The Antonio to Eric Handoff: LA’s Quality of Life Disaster — Deregulating Planning, Zoning and Building Code Enforcement

EDITOR’S NOTE: Former LA City Planner Dick Platkin, now Adjunct Instructor of City Planning at USC’s Price School of Social Policy, originally wrote this article on the devastating impact of the merger of LA Planning and Building and Safety Department for KCET. This is the most far-reaching issue threatening the quality of life in every neighborhood yet it is being rushed forward by the current mayor and the mayor-elect with the unanimous support of the City Council without the massive citywide protests from residents that it deserves.

By Dick Platkin

Before the election the Wall Street Journal described Eric Garcetti as a business-friendly centrist Democrat. After the election, the same newspaper described the Mayor-elect as a business-friendly liberal Democrat.

Does either political label actually mean anything when it is now applied to municipal politics – especially when they are applied to the core issues of planning and zoning regulations and their enforcement, and building code regulations and their enforcement?Since the new mayor is one of the architects of the city planning culture and legislative structure that he will inherit, we can assume that these policies and practices will seamlessly continue from the Villaraigosa Administration to the Garcetti Administration.

Here’s your hint as to what is the most accurate political label to describe this planning legacy: The deregulation of land use is well on its way at City Hall, albeit obscured by such misleading phrases as “elegant density” or “transit-oriented districts.”In some policy circles government regulations are considered to be the bane of economic prosperity.  In fact, this was this outlook that gave rise to the deregulation of the telecommunications and aviation sectors under Ronald Reagan and the financial sector under Bill Clinton.

At the local level this siren song of deregulation is now focused on zoning, an administrative approach to regulate land uses approved by the United States Supreme Court in 1926 (Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co.).  Under zoning, local governments have the legal authority to control public and private land, including land use categories, as well as building use, size, height, parking requirements, and setbacks.

Zoning also means that speculators cannot easily and quickly move into and out of real estate projects based on rapidly changing market conditions.

To put it bluntly, rigorous zoning is a barrier to real estate bubbles, such as the Great Recession that began in 2008.  It cannot stop the business cycle, but cities with strong zoning ordinances and procedures can smooth out the bumps.

In Los Angeles, a city whose economy has been stagnant for over two decades, advocates of deregulation are now focused on the city’s elaborate zoning code, including its regulatory expansion through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Put simply, these advocates of deregulation – in and out of City Hall — believe that Los Angeles will flourish if its regulatory “impediments” to speculative investment are eliminated.

But all that glitters is not gold.  Zoning deregulation is already underway in Los Angeles, but it will not prove to be the economic cure-all proclaimed by its boosters for several reasons.

Most of Los Angeles is not privately owned land 

Only about 20 percent of the entire land area of Los Angeles is privately owned.   The remainder is freeways, railroad rights-of-way, streets, parkways, sidewalks, parks, schools, power lines, horse trails, and many other public and quasi-public land uses.   Therefore, these areas are neglected when planning is reduced to zoning, and zoning is abridged through deregulation.

Furthermore, zoning deregulation is not capable of rectifying the slow deterioration of the city’s public infrastructure and public services.

It can’t sweep streets, pick-up garbage, fill potholes, repave crumbling sidewalks, or construct ADA-required curb cuts.  It can’t plant an urban forest or implement the City’s bicycle master plan.  It can’t maintain public parks and revive cancelled recreation programs.   It can’t install streetlights on dark streets or sweep them during the day.

Zoning deregulation can’t address a complaint heard throughout the entire city:  Los Angeles is filled with zoning and building code violations that undercut the quality of life in neighborhood after neighborhood, problems that are seldom addressed through code enforcement and prosecution, even when residents submit multiple complaints.

But what about the city’s private owned parcels?  It is technically correct that many of these lots are overlaid with special zoning conditions (i.e., T’s, Q’s, and D’s imposed by prior legislative actions).

They give the appearance of a tough zoning regime, but the Department of City Planning administratively clears these conditions as part of the building permit process.  For better or worse, the public seldom knows about these conditions, their internal ministerial (administrative) approvals, and the resulting building permits.

