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Over-the-Counter Hamlet Ups the Stakes

September 06, 1987|CHRISTOPHER B. LEINBERGER | Christopher B. Leinberger, an urban development consultant, is managing partner of Robert Charles Lesser & Co. in Beverly Hills. He lives in Santa Fe, N.M

The current controversy over the Raiders' move to Irwindale from their present home at the Coliseum raises a number of striking questions and disturbing issues. For instance, how can a city of approximately 1,000 residents raise $115 million to build what the city's redevelopment consultant has predicted will be "the finest football stadium in the country?" And why are the Los Angeles Raiders moving to this minuscule San Gabriel Valley city anyway?

Irwindale's ability to raise vast sums of money to lend to Al Davis to build the stadium is testimony to the city's taking advantage of being the right place at the right time. Irwindale is in the only growth path not blocked by high land prices and severe traffic congestion, as in Orange County, or slow growth moratoriums, as in Ventura County. With Los Angeles County pretty much built out, much of the ballooning growth generated by the 12.5 million person-strong Southern California economy can can only go into the San Gabriel Valley and farther out toward San Bernardino and Riverside.

With this tremendous growth flooding over them, Irwindale may not have had prestige or people, but it does have land--land that once was gravel pits and now looks like the surface of the moon, but is visible and accessible from two freeways.

Irwindale Redevelopment Agency assembled this land, sold it off for industrial development and reaped tremendous rewards in the range of $35 million. With this as a down payment, the city has become financially respectable and thus able to raise the additional $80 million in bonds required to entice Al Davis' team to what Los Angeles City Councilman Gilbert Lindsay calls "a little hamlet."

The move by the Raiders out of the city of Los Angeles should not be too shocking to Southern Californians. After all, Southern California invented the decentralized, multi-core "urban village" form of development that every metropolitan area in the country is following. We used to have one downtown, one airport and one football team located downtown. Today, we have more than a dozen regional "downtowns": in the Westside, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, and Newport Beach/Costa Mesa in Orange County; five airports; and two football teams, one playing 40 miles south of downtown and one that will be playing 20 miles east.

This decentralizing trend affecting our metropolitan areas has changed every aspect of our urban life, even professional teams. So it is not surprising to see that the New York Giants now play in New Jersey and the old Boston Patriots now play all the way down on the Rhode Island border.

The most disturbing issues that the Raiders' move raises is our very concept of a city in general and its redevelopment agency in particular. Irwindale is a very small city that, like many cities, is controlled by very few people. In the case of Irwindale, four families appear to have significant clout in what gets done and who benefits from it.

As such, it is strikingly similar to the City of Industry, a community of about 500 residents that is really owned and operated by a few individuals. A difference is that Industry, unlike Irwindale, has a well-documented history of abuse by some businessmen of redevelopment powers given to cities by the state. The ability to condemn and assemble property, build infrastructure such as roads, sewage systems and waterlines, and raise money, in most cases using tax-free bonds, gives tremendous power to redevelopment agencies.

This power is supposed to be used to eliminate blight, build housing, preserve neighborhoods and foster economic development. But in the case of the City of Industry, those powers were used to enrich the few insiders who controlled the city.

The issue is whether cities like Industry and Irwindale are really private concerns masquerading as municipalities. Should these cities be members of the Southern California Assn. of Governments or should they be listed on the Pacific Stock Exchange . . . or even the New York Stock Exchange?

A second, equally disturbing issue, whether these city/corporations are traded over the counter or under the table, is that these entities increase competition between different sections of the metropolitan region and may end up being a roadblock to more effective regional government.

It is becoming more and more obvious that many critical problems, such as traffic, pollution, garbage and sewage, must be dealt with on a regional basis. Cooperation is needed to halt the deterioration of the now tarnished Southern California life style.

Without leadership for more regional cooperation, which either has to be given by the mayor of Los Angeles or by a regional agency with some real clout, the Los Angeles area will not be able to achieve its destiny of being North America's leading business, cultural and life-style center. City/corporations like Irwindale and Industry, acting as interlopers, will only make regional cooperation more difficult to achieve.

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