There are dozens of reasons why Los Angeles doesn't have an NFL team, but chief among them is lack of a "can do" attitude from the city's political and opinion leaders. In the week that AEG announced a historic $700 million rights deal for Farmer Field, the boo-birds came out in full force, trying to derail the downtown football stadium before a formal proposal has even been submitted.
Earlier this week, the LA Daily News' Kerry Cavanaugh wrote: "What L.A. needs is a skeptical politician. Some elected leader who is willing to be the skunk at the garden party."
Funny how all I see in LA are skeptical politicians and a City Council filled with skunks. The same day Cavanaugh's column came out, the LA Times ran an article headlined: "L.A. City Council takes cooler view of football stadium plans" and quoted several politicians who laid the ground work for their opposition.
All we've gotten in LA for the past 16 years is a City Council that has done its best to prevent the NFL from coming here. It was City Council who forced Peter O'Malley to abandon plans for a Chavez Ravine football stadium, which ultimately led to the unfortunate sale of the Dodgers. It was the City Council that nixed a very reasonable stadium idea in South Park before it even had a chance to get off the ground. And it was the City Council that tried to shove the Coliseum down the NFL's throats, when the league obviously hated the venue.
While Cavanaugh used the word "skeptical," I'd be more inclined to use words like "obstructionist," "self-interested," or "haters" to describe our local leaders' attitudes and actions towards the NFL.
What LA needs are leaders who are willing to work to get something built, rather than work to get something torn down. What LA needs are politicians who want to make this city great by moving it forward instead of appeasing those who want to hold it back.
This isn't necessarily about having Los Angeles compete with NFL cities like Cleveland or Charlotte. This is really about positioning Los Angeles to compete as a global city with places with like Shanghai and Singapore.
I truly believe that Los Angeles is the greatest city in the world. But there are powerful forces here that are too accepting of the status quo and prevent us from making the investments needed to keep LA positioned as a leading city for the future.
We're a city that has a horrible airport and in some places has a crumbling infrastructure. I'm aghast when I see lines like those from fellow LAObserved writer Bill Boyarsky who question the need for LA to tear down "a perfectly good convention center."
Perhaps Bill and I have very different views of the LA Convention Center and what its purpose should be, but "perfectly good" is one of the last descriptions I'd use. In my view, it's entirely too small and inadequate for a city of LA's size and stature, and we regularly lose conventions to less interesting and less prestigious cities because of it. The West Hall itself is a big blue eyesore along the 110 Freeway, and turning it into a venue that can hold spectacular conventions - as well as football, the Super Bowl, the Final Four, etc. - would be a major boost to the city. I'd argue that it will lead to greater tax revenues from those events and from visitors who stay in city hotels.
Now, while I support building a downtown football stadium, I'd be one of the first to say that the deal has to be right for the city. There are still unanswered questions about the financing of the stadium, the repayment of bonds used to build a convention center addition, the tenant at the stadium, how revenues would be distributed between AEG and an NFL owner, and we still don't have an environmental impact report.
But it would be refreshing if our local political and opinion leaders approached the idea from the standpoint of "how can we make this work for everyone?" rather than "how can we prove this doesn't work for everyone and therefore shouldn't happen?" Columns and interviews in the past week bear out this negative bias in examining the stadium proposal.
There's a certain civic spirit missing from many influential people in this city, who saw AEG executives, business leaders, and a handful of upbeat local politicians high-fiving this past week and simply assumed that the taxpayers were going to get a raw deal. If there's any group that deserves our respect, it's AEG, who has shown the vision and leadership in its developments that is lacking elsewhere in Los Angeles. They've navigated the LA political muck better than anyone, and as a result, they've single-handedly transformed downtown in the last decade and provided several great deals for the city.
Part of the reason for the high-fives was because AEG is the one group with the credibility to get a special venue like this built. But another reason for the optimistic press conference was that Farmers Insurance showed it still believes Los Angeles is a great city, as evidenced by its record $700 million naming rights deal that will help the stadium get be built without taxpayer funds. Such a deal is really historic for the sports industry.
"What's the rush?" asked councilman Paul Krekorian (who hails from my home district) this week.
Well, the rush is that if Los Angeles doesn't get this done soon, then it will lose out on the benefits of having pro football to the City of Industry, which already has its political approval in place. And then it will also lose out on this unique opportunity to take its convention center into the 21st century. Additionally, there are several NFL teams in a position to move in the very near future (Chargers, Vikings, and Rams being the most likely candidates), and they won't come here unless they know a stadium will be built.
But beyond that, I think Los Angeles needs to prove that it can build great things in an organized and efficient way, and not let good ideas die in red tape, bureaucracy, and lawsuits.
Some people may say: "Los Angeles doesn't need the NFL. The sun will still shine every morning." But you could also argue that Los Angeles doesn't need the Lakers, and we'll still see the sun too.
I love professional football and I've wanted a home team to root for since 1995. I believe that most of Southern California wants the NFL here too, but that silent majority simply isn't organized and is not in tune with our complicated local politics to make their voice heard.
However, beyond that, we have an opportunity to get a shining jewel built for Los Angeles that can do more than just bring pro football here. Asking questions and seeking a fair deal for the city is completely understandable. But approaching this project from a "can kill" mindset will prevent us from realizing something special. Los Angeles needs a "can do" attitude.