This means that the city’s Department of Building and Safety approves most, certainly over 80 percent, of the city’s building permit applications “by-right”.   Among the remaining 20 percent of cases that need relief from the zoning code, the Department of City Planning quickly handles most of them behind closed doors.

While these cases technically require a formal decision, and the public could, in theory, appeal these actions, this seldom happens.  The primary reason is that no one is mailed a notice about these cases, and the written approval letters are only sent to immediately adjacent property owners.  This means that the first inkling that most neighbors have of a project’s official approval is the sound of bulldozers and hammers when construction begins.

My Sunday Column: Seeking the Straight Story on the Billions the State Confiscated in Abolishing Community Redevelopment

Twenty months after Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature abolished community redevelopment agencies statewide, local officials have gone through all the stages of grief — from horror to anger to confusion.

Now they have reached the point where all they can see is darkness at the end of the tunnel of their experience, uncertainty over whether the revised redevelopment law and its interpretation by state Finance Department officials will be the same in six months or six months after that as it appears to be today.

For all the successes that cities like Glendale and Burbank claim in terms of using the property tax dollars they kept under redevelopment to create projects like the Americana at Brand with new jobs and long-term revenue streams, regenerated neighborhoods, upgraded infrastructure and affordable housing, there were endless examples of abuses.

Take Los Angeles, where the CRA was little more than a slush fund providing welfare to the rich and to giant corporations — not as the law was intended, to remove blight and support a healthy economic future for the community.

“When you look at the communities that abused the program, yes it’s cleaner, but a lot of cities used redevelopment appropriately and did some good work, as we did in Glendale,” said Phil Lanzafame, chief assistant director of community development.

“I’m not asking for the redevelopment law back; I’m not asking for a new tool. I’m just asking for some surety going forward so that we don’t get into the same bind again where for 60 years everybody recognized what was lawful and then in one year cities were told, ‘OK, you’re on your own. It’s over.’

“We fought it. We challenged it. The court didn’t agree. We lost. So now we’ve bit the bullet. But going forward, we don’t know if we can rely on the law they’ve given us. How we can plan anything when we don’t know what the rules will be in six months or the six months after that.”

The heart of the financial problem for Glendale is that in order to expedite projects, the city lent its redevelopment agency $78 million and was being paid back $6 million to $7 million a year with interest from the increased tax revenue that otherwise would have gone to the state.


AEG MOVIE ACT 4: “LA — Open for Business Or Up for Sale”

And the Oscar for political theater goes to … Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group for a brilliant performance running circles around LA’s politicians and bureaucrats and bamboozling the public with a fantasy of football, jobs and prosperity.


In the climactic scene of a two-year “drama” over what always was a done deal, the City Council voted unanimously Friday to give AEG entitlements to build Farmers Field and rebuild the white elephant Convention Center (which it is sure to operate) without any significant direct benefits coming to the city.

Clearly, it was something to cheer about. Junior Council members Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino, the reserve cop and the ex-cop, high five each other in joy at the thrilling historic moment and Buscaino salutes Tim Leiweke sitting at the end of the front pew.

Then, Council members and top bureaucrats rush in a line for the chance to shake the man with the golden hand and congratulate him for how he managed to get them to vote for a project that commits all tax revenue to pay its costs, requires huge public expenditures for infrastructure and leaves eight critical environmental areas — including air quality and traffic congestion — with significant unmitigated impacts.

While indicted felon Richard Alarcon throws a football to the audience, a single Councilman remains seated and doesn’t even look up from his papers during the festivities — former Police Chief Bernard Parks — while the architect of the approval stands nearby basking in the glory.

Beautiful! Don’t you love LA?

AEG MOVIE ACT 4 “The Pitch”: “LA — Open for Business or Up for Sale”

AEG MOVIE ACT 4 “The Vote”: “LA — Open for Business or Up for Sale”

AEG MOVIE ACT 3: “LA — Open for Business Or Up for Sale”

The silence of the sheep was almost deafening throughout the two years of pretend negotiations between City Hall and AEG over an NFL stadium.

A handful of activists with various concerns like Joyce Dillard saw it through the whole course of pseudo-events, the only individual solely on her own behalf to be part of mediation, something she had to fight vehemently for since AEG and the city wanted to stifle her voice as they had the vast majority of LA residents.

