Just over a year ago, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana — as honorable as a bureaucrat can be when working for a gang of thieves — presented an overview of the “Proposed Convention Center Renovation & Downtown Event Center Project” to the City Council for rapid approval without answers to a thousand thousands.
Nothing was mentioned about privatizing the Convention Center — a white elephant facility rebuilt several times and still drains a fortune of taxpayer money every year, more than $1 billion over decades that could have made the streets safer and pothole-free.
He didn’t have to because he had been pushing to put parking lots, the zoo, the convention center and just about everything else the city had bungled for so long into private hands.
Frankly, it was so obvious to everyone that the rebuilding the Convention Center and as an integrate part of Farmer’s Field football stadium made it a certainty that AEG — the architect of the scheme and its prime beneficiary — would be operating the combined “events center.”
That’s why they are designing it. That’s why they are guaranteeing the city bonds will be paid back. That’s why they will effectively own — thanks to massive public subsidies, tax rebates and infrastructure investment — the entire entertainment-sports complex and many of the hotels around Staples Center/LA Live and the new events center.
What I don’t get is why it has taken a year for Santana to come clean about what was going on if it’s such a good deal for you and for me.
And why it will take another year to go through the motions of pretending this is an open and competitive process when AEG has all the clout to get whatever it wants out of City Hall, and will have control over when two NFL teams play at the stadium as well as booking other events and the global reach of a vast sports/entertainment company that could actually help attract conventions to the Convention Center.
It’s the only thing in this whole deal that makes any sense at all.
“The common mission and goal of any top-tier convention center is to bring convention business to the city for the purpose of attracting out of town visitors that will generate spending and hotel business,” Santana wrote in a report Monday to the mayor and City Council (CAO-Conventions).
“However, in the last several years, the city’s competing focus has been generating sufficient operating revenue. Booking priorities have shifted at times compromising citywide conventions … for trade and consumer shows.”
The mayor, newly reinvented as a self-styled “radical middle” politician, was beside himself with joy at the CAO’s suggestion as if this wasn’t the deal all along, as if he didn’t approve Santana’s report in advance.
“My goal is to ensure the Convention Center is being managed to reach its maximum potential as citywide conventions significantly bolster the local economy by generating (transient occupancy tax) and sales tax revenue,” Villaraigosa said in a statement.
“Cities like Chicago and San Francisco – with highly successful convention industries – have entered into public-private partnerships, making it something worth supporting.”
Santana begged to disagree, saying: “Our biggest competition is Sacramento. And with all due respect to Sacramento, Los Angeles is an international city and we should be competing with Chicago, New York and San Francisco.”
Sacramento? How sad! Even Santa Monica beat out LA for the American Film Market gathering “because the city was unable to accommodate the request as a result of an existing Auto Show booking,” Santana said.
Santana’s view is the reason the Convention Center is just an economic disaster — costing $61 million a year out of the general fund — is that it has been grossly mismanaged for years although it’s recently departed general manager, Pouria Abbassi, was feted by the Council for the spectacular job he did before leaving to become a drug rehab facility executive.
The trouble was Abbassi booked local trade and consumer shows and not the major conventions that bring in tourists pouring nearly a thousand dollars each into the local economy, if international hotels and national food chains count as local.
It is always the fault of the dearly departed.
What ought to worry everyone is what a paltry saving the city would get from privatizing its billion-dollar white elephant: “$14 million to $37 million over five years and would help the city better compete for lucrative conventions,” according to Santana.
So we’re tearing down half the Convention Center, borrowing to rebuild it to AEG’s specifications and designs, giving it and others luxury hotels half their tax revenue back, subsidizing all workers pay with the “living wage,” and probably hiring Mafia-run construction companies to do the building.
Don’t you love LA? I do. Aren’t you dying to pay $250 for an end zone seat to watch the kind of losing teams that are up for sale? I am, you can be sure of that.
Not everyone feels that way about this deal, though.
Lowell Goodman, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 721, is disgusted Santana’s proposal because it would replace city staff with cheaper workers, accusing the CAO of “Wal-Martization of the city workforce.”
“We are against handing control of an important public asset like the Convention Center to a private operator,” Goodman said.
You can understand Goodman’s anger. The Convention Center employs 113 people with the inflated salaries and lucrative pensions and benefits that public employees have a god-given right to expect and only 101 would be guaranteed transfers to other city jobs under Santana’s proposal — vacant jobs the city can’t afford to fill.
The remaining dirty dozen with “unique” jobs would have 90 days to prove themselves to AEG, which you can be sure is more generous with its wages than Walmart but undoubtedly is at least as ruthless in expecting employees to meet expectations.