Farmers Field, a $1.35-billion project, would be adjacent to the L.A. Convention… (AEG )
A $1.2-billion plan for bringing an NFL stadium to Los Angeles passed a major test Thursday, even as anti-poverty activists pressed powerful developer Anschutz Entertainment Group to make millions of dollars in additional concessions.
After 10 and a half hours of review, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's appointees on the Planning Commission signed off on a set of agreements for the 72,000-seat stadium, concluding the project's economic benefits outweigh the "significant and unavoidable" impacts it will have on traffic, air quality, noise and light glare.
The 9-0 vote marked a major victory for AEG, putting the stadium and a related $315-million renovation of the adjacent Convention Center on track for a Sept. 28 vote by the City Council. But Thursday's win was tempered by a warning from one of the stadium's biggest allies, who said a pending legal case is placing the project in jeopardy.
At a separate City Hall hearing on the stadium, Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney David Pettit urged city officials to help restart talks between AEG and a coalition of anti-poverty activists challenging special state legislation intended to speed up approval.
The Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition filed a lawsuit last month seeking to invalidate a state law written for AEG that limits lawsuits against the stadium to a 175-day period. The group, which includes the renters' rights group Community Action Network, said it wants AEG to provide $60 million for affordable housing, or $2 million a year over 30 years.
City officials are pursuing a timeline that would ensure that any lawsuit against AEG would be resolved in March, when NFL team owners are expected to consider the possibility of returning a franchise to L.A. If AEG's special legal protections are nullified by a court challenge, stadium-related lawsuits could continue for two to three years, Pettit warned.
"It could take down the entire project," said Pettit, who described his environmental group as a backer of the stadium since "Day One."
Becky Dennison, co-director of the Community Action Network, said data compiled for city officials shows the stadium project would create a huge need for affordable housing to serve low-wage workers. "This project isn't just about football, and it isn't just about jobs," she told the Planning Commission. "It's about far-reaching implications for the community."
AEG executives showed no interest in providing the amount of money sought by the coalition, saying they already have agreed to roughly $50 million in concessions. Those include $10.3 million for a new platform at a Metro Blue Line Station and $8 million in upgrades to a plaza outside the Convention Center. Company executives said the project would ultimately generate 30,000 jobs, with 30% of the project's construction workers and 50% of its permanent workforce living within five miles of the site.
AEG Executive Vice President Ted Fikre said his company has already rejected a coalition request for $10 million and pointed out that neither the stadium project nor the Convention Center upgrade will result in the removal of any homes.
"Frankly, if we had been willing to agree to the $10 million, we would have had a deal by now," he said.
Fikre predicted that the special stadium legislation will be upheld in court. But Councilman Ed Reyes worried about losing out on thousands of construction jobs if the coalition prevails.
"There's a lot at stake here. I can't take this lightly," he said.
Labor unions and business groups have rallied behind the stadium, arguing that AEG has worked extensively with surrounding neighborhoods to reduce the project's impacts.
AEG has promised upgrades to traffic signals at 73 intersections and $2.4 million for the widening of the 101 Freeway northeast of downtown. Still, city planners said it would not be possible to upgrade downtown's freeways to fully address the project's "significant" traffic impacts.
Commissioner Regina Freer also sought $600,000 from AEG for affordable housing during Thursday's marathon meeting, saying that she feared rents will go up in neighborhoods near the stadium after it opens.
AEG officials agreed to provide an additional $1.25 million, much of it for planning and design work in and around downtown. But the company drew the line at the housing money sought by Freer.
"We are doing all that we are willing to do," AEG attorney Bill Delvac told the commission.