Neighborhood Councils and homeowner groups looked the other way, the middle class acted like the future of their city was somebody else’s problem, the business and civic elites stood up and saluted Phil Anschutz and Tim Leiweke as if they were getting a share of the profits or at least a luxury box while the benefits to the public, if any, were none of their business.

No, it was left to people they often call “poverty pimps” to do the hard work of digging beneath the surface, identifying serious legal questions, exposing the truth about significant impacts of the Farmers Field/Convention Center project  that will negatively affect nearly everything from air quality and traffic congestion to visual blight and affordable housing stock, in fact all eight major categories of environmental degradation.

On the day of judgment last Friday, they were the voice of Los Angeles, they were the ones who spoke for the silent majority who sat on the sidelines, spectators to decisions that will affect the future of the entire city and the quality of all our lives.


AEG Movie Act One: “LA — Open for Business or Up for Sale”

The first thing you need to understand about government in America today is that the public story has nothing to do with what is really going on behind the scenes in the political back rooms.

That’s why all these politicians are surrounded by experts in spin – public relations experts, strategists, lobbyists, manipulators of the truth of all sorts who invent myths for the media and the public that purposely obscure the real purpose of their policies and actions.

Decades of the system evolving sophisticated techniques and complex inter-relationships among themselves and with politicians, business and civic leaders, non-profits, mainstream media and ethnic and economic “cohorts” has created a political system that is nothing more than a political machine, a politburo, that is exclusionary by its very nature.

It is corrupt to its core but though not usually criminal since he who makes the laws, enforces, prosecutes and adjudicates the laws has great leeway to decide who to punish, who to forgive and who to reward.

It is a conspiracy of consciousness for the most part with its unwritten, unspoken rules of propriety and acceptance. If you are in the game, you know the rules. You know you are getting a piece of the action while the masses are out there begging for crumbs from the table of power; some pigs clearly are more equal than others and the ordinary variety of human being is just an algorithm willfully or ignorantly waiting to be manipulated.

On Friday, the LA Political Machine produced a masterpiece of propaganda — a three-hour carefully orchestrated and scripted production broadcast live on Channel 35, the City Council’s final vote closing the deal for Anschutz Entertainment Group to build a football stadium and rebuild the Convention Center.

It was an event without even the pretense of drama since this was a done deal even before it was made public two years ago.

Still, it was great theater because of the shameless way the final act was scripted to exploit public sentiment on everything from the military to the Dodgers to the Watts Tower with hundreds of schoolkids bused to City Hall as extras.

It even had a 15-minute infomercial for Time Warner Cable which will launch its sports networks in English and Spanish Monday to exploit its long-term ownership of exclusive rights to broadcast Lakers games, something fans will find means they now have to pay to view what previously was free.

AEG, The Movie, ACT ONE:  “Los Angeles — Open for Business or Up for Sale?”

It’s a work of art, an act of genius, bravo to the producers, directors, editors, writers and the performers whoever they are – propaganda so brilliant that light of truth could never shine in.

Consider the set-up of the narrative that is what Part One is about. On this historic day – the day the machine says the future of LA will be decided – there is no drama. This was a done deal long before the public ever heard a word about it.

The two years since have just allowed time for refinements, legalities, technicalities and a massive sales campaign to obliterate all oppositions, all questions, about a plan to bring the NFL back to LA – the city it twice abandoned two decades ago because it wasn’t that popular and still shows no signs it isn’t any more in demand today.

How else would you start the show but with a salute to the flag and the men and women who protect us and who better to provide this interruption of getting to where the emcee is so anxious to get than the former Council emcee, now a candidate for mayor, none other than leading man Lt. Eric Garcetti who brings out his fellow Navy reservists for a well-deserved round of applause whether or not they have been in combat.

Cut to the emcee ready to move forward … Oops, Bernard Parks interrupts to introduce an emergency measure to get approval to offer a $50,000 reward for information about who killed an innocent youth, Patrick Caruthers, 19, a learning disabled park volunteer sitting at a picnic bench – a crime that would have been caught on camera except somewhere along the line someone dropped the ball the Councilman acknowledged by apologizing to the youth’s grieving mother.

