touted the stadium, which would be located at the convention center, near AEG’s Staples Center and its LA Live development. As it should be with a great salesman, he didn’t dwell on a potential obstacle—the clout of Ed Roski and his Majestic Realty Co., promoters of an NFL stadium in the city of Industry.
As Victor Valle reported in his excellent book “City of Industry: Genealogies of Power in Southern California,” Roski all but runs Industry, a San Gabriel Valley city with few residents, many industries and warehouses and a huge redevelopment agency. This agency could finance the stadium with bonds and Roski doesn’t have to worry about city council approval. Roski got the state legislature to waive a pesky requirement for an environmental impact report. He can bedevil Leiweke with lawsuits, probably claiming violations of the environmental requirements Roski had lifted for his own stadium plan. He is a master of the Southland’s low-life politics.
With all this facing him, Leiweke has to move fast. He told me that he must have a deal with Los Angeles completed by the end of July so he can go to the NFL with evidence that he and his boss, Phil Anschutz, are ready to procure an NFL team for his stadium. He’s got to do this before the NFL prepares its 2016 schedule, which he hopes would include an LA team. If there’s a delay at LA City Hall, Roski, with his Industry redevelopment financing in place, could grab the prize.
Roski, however, must deal with another factor, the three guiding principles of the real estate business--location, location, location.
To succeed, an NFL team would need the kind of free spending big shot fans—some rich, others faux rich—who buy the high-priced Lakers tickets, except many more of them. You find them in the most affluent parts of the Westside and the West Valley. in the entertainment industry complexes, as well as in downtown businesses and law firms. Would they rather go downtown, now Jack Nicholson country, thanks to the Lakers and their most famous fan? Or could Roski lure them many miles over the freeways to the San Gabriel Valley and the city of Industry, a rich but plain place with its warehouses and political power?
The Ramirez Canyon saga, involving Barbra Streisand’s old Santa Monica Mountain estate, was called “the gnarliest local land use fight in California” by the political blog Calbuzz. Now this classic Westside saga has entered a new phase.
In one way or another, this issue has been going on for 18 years. As Calbuzz noted, what makes the fight of interest beyond the mountains is that it shows “the maddeningly minute complexities woven through the budget” and how each item “apparently comes equipped with its own fierce band of special interest sponsors and rooters.”
I’ve been writing about the mountain conservation fights for a long time and I got interested in this one after my daughter Robin Smith told me about it. Robin works for the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority, part of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
Streisand donated her 22-acre place in Ramirez Canyon to the conservancy, which has acquired thousands of acres in the mountains, saving it from developers. The conservancy is the legacy of the late Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, who started a movement to save the mountains many years ago. The conservancy is beloved by mountain preservationists, hikers and other nature lovers who have a lot of political clout.
The conservancy, which has its executive offices on the Ramirez Canyon property, wants to make the canyon a park for disabled campers hikers and for visits by poor children and the old. Park backers also say the park would provide a key link in the Santa Monica Mountains trail. They warn that if the property were sold, the new owners would bar the public.
A group of Ramirez Canyon area residents oppose the plan, saying it will clog a narrow road into the canyon and increase fire danger. They fear the park will be rented out for parties. They also say a public agency shouldn’t occupy offices as fine as one of the Streisand homes. And, they say, the state needs the money—up to $15 million—it could get from the sale.
In his recent budget, Gov. Jerry Brown sided with the residents and proposed the sale.
Digging around, I found the Brown plan is in deep trouble in Sacramento, maybe near death. The chairman of the Assembly budget committee, Bob Blumenfeld, a San Fernando Valley Democrat, sent me a statement indicating the sale plan has been dropped:
“At my request, the Legislative Counsel evaluated the governor’s plan to place Ramirez Canyon on the surplus property list as a precursor to selling it. They concluded that this would be illegal I am pleased the governor has suspended his efforts to authorize the sale of Ramirez Canyon through the budget. I know the natural beauty and ecological importance of this property from first-hand experience. I remain committed to keeping it as an environmental treasure for public use for generations to come.”
Generations to come might be too big a promise for a legislator in this term limit era. But as long as Blumenfeld, who once was the conservancy’s director of governmental affairs, is around, don’t count on the property being sold. Another opponent of the sale is Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley of Santa Monica who said “the sale of state part or conservancy land for a short-term budget fix or to pay down state debt sets a dangerous precedent.”
Ramirez Canyon area residents who favor the sale are set to go on fighting. I talked to Steven A. Amerikaner, attorney for the homeowners’ group, the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund. He sent me material detailing the many years of the dispute and assured me the residents would continue to make their point in court and in Sacramento. The fight goes on.