Sometimes in endless reveries spent mulling the state of things, I hit a mind block where I can’t make heads or tails of what is going on, or where it leads.
That’s when I ask myself, “What if....”
What if we got down to work together and actually tried to identify our communal problems and to solve them, or at least make things better, with mutual respect and a genuine desire to balance the competing needs, values and interests that each of us brings to the table?
I bring this up in the context of the rush by Los Angeles city officials to make a historic decision on the future of downtown and the whole Southern California region that will continue to impact us for decades to come.
Football — that’s all it’s about. How truly L.A. is that?
Anschutz Entertainment Group sees a chance to get rich by bringing professional football back to L.A. two decades after the National Football League abandoned us and pulled the Raiders and Rams out for the financial advantages of the teams’ owners in St. Louis and Oakland.
This double desertion of the nation’s second largest media market ought to have set in motion a lot of introspective navel-gazing among the rich and powerful. But it didn’t.
With the tearing down of a wing of that white elephant, the L.A. Convention Center, and rebuilding it, along with Farmers Field stadium for AEG to run for its own advantage as part of its Staples Center/LA Live/hotel-condo complex, Los Angeles is committing itself to transforming downtown into a Times Square-like entertainment zone. This zone will contain luxury hotels, restaurants and bars in an artificial environment lit 24/7 by dozens of digital billboards. And it will be graced by traffic that at times will convert what is so often merely a time-consuming effort to drive through downtown into an impossible journey.
In theory, the convention center will spawn new hotels with 5,000 more rooms. That would take L.A. from 15th place in the hierarchy of convention-friendly cities, competing against Sacramento, to the first rung of desirable cities like New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco — even San Diego.
But independent experts call that theory a fantasy. Football stadiums and convention centers don’t drive economic development anywhere. They are not what make the top cities for conventions desirable.
If you listen to the claims made by city officials and AEG, you would believe that the buzz around the globe will be how exciting and fun and glamorous Los Angeles is, now that it has a football stadium and two teams to play in it, along with a public transportation system that someday could take you from Farmers Field to Santa Monica, where the living is easy and the beaches are beckoning.
But it’s not up to you to decide whether this is a good thing, or whether it could be better. Even the people of Los Angeles don’t have much of a say. It’s solely up to the 800-pound gorilla in Los Angeles — the developers, contractors and labor unions that buy the politicians and call the shots.
This was a done deal even before it was made public. The governor and the Legislature provided an exemption from a key element of the state’s environmental law to speed the project through the legal processes. City officials have sped approval with little scrutiny. Now they’ve cut by 60% the time for public debate about the development agreement that gives AEG the control it needs to do almost anything it wants.
Only last week did L.A.’s Planning Commission spend a whole day taking up the 10,000-page Environmental Impact Report, development agreement and other complex documents. Commissioners cared mostly about chargers for electric cars, bike racks, cost of a dog park and guarantees that every Farmers Field employee gets a “living wage.”
So I ask myself this:
What if we took a larger view of ourselves, examined the costs and benefits of developer Ed Roski’s alternative stadium proposal in the City of Industry? What if we conducted a truly independent analysis of all the issues — economic impact and job creation, environmental and transportation impacts, the long-term quality of all our lives, and the opportunity for sustainable communities throughout a vast region?
What if L.A. County, for the first time in its history, operated as if our lives, our fortunes, our hopes and dreams were all bound together and we were making rational decisions for mutual benefit?
Wouldn’t that be revolutionary?
RON KAYE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share your thoughts and stories with him.