Her heartbreaking story of loss and her pleas for help in catching the killer, her dignity and faith could not but help touch the coldest heart. They did inspire mayoral candidate Jan Perry – who competed throughout the event for air time with her rival Garcetti – to sound a lot like a law-and-order candidates who wants her community locked down in the name of public safety.

Much to the feigned irritation of Wesson, Ed Reyes interrupted his march to finalizing the billion-dollar gift to Phil Anschutz and AEG by staging a “presentation” for Time Warner Cable, something that turned into a free 15-minute commercial for the company which is launching its regional sports networks in English and Spanish – a national first – on Monday.

There were so many Time Warner executives introduced that any who did not make in to the introductions probably ought to be looking for another job.

The source of this excitement is the cable company has paid $4 billion to lock up the Lakers game broadcasts for simultaneous live showing for a fee on cable and hopes to sign the Dodgers to a similar deal next year.

The games no longer will be free to fans – now that’s something City Hall can celebrate.

With a tip of the hat to patriots, blacks, Latinos, it’s time for an interruption to touch the hearts of the Jewish community and Paul Koretz gets the honor to ask the Council to support him in renaming a park after Roz Wyman, who at the age of 22 became the first woman LA Council member in the 1950s and played a critical role in bringing the Dodgers to LA.

Who better to speak to Wyman’s historic role than Peter O’Malley who recalled how his father Walter never wanted to leave Brooklyn but the city wouldn’t help him get hold of the land. Roz Wyman let the effort to clear the hurdles to make Chavez Ravine and the Dodgers happen, allowing the city to not only have the Rams (stolen from Cleveland 10 years earlier) but Major League Baseball as well.

Top that for making it sound like history was repeating itself which it isn’t.

Cut then to Richard Alarcon. He is standing with a group of beautiful grade school kids around his desk – just a handful of the dozens of kids from all over the city who were bused in to be props for this historic event, though most of them were relegated to hallways and the overflow room to watch on TV.

And now the climax to the setup: The Invocation of the iconic Watts Towers.

Garcetti showed his clout by getting camera time – something he needs badly since the AEG deal belongs for good or ill to rival Jan Perry – to close out the set-up portion of the show with an homage to Simon Rodia and the man who saved his sculpture from destruction more than 50 years ago, William Cartwright, now frail and elderly.

COMING SOON, ACT Two of the show of shows: “Los Angeles — Open for Business or Up for Sale?”


A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Making of the AEG Movie: “Los Angeles — Open for Business or Up for Sale?”

Councilwoman Jan Perry’s committee to sell the public on the Farmers Field/Convention Center deal met for the last time Monday to provide the stage for a dress rehearsal before the climax to the show that would come on Friday in a perfectly orchestrated unanimous finale.

The celebration of this two-year long exhibit of the art of salesmanship did turn out to be a work of genius — a three-hour performance orchestrated down to the smallest detail, tightly scripted, every word programmed for the cameras to create a seamless narrative that had nothing to do with reality.

It was brilliant, pure propaganda — the great Nazi documentary filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl would have admired it. It turned the truth inside out: “LA is for sale … and so are we” was inverted to become “LA is open for business … come see us.”

This fragment from Perry’s hearing is a window into what goes on behind the curtain in the back room where unknown producers, directors and writers put together the scripts for each and every City Council meeting. The entire scene shown in this video was left on the cutting room floor in Friday’s final script and nothing at all was said by city planners about the “signficant” unmitigated environmental impacts of the project in just about every area.

This is not government in action what you see on Channel 35 or the online video: It’s television — show business, a staged performance to create a video record that will always stand for the story line designed for public consumption. That’s why they nearly always vote unanimously and why there is so rarely a word of truth spoken — except sometimes by the gadflies and activists.

That was the case Monday when Ed Reyes, chosen for his discipline as a character actor who is convincingly obtuse to hide his deliberate efforts to obscure all truth.

Among the troublemakers — there were not many other than the unstoppable Joyce Dillard, LA Can and the Fair Play Coalition — who objected to this deal during public comment, there was one who reported serious problems remain despite the 10,000 page Environmental Impact Report and the 100 pages of mitigation measures.

