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."