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Bill Rosendahl's inquiring mind

The Los Angeles city councilman says he's not a skeptic, just a person who needs answers before committing millions of dollars to a football stadium downtown.

March 30, 2011|Steve Lopez
  • L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl is making a list of stadium questions.
L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl is making a list of stadium questions.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl once hosted a TV show on the issues of the day, so he's used to being an interrogator. No surprise, then, that he's come up with 38 questions so far on the proposal to build a football stadium in the middle of downtown Los Angeles and fuse it to the Convention Center.

Questions such as:

"Can anyone name an event or two that needs to have a football stadium connected to a Convention Center in order to make their event work?"

"Since taxes on tickets would normally flow into the general fund to help pay for services such as police officers, wouldn't the use of ticket taxes to pay off the bonds be defined as a public subsidy?"

It's refreshing to see someone at City Hall counterbalance the salivating and panting from city officials — chiefly Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — since Anschutz Entertainment Group has started pushing its idea of leasing city land at a steal, then dropping an NFL team into a giant bowl that would sit empty more than 300 days a year.

I'm not saying I'm entirely against the idea. It would be fun to have a pro football team to cheer and to boo, especially if it brings a few decent jobs. And think of the tremendous opportunity for our great medical communities to research the debilitating effects of multiple head injuries.

But as I've said before, the terms have to be right for citizens, not for AEG's $7-billion man — Philip Anschutz — or for the band of barons who make up the National Football League.

On Tuesday, City Council President Eric Garcetti told me he'd be using a new team of outside economic experts to scrutinize the stadium proposal. He also named a council committee to do the same and added Rosendahl to the team, calling him "the leading skeptic." Also on the committee are council members Tony Cardenas, Jan Perry, Tom LaBonge and Ed Reyes.

"The city's in the driver's seat," Rosendahl told me, saying it's important for AEG to understand that "we're not the beggar in the room."

Rosendahl didn't describe himself as a skeptic but simply as someone who needs answers before he knows whether he's for or against. He told me he'd like to know why, if the city is helping finance a stadium, it doesn't get a piece of the $700 million that Farmers Insurance agreed to pay AEG for naming rights. Both he and Garcetti said they've heard from lots of constituents wanting to know whether there'd be any risk to taxpayers, despite promises to the contrary from AEG's local chief, Tim Leiweke.

If you're keeping score, you know we now have two committees and one team of outside experts looking at the proposal. The one not yet mentioned in this column is the mayor's so-called NFL Blue Ribbon Commission. Nothing against the fine members of that group, but the words "blue ribbon" are usually a tip-off that well-connected rubber-stampers are in the house, so don't expect any of them to find the turd in the punch bowl.

Not that AEG would consider everyone on Garcetti's committee as irritating as Rosendahl. Perry has said, "If anyone can do a project of this magnitude, it's AEG." But fortunately, Garcetti didn't pick Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who was last seen wearing an "AEG!" starter jacket and turning cartwheels across the City Hall lawn.

Speaking of cheerleading for downtown projects, the City Council recently offered a tax break worth up to $79 million to the developer of two new buildings. And the council ignored critics Tuesday and voted to allow flashing signs and illuminated graphics on skyscrapers in a new sign district.

Why not a 102-story whorehouse, massage parlor and marijuana dispensary with enough lighting to be seen from space?

Rosendahl initially cast the lone vote against the new light show but in a later vote reversed himself.

When I checked to see why nobody is answering Rosendahl's questions, Sharon Tso, executive officer for the chief legislative analyst, said that the proposal lacks specifics at the moment but that answers to all of his questions will be forthcoming.

Rosendahl isn't always as good at following through as he is asking the questions, so we have to hope he's willing to knock some heads, so to speak, in his new committee assignment. Meanwhile, he's busy preparing his fourth series of questions this week, centered on the environmental impact of the stadium, including the anticipated traffic nightmares.

And he still wants to know how $445 million in existing debt would be paid off if AEG knocks down part of the Convention Center and rebuilds it. He's also had numerous questions on AEG's request for the city to float $350 million in bonds, among other items of concern.

"How is it possible to contend that no public money will be used while at the same time ask the city to sell bonds? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that it will require public money to be used, and that the risk to the taxpayers hasn't yet been calculated?"

"Why does the developer need the city to sell bonds? Why don't they borrow the money themselves to replace the lost convention space?"

"If improvements to the infrastructure around the stadium are needed, who will pay for them?"

"In the best and worst case scenarios, how much revenue could the convention center lose during and after construction, and who would make up the losses?"

What a pest.

Let's hope he doesn't stop.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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