AEG President Tim Leiweke, with Councilwoman Jan Perry, said the next step… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
A coalition of anti-poverty groups has agreed to drop a lawsuit involving the developer of a proposed NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles, clearing the last remaining legal obstacle to the city's approval of the $1.2-billion project.
Developer Anschutz Entertainment Group said Thursday that it has pledged $15 million for a low-income housing trust fund to end the litigation, which sought to invalidate a recent state law that limits legal challenges against the stadium.
The settlement comes days after the deadline for filing environmental challenges to the stadium. No such lawsuits were filed, AEG chief Tim Leiweke said, which means the company has the entitlements to start building as soon as it wants.
"We could literally push dirt tomorrow," said Leiweke, who thinks the city's chances of attracting a team during the next NFL owner's meeting in March are improved. "We now have the ability to stand up and say, 'Everyone in the community is behind this,' " he said.
Leiweke said the next step is to find a new owner for AEG, and he hinted that an announcement may "come sooner than people expect."
Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz announced that he was selling AEG in September, days before the Los Angeles City Council signed off on a set of agreements for the 72,000-seat stadium, concluding that the project's economic benefits outweigh any increases in traffic, air pollution, noise and light glare.
The Play Fair at Farmers Field coalition sued the state in August, challenging the law that limits the time frame for environmental challenges to AEG's stadium to 175 days.
The lawsuit pitted the company, seen as a major catalyst of downtown revitalization, against community activists who have long contended that poor residents were being pushed out of the city's core by higher rents.
Along with the promise of money for low-income housing, the settlement announced Thursday will require AEG to pay for more park space, traffic and air pollution mitigation, and a commitment to hiring disadvantaged workers, including veterans, ex-felons and those on public assistance.
The concessions will help protect low-income people who live in downtown neighborhoods near the stadium, said Becky Dennison, whose group, Los Angeles Community Action Network, was part of the lawsuit coalition.
The deal was reached after months of negotiations that Leiweke characterized as sometimes heated. He said a turning point came when he realized that the coalition only wanted to make sure a football stadium improved the lives of those in the community, saying that what began as a legal negotiation "soon evolved into a cooperative dialogue about how we could work together to achieve the common goal of serving the needs of all segments of the community."
The settlement comes on top of roughly $50 million in concessions the company says it has already agreed to pay, including $10 million for a new light-rail platform at a Metro Blue Line Station and $8 million in upgrades to a plaza outside the Convention Center.
The announcement of the new concessions did little to settle Pico-Union resident Victor Citrin, who lives a few blocks from the proposed stadium, which is planned near the intersection of the 10 and 110 freeways, next to Staples Center and L.A. Live.
Citrin said he remembers hearing similar promises before Staples Center opened. But he said AEG has not been a good neighbor, with limousines parked on the streets and the racket of car horns on game nights. He worries that the congestion will grow even worse with a stadium, and noted that AEG plans to use the stadium for events beyond football games.
"We're going to get traffic and we're going to get pollution, not just on the eight football games a year and a couple Super Bowls," he said.