There are eight different problems that were identified and not fixed — an issue that if left in the record might wake people up some day that things didn’t turn out the way Tim Leiweke promised they would — things the mayor, City Attorney and City Council had a responsibility as elected officials to have known about, informed the public about and fixed if they were doing their jobs honorably.

Reyes started with all his bit player’s usual ignorant innocence by saying, “Just for the record I just want to make sure there’s clarity” about the eight areas of “environmental concerns” — not problems — that were mentioned.

“I want to make sure we’re mitigating those concerns or how we’re mitigating them,” he told city planners. “If you will just address them briefly.”

Briefly is the keyword — so they don’t give away questionable details, just offer vague assurances for the “record” that everything was considered and dealt with.

That was what this whole show has been about all these months, creating a video record that tells the story about the strong leadership, vision and hard work when the reality has more to do with cowardice, moral blindness and sloth.

It fell to city planner Karen Hu to put these concerns about the public’s health and safety to rest.

“There are eight areas to which you as a Council in approving this document will also have  to approve a statement of overriding considerations because we could not reduce those impacts to a level that was less than significant,” she told them in the matter-of-fact way that honest bureaucrats talk.

“Those eight  areas are in transportation, air quality, aesthetics and visual resources, cultural and historic resources, views, artificial light and glare, noise, utilities, solid waste.”

Concerned that those eight covered just about everything, Reyes pursued his goal to clean up the “record,” asking: “So given those areas, we are addressing them with mitigating conditions?”

“Yes, there are conditions,” she answered.

“That’s what I need to hear for the record,” Reyes pleaded.

“Cause we’ve raised the concerns but you haven’t spoken to how we are mitigating those concerns and that to me is crucial for the record given the public comment that’s been made. I don’t want to leave that open because I believe it leaves us vulnerable in the future.

“So to be very clear to support this process and this program, if you can just address it briefly. That’s what I think is important to this process.”

A confession to the crime of faking the public record. Again, an order — Reyes’ gesturing forcefully with his hand pointed, beating a steady drumbeat to planners –to keep it brief and without detail, just make this go away, neutralize the record.

This mission will not be left to a sincere person trying to do the best job for the city that she can all things considered.

No way, City Planning Director Michael LoGrande — a man who got this job without credentials as an urban planner and without the scruples of Karen Hu — will close the book for the record on concerns about unmitigated impacts on just about every aspect affecting the quality of life for millions of people.

He calls the EIR “a legally very defensible document” and declares that major projects often have “certain items that can’t be mitigated under CEQA to a level of insignificance” –shifting the language from “problems and concerns” to “items” and “significant” to insignificance.”

“That’s why we have these statements of overriding considerations saying the benefits of this project outweigh some of the issues,” LoGrande adds, swearing “we’ve done our best to mitigate those impacts to tolerable levels  … using the best sophisticated technology methods available  to us … acceptable levels .. confident … conservative document … forward thinking ..  state-of-the-art mitigation.”

“All CEQA requtres legally is that we are transparent, disclose that information to the public and to the decision makers … ”

It was so brief, so to the point, so loaded with vague, hollow words intended to put minds at ease and close the record to any questions later.

After all, none of these people want to find they are “vulnerable in the future” when this deal turns out to have all kinds of problems like the environmental “items” aren’t tolerable and acceptable, the Convention Center is still a white elephant, the subsidized hotels with empty rooms can’t afford the “living wage,” a part-time “living wage” job doesn’t pay people’s bills and the benefits to the city do not in fact outweigh the costs.

COMING SOON: “Open for Business: Selling Out LA’s Future.” Act One.

Say It Ain’t So, Rick Caruso — How Billionaire Got Property Taxes Reduced on the Grove Shopping Center

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reporter Randy Economy and owner-publisher Brian Hews of the Los Cerritos Community Newspaper broke the story about the scandal in County Assessor John Noguez’s office nine months ago. They followed up in numerous articles on how wealthy  property owner’s were able to hire agents with influence to reduce their tax burden. Here is their latest article and a link to emails about billionaire Rick Caruso getting the tax on the Grove shopping center reduced.

By Randy Economy and Brian Hews

Embattled Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez and his office assisted Los Angeles billionaire real estate mogul and potential mayoral candidate Rick Caruso with preferential treatment that resulted in massive property devaluations at one of the most profitable shopping and entertainment centers in the United States, Los Cerritos Community Newspaper has learned exclusively.

