It is hard to believe it was almost four years ago that the Coliseum Commission — guilty of long-term mismanagement but not yet touched by one ugly scandal after another — proudly announced it had “signed a deal that will keep USC at the Coliseum for
another 47 years” thanks to a naming rights agreement that “will be sold to
help generate more than $100 million in improvements to the historic landmark.
It is even harder to believe that on Wednesday in the darkness of a closed door meeting without any public knowledge or involvement, the public officials and their appointees who take their own advantages from their Coliseum roles and allowed staff to run wild as if they owned the place cut a deal to give the University of Southern California absolute and total control of an historic public facility entrusted to the guardianship of our city, our county, our state.
So much for the pretense of responsible leadership. So much honesty and openness in government. So much for accountability. So much for the public interest when the only stadium in the world to have hosted two Olympics, Super Bowls and a World Series plus the Sports Arena and surrounding property can be surrendered to a private enterprise without any public procedures or debate.
What else should we expect from a city, county and state government that for 30 years have failed so miserably by every conceivable measure, in every conceivable way to serve the public interest?
It didn’t take long Wednesday for the Commission in a closed-door session (Coliseum agenda.rtf
) to make “great progress towards assuring the Coliseum will remain a vital and vibrant asset,” as Commission President David Israel
, the screenwriter and former Herald-Examiner columnist put it.
An asset in private hands, he might have added in the interests of full disclosure. In fact, Israel said the deal to privatize the Coliseum and environs will be completed in January when the public will be given a week to examine the terms before it is finalized.
USC officials were “excited to move forward” and long-time Coliseum Commissioner and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky offered praise for the lease deal, saying: “The Coliseum is
either going to be a functioning viable sports venue, or it’s going to be a
museum piece The road to the 21st century
Coliseum as a functioning sports venue goes through USC.”
The commission’s failure for so long to upgrade the Coliseum culminated with its inability to deliver on the naming rights and improvements plan announced in February 2008 and the revelations that officials were treating themselves royally on the Coliseum’s money and engaging in various financial schemes of a questionable and possibly illegal nature.
Resorting the HACLA defense — revenue derived from public money and public ownership isn’t really public money anymore so it’s OK to use it self-indulgently –the Coliseum’s website boasts
that the “no taxpayer funds are used to support the facilities. The complex is supported solely by revenue generated” from the Coliseum and Sports Arena. They do acknowledge the Commission “owns the Coliseum” and the “land under the Coliseum is owned
by the State of California.”
The only commissioner to vocally object to a private university taking effective ownership of this public property is Councilman Bernard Parks who represents the area and was elected by residents who resent the enormous power USC has and uses to its benefit in ways that are often contrary to what the community wants.
“You’re giving away two public facilities that in my
judgment have significant dollar value and are priceless to what they represent
to the community,” Parks said. “If we truly believe this
is the way to go, why didn’t we go out for a request for proposal and get the
Parks’ own reputation as a commissioner is tainted by revelations in this week’s LA Weekly about how he got funding for his Fourth of July fireworks event at Exposition Park from promoters of the Rave concerts, where drug use was widespread among teenagers, triggering the investigations into the Coliseum after the death of a 15-year-old girl.
“Based on Coliseum documents received under a California
Public Records Act request made by the Weekly last February (and only this week fulfilled),
we found that the two main rave organizers who hosted parties at the property
have contributed a total of $40,000 to an annual event promoted by Parks’
office, his “Annual Exposition Park 4th of July Fireworks
Extravaganza” which is, apparently, a way to reach out to the constituents,” Dennis Romero reported in the Weekly..
“That money, according to documents, was then essentially
refunded to the promoters as a discount for their Coliseum facility rental fees
in 2008 and 2010.”
Nonetheless, the questions raised by Parks were also raised Wednesday by officials of a sports and entertainment company, U.S. Capital, LLC, which sent a four-page letter to Israel and other Coliseum officials outlining the basis for a lawsuit to block the USC and put the privatization issue out to bids (Letter to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission.pdf)
U.S. Capital claims it would be bring the NFL back to the Coliseum if it won the lease — a move that would trump AEG’s efforts to build yet another massive football stadium on public land just down the road at the Convention Center.
Among its many complaints are the Commission’s failure to meet the requirements of the Brown Act on public disclosure, the failure to conduct a study of impact on the pubic under the California Environmental Quality Act and the failure to put the management plan up for bids.
Worst of all, the commission has failed to fulfill its mandate, the very reason it was created, to make sure the facilities are run for the public benefit.
the sole purpose upon which the Commission was created
under state law. However, the Commission now seeks to withdraw itself from the day-to-day
management of the Coliseum, turning all control of the facility over to use, a private entity which
also happens to be the lessee of the facility,” lawyers for U.S. Capital said in their letter.
“The Commission has produced to the public no controls on
how the public‘s needs and interests would be met by such a transfer.
In fact, by placing the operations of the Coliseum entirely within the hands ofUSC, the Commission is allowing that potential future uses will also be decided upon outside the public’s eyes and ears. A private university’s goals and interests are significantly different from the goals and interests of the general public, and it is difficult to see how the Coliseum management in the hands of USC will further the public purposes of the Commission.”
It is hard to believe that once again we are seeing the breakdown in political leadership reaching this level where public resources of such enormous value and benefit are being turned over to private interests that can operate in total secrecy without any accountability and profit from their operation at public expense.
What good is government if it can’t run these facilities or the zoo or parking lot or anything else?