Bill Boyarsky
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July 16, 2011

Carmageddon creates jobs

While Angelenos fretted about Carmageddon, some 200 construction workers labored through the weekend tearing down the Mulholland Drive bridge, just a small part of the roughly 18,000 employed on the entire 405 widening project.

This large number of jobs in the midst of a deep recession and high unemployment is one of the generally unnoticed benefits of a project that has drawn many complaints from motorists furious at any interruption of their driving.

“This is very important in creating jobs,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told me Saturday morning. The 405 project, he noted, would complete the high occupancy vehicle lane system around the metropolitan area.

I talked to the mayor on the phone as he was headed south on the Harbor Freeway to the funeral of Ramona Hahn, widow of County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. Traffic was pretty clear, he said, although he expected it to get worse later in the day as crowds arrive for the big soccer game at the Coliseum. By that time, he’ll be at the city’s emergency operation center.

I live in the heart of Carmageddon country, near Olympic Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, one of the designated detour routes. I rose at 6 a.m., went outside to pick up the newspapers and looked at an empty Olympic Boulevard. Around 7:30 a.m., my wife Nancy and I walked south on Veteran to Pico Boulevard to have breakfast at the Colony. There were hardly any cars on Veteran. Most of the houses we passed had cars parked in driveways and it was unusually quiet. That was because, we realized, there was no sound from the nearby 405, whose constant hum is a presence in our lives. The only noise came from news copters circling above.

Pico was quiet, too. After breakfast, we walked east to Prosser Avenue, noticing several motorcycle cops and police cars. We headed back home, stopping to show two non-English speaking tourists how to get to Macy’s.

Villaraigosa returned my phone call late in the morning. We discussed how Carmageddon related to the big transportation picture in Los Angeles County, which involves construction of two more light rail lines, the Westside subway and the high occupancy freeway lanes.

Construction of all these projects will be speeded up, he said, if Congress passes and President Barack Obama signs the America Fast Forward legislation, which would provide immediate loans to local governments for transportation projects, as well as give them power to issue bonds with a federal tax break. These would be repaid with local revenue. In Los Angeles, the money to speed up transportation projects would be repaid by revenue from a one half-cent sales tax approved by the voters in 2008.
Villaraigosa proposed this a while back to finance completion of the projects in 10 years rather than the 30 that had been originally plan. It’s called the 30-10 plan. “It will create 106,000 jobs in 10 years,” said Villaraigosa, who is going to Washington again to lobby for the plan.

I asked him how it could pass a House of Representatives run by conservative Republicans who hate government spending. He said since the program consists of loans, it actually doesn’t increase spending. More important it’s backed by the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica.

Without much media emphasis on the job aspect, these projects are already putting people to work in a county where unemployment is almost 12 per cent. While construction crews worked on the 405, many miles away, workers had started on the Gold Line light rail extension through the San Gabriel Valley, which business interests there said will create 2,630 construction jobs plus 4,270 more in businesses related to the project.

I looked out the door. At noon, Olympic Boulevard was still quiet. The news copters had gone away. It may get much worse during the weekend but I’ll let others report the bad news.

July 13, 2011

Rosendahl shreds stadium secrecy--maybe

So many questions, so little time. That just about describes the situation when the Los Angeles City Council meets July 29 to finally look behind the curtain of secrecy surrounding the downtown National Football League stadium proposal.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl faced scorn and insults from his colleagues when he got the council to hold the meeting. Accomplishing this took all the talking talent and thick skin he had developed in his years as a television discussion show moderator and executive for cable television companies usually run by brutal bosses.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, chief backer of the stadium deal, and her allies were noticeably hostile to Rosendahl’s efforts to open up the process. All Rosendahl wanted was for Perry’s special stadium committee to obey the Brown Open Meeting Act and that the council have a meeting, open to all, on the proposal. He lost on both counts but Council President Eric Garcetti, using his presidential powers, did schedule the July 29 open council meeting on the stadium.

Blogger Ron Kaye saw Rosendahl’s efforts this way: “What Rosendahl has done is to turn this into a litmus test for City Hall: They are either going to look after the public interest in this stadium deal or they are going to be exposed as nothing but stooges for special interests.”

Here are some questions for the council to consider:

Anschutz Entertainment Group, which wants to build the stadium, has promised to repay the almost $300 million in bonds the city would float for the project. The money would be used to tear down an existing convention center building to make room for the stadium and to build a larger exhibition facility nearby. Could we see this promise in writing, please?

What would happen if Anschutz Entertainment Group can’t or won’t repay the bonds? Would the money then come from the city General Fund, dollars that should go for police, firefighters, libraries and other city services?

And who is actually negotiating with the Anschutz Entertainment Group sharpies? I hope it’s not the members of the council special stadium committee.

What about the city’s precarious finances? The new bonds would balloon the city’s total indebtedness for the combined stadium-convention center expansion project to almost $800 million. What impact would this have on the city’s credit, recently downgraded by Moody’s Investor Services?

What about the possibility of a stadium fiasco, such as the one in Cincinnati reported this week by the Wall Street Journal: The paper described it as “…one of the worst professional sports deals ever struck by a local government, soaking up unprecedented tax dollars and county resources while returning little economic benefit.”

What’s the rush? Tim Leiweke, in charge of the project for Anschutz Entertainment Group, insists the council act by July 31, a deadline that won’t be met because the council’s meeting is July 29. Can’t the council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a big stadium backer, take some time to explore and explain this deal?

“We can vote sometime in August,” Rosendahl said. “If the numbers make sense, if these opportunities make sense, it could be a great deal.”

Thursday, I heard from Councilwoman Perry, who is council president pro tem. In response to my comment that I hoped council members weren't negotiating with AEG, she said talks are in the hands of the chief legislative analyst. He works for the council, by the way.

While her committee is part of a "streamlined process," she said it had "never committed to a deadline" and that the council had agreed only to make a "good faith effort" to finish a draft agreement by the July 31 date sought by AEG.

"There are no secrets here," she said. "To insinuate otherwise only diminishes the process that has been established to take the politics out of the negotiations and protect the city and its taxpayers."

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