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Plan Might Help Pave the Way for an NFL Stadium

The City Council will consider a proposal that would allow property taxes to be used to fund street improvements near the Coliseum.

September 26, 2005|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Although city officials have promised not to use public funds to build a professional football stadium in Los Angeles, the City Council will meet next week to consider a plan that would allow the use of property taxes to construct a parking garage and improve streets that could serve a stadium.

The council will hold a public hearing with the city redevelopment commission Friday to consider extending the life of the Hoover Redevelopment Project for another 12 years.

The proposal would also extend the Community Redevelopment Agency's powers of eminent domain for the area, and increase the amount of property tax dollars collected and bonds issued to finance projects, including infrastructure for a stadium.

Backers say the proposed improvements would not just benefit a potential NFL team but the surrounding community, including the museums around Exposition Park and nearby residential areas. And they said the revitalization is justified even if the NFL does not come to the area.

But taxpayer advocates on Friday criticized the proposal to spend up to $25 million in property tax funds on what the city describes as "infrastructure" improvements. The critics call the proposal an end run around the promise not to subsidize an NFL franchise in Los Angeles.

"They are talking out of both sides of their mouth," said Jean Heinl, president of Californians United for Redevelopment Education. "The private sector should pay for anything to do with the stadium."

City officials confirmed Friday that there has been talk of using redevelopment funds to improve streets, sidewalks and lighting, and to build parking facilities to serve a stadium that would be erected inside the shell of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But officials added that the ideas have not been turned into formal proposals.

"Those are potential projects," said Councilman Bernard Parks. "But no one has defined any specific project."

Taxpayer advocates, including Jonathan Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., are watching the proposal closely because the stadium proposal has been identified in legal documents by the agency as a key reason for extending the redevelopment plan.

"Specifically, the changes to the redevelopment plan will facilitate, but not ensure, the installation of a National Football League franchise in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum by enabling the agency's financing of infrastructure improvements within Exposition Park and the community which surrounds it," said an official notice sent to surrounding property owners.

State legislation approved last October would allow the City Council to extend the Hoover project without having to determine that the area is blighted -- a usual requirement for such action.

Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), who wrote the legislation, said the extension of redevelopment powers would be a big step in the city's long quest for a pro football team.

"It significantly enhances the chance of getting it done," Ridley-Thomas said.

Parks, whose district includes the Coliseum, and redevelopment board member Madeline Janis-Aparicio prefer to describe extending redevelopment powers in Exposition Park as taking advantage of the NFL's potential interest in the area to improve the surrounding community rather than to benefit a pro team.

The NFL is considering whether to invest $400 million in building a new stadium. Redevelopment law allows the property taxes generated by any new construction to go to the agency to promote redevelopment.

Parks said he envisions using the tax money to create commercial and residential development in the area around the Coliseum, similar to the new development around Staples Center. Improving the area would also make it more attractive to the NFL, Parks said.

"I think it's critical in the sense of giving a clear indication that, although the city is not going to invest in their stadium and is not going to invest in their team, it is going to invest in the area around the stadium," Parks said.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has also vowed that no public funds will be used to build a stadium, also sees the redevelopment plan as in keeping with that promise.

"It is not inconsistent," said Janelle Erickson, a spokeswoman for Villaraigosa. "The redevelopment funds will support the museums, Expo Park, the senior center, as well as the Coliseum."

But critics take the opposite view.

"It is not consistent with what they promised," said Ralph Shaffer, a retired history professor who chaired a Los Angeles County Grand Jury's critical report on redevelopment in 1994.

Others question whether new parking facilities and other public improvements would be built unless the NFL comes to town.

Parks said better parking facilities and other improvements would be justified even if the NFL does not return.

To justify the need for parking, he cited a charity walk sponsored by Revlon that brought 60,000 people into the area, as well as soccer games that attract more than 70,000 to the Coliseum.

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