Caruso and his wife Tina donated thousands to two political campaign committees controlled by Noguez including the “Noguez for Assessor Committee 2010” and another to the “John Noguez for Assessor 2010 Attorney’s Fees Fund” in late 2010.

Caruso is one of the most powerful political figures in Los Angeles County and is currently strategizing to become an official candidate for Mayor of LA in the 2013 election.

Los Cerritos Community Newspaper obtained thousands of emails between Noguez and several property tax agents who are now under investigation in what law enforcement officials classify as the largest “political pay to play scheme” in the history of Los Angeles County.

LCCN has been investigating the activities of Noguez and several of his top senior staff members for the past year and has published more than 50 articles documenting massive “pay to play” schemes directed under the approval of Noguez. Since LCCN first began their investigation one lower level appraiser inside the Assessor’s office has been arrested on 60 counts of felony bribery and money laundering counts.

On Thursday, LCCN published several key emails and documents that show how entrenched property tax agents Dale Beckwith and Michael J. Schaaf (who also donated to Noguez’ campaign) were able to flex their political influence on behalf of Caruso that directly resulted in having several Grove parcels, with a 2012 value of $165 million, devalued.

The first case asked for a “Base Value Reduction” on all Grove properties. According to sources in the Assessor’s office, a BVR does not have to go through the appeals process, the properties can be revalued using what is called an “Assessor’s Correction”. One parcel, valued at $13,770,000, was reduced using this correction to $9,050,000, a 34.27% reduction.

Applying that percentage to all other properties would generate a $49 million refund. At a 1.25% tax rate the refund would amount to $612,000 per year.
A Base Value Reduction appeal allows the owner to go back in years and assume the new value. If Caruso owned the property for eight years he would realize a $4,896,000 refund. The rule also allows the carry forward of the reduced amount.

Caruso owns some of the most exclusive real estate in the United States. In Los Angeles County he owns the Encino Marketplace, the Americana at Brand in Glendale, the Grove, and Burton Place Retail Center in Los Angeles. Caruso is also planning to construct a new $500 million luxury resort and casino in Las Vegas, according to several media reports.


Emails obtained between Beckwith and Schaaf and members of the Assessor’s office, including Noguez, show a carefully thought out plan for the tax reductions at the Grove going back to 2009. Caruso gave authorization to both Beckwith and Schaaf to represent him on official business regarding his properties before the Assessor’s office, LCCN sources confirmed.

Noguez along with two of his past top appraisers Andrew Stephens and Mark McNeill from the Major Properties was specifically assigned to work with Beckwith and Schaaf on at least 10 different properties owned and controlled by Caruso.

Stephens and McNeill have been placed on “full paid leave” after at least 300 law enforcement officials raided 12 locations in two different states several months ago.

During a three-day period in September of 2009, Beckwith, Mc Neill, Stephens, Schaaf and Noguez communicated back in forth in a series of emails to set the plan for Caruso’s devaluations.

On Thursday, Los Cerritos Community Newspaper Publisher Brian Hews released several key emails and documents that illustrate how Noguez, Beckwith, Schaaf and others interacted in a “very blatant manner,” Hews said.

In one email conversation on September 3, 2009 Noguez notes: “Below are some of the active appeals that Michael (Schaaf) has for the Grove. Dale (Beckwith), are there any other numbers that you might have as the big reduction is really on your parcel? If so, please send them to Mr. (Mark) McNeill asap so we can get this scheduled (to be placed on the Property Appeals Assessment Board Agenda).”

In another email from McNeill to both Schaaf and Noguez on that same morning of September 3, 2009, he writes: “Good morning all! That should work! Send me the apps guys.”

During that same morning Noguez messaged Mc Neill and Beckwith asking how the item was going to be placed before the Property Appeals Assessment Board and on what specific time and date in order to get approval on the reduction for the parcel: “Could we get you to see if Sylvia would let us do September 8, 2009 at 10:30 am? I could have the clerical work in Wednesday and be ready for the Sunday, September 13, 2009 update. This might mean we could get a corrected tax bill in time for the 1st installment for the taxpayers.”

