The Los Angeles City Council Friday heard an avalanche of voices in favor of a new downtown football stadium project that's projected to bring thousands of jobs and new tax revenue to L.A.
Legendary Los Angeles Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who led the team to the Super Bowl three decades ago, was among the first to testify. The Rams left L.A. in 1994.
“When the Rams left, L.A. lost a piece of itself," he said. "It's time to get it back."
Hundreds of people packed City Hall, most of them supporters. Roosevelt High School football coach Javier Cid lamented that the young players surrounding him at the podium had never seen an NFL team play.
"I think it’s about time that we get a football team so these kids can have the same experiences that we all had," Cid said, recalling watching the Rams and Raiders play in L.A.
One of the city's basketball legends — Magic Johnson — threw his star power behind the project. The former Laker does business with the company that would build the stadium.
"This project brings hope to the city in a time that the city needs hope," Johnson said. "The main thing that it brings is jobs."
Under a tentative proposed deal, Anschutz Entertainment Group would tear down the west hall of the convention center near Staples Center and build a 72,000 seat football stadium — if it’s able to attract a professional team. AEG plans to spend $1.2 billion.
The city would issue $275 million in tax exempt bonds to build a new convention hall. As part of the deal, AEG would pay off most of those bonds. The rest would come from new tax revenue from the project. If those revenues fall short, AEG would cover the difference.
Only a handful of the nearly 50 people who spoke opposed the project. Dennis Hathaway of Los Angeles objected to new billboards that would go up near the 10 and 110 freeways.
"Why is the city lowering itself to this sort of crass commercialism," Hathaway said of the project's 50,000 new square feet of billboards and other signage.
A Sierra Club spokesman raised concerns about air pollution from the tens of thousands of extra cars that would flood the area.
Traffic is a major issue for the project. Jane Scott, who lives near the proposed stadium site, worried about cars clogging her street and parking.
"There has to be something very, very permanent to protect our community," she said.
Scott also expressed skepticism about the approval process. “I’m sure this is a done deal, and this is a dog and pony show."
Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the area, responded.
“I need to assure you that this council does not see this as a dog and pony show," he said. "We will have a planning meeting to focus on those issues.”
City and AEG officials promised that the traffic, parking, and pollution issues would be examined and addressed in an environmental impact report.
Councilman Paul Koretz said he likes the project’s financing structure and the extra tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue it might bring to the deficit-ridden city.
“It’s hard not to get excited about this project," Koretz said.
His colleagues overwhelmingly agreed.
AEG chief Tim Lieweke called it a fair deal for Los Angeles, and dismissed critics.
“I know occasionally we had to deal with cavemen — citizens against virtually everything," Lieweke said.
The head of one of the world's largest sports and entertainment companies said AEG's proposal would bring much needed jobs to L.A., especially in the construction trades. He urged city council members to approve the deal.
"This group must take this partnership and get the NFL and convention business back in L.A."
Next week, the city council’s expected to vote on a non-binding but significant memorandum of understanding with AEG that would provide the framework for an agreement.
The council would consider a final agreement after the completion of an environmental impact report, which is due around next May.