Bill Boyarsky
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Back to the past and secret deals

Thumbnail image for bill-300.jpgBack to the past. We’re returning to the old days when a few rich guys shaped Los Angeles in secret while a bewildered and captive city hall stood by.

The L.A. that General Harrison Gray Otis and his son-in-law Harry Chandler and their rich friends created turned out pretty well—San Fernando Valley subdivisions, a plentiful water supply, a harbor, the beginnings of the aircraft-aerospace industry. It wasn’t democratic. It wasn’t pretty. The fat cats got rich. Chandler’s Los Angeles Times boosted the projects and turned a blind eye to corruption. But in a crude way, it worked.

The prospective sale of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns or controls a substantial part of downtown L.A., to some unknown super-rich person or company, raises the possibility of such a modern robber baron taking charge of AEG’s L.A. Live, including the Staples Center and expanding it with a football stadium, more hotels and real estate developments in the surrounding area.

That would come on top of Guggenheim Baseball Management’s purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the baseball stadium and the surrounding parking lot and other real estate just north of downtown for $2 billion.

What these deals have in common with the old days is that they are largely being done in secret and they could have a huge impact on development. I’m glad, I think, that Guggenheim Baseball Management owns the Dodgers, even though ex-owner Frank McCourt still has part of the parking lot. That parking lot could be the site of condos, apartments, office buildings, restaurants and bars, connected to nearby downtown by an MTA line. Those plans would undoubtedly be done in secret, sprung on us quickly and approved without much examination in city hall.

A $300-millionplus city bond issue will help pay for the crown jewel in an expanded L.A. Live project, the football stadium for an NFL team, if one comes here. But we won’t know who is buying AEG until it’s a done deal. Will the new owners make new demands on the city for zoning changes, street expansion, and hotel and building tax breaks that would make L.A. Live really profitable?

Whatever happens, the future of L.A. Live and Dodger Stadium are public matters. .An expanded L.A. Live will undoubtedly further change the entire southern part of downtown L.A., just as Dodger Stadium development will change the north end.

The cheerleading that greeted the Dodgers sale and the secrecy surrounding the AEG sale sounds like the boosterish attitude and secret government of the old days. Like then, today’s Angelenos don’t know what will happen. Hopefully, it will work out as well as the secret and often shady deals of the past.

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