Business & Economy

NFL stadium critics warn of LA traffic nightmare, as AEG makes final push for approval

In this rendering released by AEG, the proposed football stadium to house a NFL team in Los Angeles is seen.
In this rendering released by AEG, the proposed football stadium to house a NFL team in Los Angeles is seen.

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Traffic congestion remains a major concern as the Los Angeles City Planning Commission considers the environmental impact report on AEG’s proposed 76,000-seat downtown football stadium. The developer has promised to address the issue. Critics have been nearly drowned out by a political tidal wave of support.

It would be easy enough to write off naysayers of a downtown L.A. football stadium as NIMBYs opposed to any development in their backyard. But you can’t easily say that about Eric Ares, 29, who grew up just a few blocks from where AEG built Staples Center and wants to add a football stadium.

“As a teenager, I saw the development of Staples Center and L.A. Live,” Ares said recently as he stood outside City Hall. “I have relatives who’ve worked at that stadium. I understand these things create jobs.

Ares, who attended Loyola High School and graduated from Boston College with degrees in history and theology, said he knows the downside of these large projects too.

“I also have friends and people I’ve known through my career who have lost their housing because of that.”

Affordable housing, he said, was either torn down or became scarcer as gentrification increased rents around Staples. He fears the same will happen with a new football stadium.

Ares is an organizer with the Play Fair Farmers Field Coalition, which is seeking to squeeze more concessions from AEG. He and other critics have faced a football fever that’s gripped City Hall for months.

“We need a football team,” City Councilman Ed Reyes said, lamenting the fact that L.A. hasn’t had a professional football team since the Rams and Raiders left town nearly two decades ago.

“Many folks are saying ‘I’ve got two or three generations now without experiencing tailgating, without experiencing the thrill of a Sunday football game.’”

Those games are expected to draw upwards of 25,000 cars to downtown — making traffic congestion and air pollution major issues.

As part of a state law designed to limit legal challenges to the stadium plan, AEG has promised to reduce car trips by about a third by convincing people to take public transit. It’s a strategy supported by environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Councilman Dennis Zine, a stadium supporter and former LAPD traffic cop, doubts AEG can achieve its goal.

“I think that number is way too high. I don’t think people are going to do that,” he said. “We are going to be congested with traffic. We’re not going to take people out of their cars. We are glued to our cars.”

AEG has suggested it may include free public transit with game tickets, and build park-and-ride facilities to meet its traffic goals. It has until five years after the stadium’s built to meet those goals.

For community organizer Ares, that’s bad news for the mostly poor and minority communities nearby.

“What that means is there’s going to be much more traffic in an already congested area,” he said of the stadium that will sit near the intersection of the 10 and 110 Freeways. “That affects those who live in the area in terms of air quality.”

Ayres plans to address the Planning Commission and re-state his case for a more aggressive traffic plan, along with the creation of a trust fund for low-income housing. The panel is not expected to make major changes as it considers AEG’s development plan.

Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) is one of the largest and most successful developers of sports venues in the world. It’s owned by reclusive billionaire Philip Anschutz, who lives in Colorado.

The company’s headquarters are adjacent to Staples, and its public face is president Tim Leiweke. It is Leiweke who has guided the project through City Hall, often meeting with elected officials personally. He's also marshaled the support of powerful labor unions, especially the building trades that would work on a stadium project.

“We’re nearing the end of our entitlement process for Farmers Field,” Leiweke said in a company video posted on the Web a few days ago.

He sang the praises of the proposed stadium that already has a multimillion-dollar naming rights agreement with L.A.'s biggest insurance company, Farmers. He also noted how fast AEG has been able to move through the required public and environmental review process.

“Two-and-a-half years is actually a very good timeline for a project this big and this complicated,” he said. “We are appreciative that the city, like us, see this as one of the most important decisions in the history of Los Angeles.”

Some community activists complain the well-connected Leiweke has railroaded city officials — the public had only 45 days to review and comment on the 10,000-page environmental impact report. Elected leaders deny that, but concede they wanted to accommodate AEG’s timeline. It wants to break ground next year and start playing football in 2017.

“The harsh reality is we need jobs,” Councilman Reyes said.

Like most elected leaders in L.A., Reyes supports the stadium and AEG’s plan to rebuild part of the convention center — a move the city hopes will attract more conventions and revenue to L.A.

There may still be lawsuits after the City Council’s expected approval in two weeks, but AEG has negotiated an expedited legal review process. Soon, its main focus will be cutting a deal with a football team to come to L.A. — and convincing the NFL to sign off early next spring.

Los Angeles Planning Commission staff report on proposed NFL stadium