Calls to Caruso, Schaff, and Beckwith were not returned. Beckwith has hung up the phone on Los Cerritos Community Newspaper in the past when asked about his involvement with Noguez and Caruso.

The Worst Call in the History of the Game: Bringing the NFL Back to LA — Not the Monday Night Football Farce

Of all the lies about Farmers Field that have been told over the last two years — and there have been some whoppers — the biggest by far is how we just gotta bring the NFL back to Los Angeles.

There isn’t the least bit of evidence that anything has changed two decades after the greedy owners of the Rams and Raiders fled town because of lack of public support.

The NFL isn’t a sport any longer; it’s a comedy show as evidenced by the spectacularly funny ending to Monday night’s game when the replacement referees gave Seattle a winning touchdown on the last play of the game although it was as clear as day that Green Bay had intercepted the ball in the end zone.

One scab official called it an interception as everyone else in the world saw it. The other called it a touchdown and after further review in slow motion, the call stood as a touchdown, prompting the Packers to flee the field in total disgust although the rules require kicking the extra point with no time on the clock, a ritual that took 10 minutes to carry out.

Every single game this season has been a comedy of errors that are the consequence of putting amateurs in charge because the billionaire owners of a billionaire league don’t want to keep paying for pensions of the referees who are paid barely the minimum salary that the least valuable players get.

The cheapskates who have run football into the ground for their own profit and ego aggrandisement treat the public as suckers and the refs as part-time employees, which may explain some of the officiating scandals that have occurred in recent years.

The officials are no more part-time than the players whose brains and bodies are being destroyed by the repetitious violence they experience on the field — something for which they are paid on average $2 million a year.

Last year, the owners locked the players out to pad their bank accounts; this year it’s the referees. Next year, it will probably be the fans since the real money is in TV rights and the crowd could be digitally created for verisimilitude while the wealthy party in the luxury boxes that are tax deductible as a corporate business expense.

Nothing better captures the insanity of America than the NFL. Nothing better captures the corruption of LA than the pathetic charade that are mayor, City Council and top bureaucrats have put on in order to give incredibly valuable entitlements — the kind of entitlements that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama ought to condemn in the harshest terms — to billionaire Phil Anschutz.

There are tremendous hidden costs to taxpayers in the Farmers Field deal, vague and unenforceable terms of the contract and a ridiculous fiction about how the stadium and Convention Center are going to make us all rich and downtown LA the coolest place to hang out in the world.

Anschutz is cashing out on in the gift City Hall has given him without tackling the risk of making this work, and now says through his mouthpiece that he never intended to see the deal through, waiting to the last-minute to disclose that so nobody would question his honor or integrity.

What a joke, just like the NFL today. But all of us are going along for the ride, too enervated and distracted to stand up as one and just say, “No!”

LA’s Death Valley: AEG, Leiweke, Farmers Field and Council’s Uncritical Examination of a Deal Without Public Benefits

Union uber-boss Maria Elena Durazo told the City Council’s ad hoc Farmer’s Field committee Monday not to worry about Phil Anschutz cashing in on the billion-dollar-plus gift of entitlements he’s getting from City Hall because “extraordinary trust exists between AEG, the community and labor.”

That’s the only protection the city needs since the unions will profit no matter, no matter thst the chiseling NFL owners twice abandoned LA, locked out its players union last year and its game officials this year, according to the County Federation of Labor who loves to talk about “working people” when she only means the one in seven who are union workers.

Bad faith treatment of the city, stripping private sector workers of defined benefit pensions as the NFL is trying to  do to the referees, nothing matters much to Durazo except that all construction work on Farmers Field and the Convention Center will be done by union workers, excluding the thousands of non-union construction workers and contractors.

No, what matters is the living wage for all workers at Farmers Field — something that is not in fact guaranteed in the development agreement the Council will approve on Friday just as Jan Perry’s ad hoc Farmers Field committee did on Monday.

That “guarantee” is a verbal promise from AEG which has put its $7 billion to $15 billion up for sale to the highest bidder. The actual development deal only requires that 80 percent of workers get the living wage within five years of the stadium being in operation or AEG or its successor company will face a $25,000 fine.

