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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Governor's decision on Industry stadium plan could benefit other California NFL cities

The signing of legislation on Thursday that would exempt the venue from state environmental laws, would compel Schwarzenegger to do the same for potential deals in the Bay Area and San Diego.

October 23, 2009|SAM FARMER

What was good news Thursday for people who want to bring pro football back to Los Angeles could wind up being even better news for those California cities that already have NFL teams.

Here's the bottom line: After years of resistance, this state is at long last willing to hop through hoops for the country's No. 1 sports league.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that will make it easier to build a 75,000-seat football stadium in the city of Industry, by exempting the venue from state environmental laws.

While that doesn't guarantee that the stadium will actually be built -- it's up to an NFL owner to pony up the cash for that -- it does remove the biggest hurdle by far in the entitlement process. The governor's rationale for doing something so dramatic -- in one of the most environmentally sensitive states, no less -- is he's been promised the project will create more than 18,000 jobs. That would be a huge boost to the local economy.

So why should the hometown fans of the Chargers, 49ers and Raiders be cheering?

Because if the governor signed that legislation for the Industry project, he would be compelled do the same for potential stadium deals in the Bay Area and San Diego, provided the planners of those projects promised the same type of jaw-dropping job numbers.

(Let's face it, if a new stadium gets built in Northern California, it will be the 49ers who get it done, and the Raiders would be the second tenant. The NFL will not back a one-team stadium in the Bay Area.)

Among the California teams -- and really among all NFL teams -- the Chargers have the greatest ability to relocate. For three months every year, they can leave their current Qualcomm Stadium lease without threat of a lawsuit, as long as they pay off the existing bonds, which now are around $50 million but decrease significantly each year.

The Chargers are determined to be in a new stadium sometime soon, whether it's in San Diego or 100 miles north, and they're beyond restless about that. But if a relocation were easy and made complete economic sense, someone would have made one by now, because Industry is far from the first slam-dunk, we-can-do-it stadium proposal to come down the pipeline.

By no means is this to say an Industry stadium will not happen. In some ways, this project is further along than any before it, and developer Ed Roski has the benefit of being out of the L.A. political loop. For the most part, he can call the shots -- and that's appealing to the NFL. But as stunning as the drawings and videos and architectural models are, this isn't the defining act that will bring football back to L.A. after 15 seasons.

What will bring football back is the owner of an existing team saying his financial situation in his current city is so dire that it makes more sense to move to Southern California and privately finance a stadium, which could include buying his way out of his current lease, paying an NFL relocation fee, and giving up a piece of his team to Roski.

If you build it, they will come?

No, it's: If they will come, you can build it.

Then there's the option of Roski's buying a team outright and moving it into his new stadium. Seeing as most of his assets are tied up in real estate and a casino, and these aren't the best of times for those things, it seems highly unlikely that he'd pay for a team and stadium, a transaction that would run north of $2 billion.

Regardless, Roski is a deal-maker. He played a major role in getting Staples Center built. He says he plans to go team shopping after the NFL season. There are several teams in addition to the Chargers that will listen. Jacksonville is in a bad situation, in a market that can't (or won't) support the team. Minnesota has been trying for years to get a new stadium. Buffalo is another small-market relocation candidate.

And there are always the 49ers and Raiders, who have yet to get a deal done in their own backyard.

In fact, if you count the L.A. market, the NFL's four biggest stadium headaches are in this state. A few years ago, while pitching the Coliseum in a meeting with NFL owners, the governor told them he'd love to see five pro football teams in California.

"You'll be lucky if you wind up with one," shot back Jerry Richardson, Carolina Panthers owner and former head of the stadium committee who for years has been fed up with what he considers California foot-dragging.

Now, if the Industry stadium creates 18,000 jobs -- a number many experts think is inflated -- and stadium deals in San Diego and the Bay Area create 36,000 more, maybe it's the NFL that winds up solving California's fiscal crisis.

Who wouldn't cheer that?

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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