All the committee needed to hear was AEG’s CEO Tim Leiweke fill the Council Chamber with hot air and city staff double-talking around the holes in the various planning agreements and theory of how this deal will make the white elephant Convention Center a booming success — that after all is the biggest lie in this deal since nothing can make it successful.

To skirt any serious questioning of the deal despite Anschutz’s last-minute admission he always intended to cash in on the spectacularly valuable entitlements the city was granting without getting anything in return, Leiweke guaranteed that he and the AEG’s management will stay on and run things — until Farmers Field opens in 2017.

That’s when he gets to fully cash out and claim his status as a billionaire — if he hasn’t reached it already.

Hoodwinked at City Hall or Co-conspirators? AEG Selling Out to Profit from Stadium Deal; LA Only Gets the Bills

“This was always part of the game plan. It’s the right time for Mr. Anschutz to find an exit strategy.” — Tim Leiweke, CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, on the global sports and entertainment company being put up for sale days before final city approval of the Farmers Field/Convention Center deal in downtown LA.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he has “known about this potential sale for some time,” but felt no need for the public to know because he’s got a “commitment from both” Leiweke and Anschutz that the NFL is coming back to LA and the deal “will not affect my support for moving ahead with Farmers Field and the Convention Center site.”


Councilwoman Jan Perry, the mayoral candidate and point person for the deal, is just as sanguine, saying: “Whoever steps into the shoes of the previous owner would have to fulfill all the responsibilities and obligations as the current owner.  The city has been well-negotiated and well-protected.”


Throughout the mad rush to exempt AEG from state environmental law, to short-circuit the city approval process and to make this just about football and not a major investment in LA’s future, Leiweke and AEG representatives have rested their case as an issue of trust.

With generous public subsidies, AEG built the the spectacularly successful Staples Center and then added the hideously artificial LA Live with its struggling hotel-condo towers and lived up to all their promises, the AEG team argued over and over.

Trust AEG — that was why their transit plan is nothing but a bunch of unenforceable goals, why their commitment to pay all workers the “living wage” amounts to only an 80 percent target with a $25,000 penalty if it isn’t achieved after five years of operation, why everything in the development agreement is vague and left to be worked out after the fact.

Yet, the City Council is set to rubber-stamp it in nine days, surrendering all power to AEG, a company that is going to cash in handsomely on the value added by its masterful manipulation of the process with the help of the politicians it bought.

Consider how they got their CEQA exemption by throwing millions of dollars around the state Capitol for lobbyists and to fill the coffers of dozens of politicians.

Among the 40 or so recipients identified back in early 2011 were  Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, $10,100; Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, $8,100;  Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, $5,300; Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, $4,000;  Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, $3,600, and the Moorpark Republican team of Sen. Tony Strickland $10,500  and Assemblywoman Audra Strickland $7,300.

AEG bought off environmental groups and charities like the Midnight Mission and Salvation Army, turned this into a chance for LA to turn its white elephant Convention Center that devours $45 million or more a year into a smashing success and transform downtown into a digital billboard paradise for millions of tourists housed in 5,000 new luxury hotel rooms.

What’s horrifying about this, revealing just how deep the corruption runs in the leadership of the city, is that AEG didn’t hoodwink anyone into buying this deal if Leiweke and the mayor are to be believed — admittedly a big “if” to be sure.

This was always part of the game plan!

In the light of AEG’s scheming to cash in on huge bonus the “Events Center” provides, the development deal needs to be thoroughly scrubbed by independent lawyers and experts from out-of-town who have no connection to any of the interests involved.

This isn’t like any deal ever put together before. It was written by AEG itself with some minor tweaking by city bureaucrats who have no experience in matters of this sort.

It isn’t good enough that AEG and its successor gets all the profits and the people of LA get all the bills. That’s what has been wrong with the deal from day one.

The Convention Center will still be a massive drain on the general fund. Nearly all the infrastructure costs and support services needed to keep this from being a “carmageddon” fiasco on game and event days will be paid for by taxpayers. All the profits from dozens of digital billboards trashing the vista and night sky go to the owners and so does all of the profits from operations and most of the tax revenue.

Someday when those involved in this dirty deal are free to talk honestly and openly about what has transpired, we will know the truth about one of the greatest scandals in city history, the Great Farmers Field Ripoff.