Jobs, Jobs, Jobs — AEG’s Jobs Myth and the Environmental Impact Report Exemption

One of the most amazing
things about the depths of corruption of our politicians is how cheaply they
sell out the public interest.

Take the case of anti-gay,
anti-immigrant, anti-tax Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz – the wildcatting oil
and gas man, media entrepreneur and sports/entertainment mogul.

He has showered $1 million
so far this year on lobbyists to buy “access” at LA City Hall and in Sacramento
to get special favors for his plan to build a $1.2 billion NFL stadium downtown
on city land leased at below market value while getting to keep all of the
multiple revenue streams not committed directly to pay off city borrowing.

Now he wants exemption
from CEQA, the state’s environmental law blamed by some for stifling business
activity in California, beloved by others for protecting us from disaster.

The exemption is being
sought even before AEG has delivered anything to city planners except a letter
in March saying they were preparing an EIR.

“City officials filed the
AEG letter and began waiting for the documents and data required for a report
that could exceed 10,000 pages,” the Orange County Register reported
today
. More than five months later, planning department officials
are still waiting.
“We’re waiting for anything,” said Hadar Plafkin, the Los Angeles Planning
Department’s environmental review coordinator.

This is no small
matter. 

AEG wants to be legally
freed of anyone suing over the damage the stadium would cause to the quality of
life in Los Angeles no matter how inadequate or deceitful the study of traffic
congestion, visual blight or other issues the EIR is.

Without the right to sue,
nothing stands in AEG’s way since Anschutz’s super-salesman Tim Leiweke long
ago bought the docile obedience of the mayor and City Council with millions of
dollars in contributions to various funds they control and generous freebies to
events at Staples Center.

This year alone, Leiweke
has spent $1 million enriching lobbyists to buy “access” to elected officials
in Sacramento and City Hall as well as hundreds of thousands more for lawyers
and public relations experts engaged in the process of manipulating the public
debate and the politicians.

AEG and its affiliates and
representative have been contributing heavily to state legislators as well with
a recent tabulation at Maplight.com finding nearly $100,000 was
given to 30 current Assembly and Senate members. 

The No. 1 recipient with
$10,500 in Anschutz money from 2003 to 2009 was Moorpark Republican Tony
Strickland. His wife Audra was fifth on the list with $7,300. They are among
the few Republicans on the list, showing this isn’t about supporting Anschutz’s
ideological nonsense; it’s about adding to his vast fortune.

Also among the top
recipients of Anschutz money are Assembly Speaker John Perez ($3,600); Senate
Leader Darrell Steinberg ($8,100); Kevin DeLeon, chair of the Senate
Select Committee on Sports and Entertainment that held a hearing Friday on the
CEQA exemption ($5,300) and committee members Alex Padilla ($10,100), Gil
Cedillo ($8,100), and, of course, Tony Strickland.

Strickland makes no bones
about where he stands, saying last February as AEG lobbyists and pitchmen
roamed the Capitol: “I told them they can
call on me. I’m going to do whatever I can.”
 

At the hearing
last Friday, he was so effusive he talked about how the stadium deal will
create 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs He even sent out an email blast afterwards
linking to an article on the hearing and adding this comment: 
“It’s a no-brainer … We’re in a crisis
situation when it comes to jobs.”

Strickland took the same position more than two years ago when he backed an effort to exempt the Club Nokia nightclub
at AEG’s LA Live from a state law that prohibits onsite advertising of alcohol
brands being sold at the club.

“At a
time when we have the highest unemployment since the Great Depression, this
bill will help bring more jobs, more people back to work in the city of Los
Angeles,” Strickland said in support of the bill by John Perez.

Jobs, jobs,
jobs – it’s all about jobs these days in the political lexicon because they
know we’re worried about losing ours and actually care about those who already
are out of work.

But how real
are the jobs AEG is generating?

Here’s what
they said in April LA Live has done for people looking for work: 2,436 “living
wage” jobs, 1,077 “tipped” employees and 183 non-living wage jobs for a total
of 4,064.

The 6,500 new
jobs claimed for the Farmers Field project are much the same — a point made Friday at the Senate hearing by the state Legislative Analyst Office which pointed out that the revenue generated by the football stadium will simply take money away from other entertainment venues, restaurants and bars with very little new money or real jobs.

Working for
tips and the living wage or less serving beer and sweeping floors do not solve
the real crisis in LA, the crisis of soaring poverty rates and the lack of
opportunity for hard-working people to have better lives.

Leiweke has orchestrated a
textbook campaign in political and media manipulation over the last year
complete with ultimatums that brought the entire City Council to its knees and now has the California Legislature under a Sept. 9 deadline to
give him what he wants – or else.

He dismisses as “crazies”
those who question why it’s a good to have a stadium adding to downtown’s
congestion and 46 digital billboards flashing off the stadium and the rebuilt
Convention Center that he will soon be running for his profit while the public
pays of $750 million on it.

He refuses to even talk to
the city-county-state Coliseum Commission about locating his football team
there until his stadium gets built in 2016, preferring to do business with the
University of Southern California – an institution that gets whatever it wants
from City Hall and is about to launch a $5 billion fund-raising drive that
Anschutz surely will be called on for help.

This isn’t about jobs, jobs, jobs. It’s about enriching a Denver billionaire and his pals.

The issue that matters is whether this stadium is good for LA, its people and its neighborhoods — and that takes a thorough and complete EIR and the chance for people to challenge it in court when the City Council rubber-stamps it without even asking a single hard question or getting a single honest answer.

AEG’s NFL Stadium: What’s In It For You and Me?

“Los Angeles has lost something. It no longer fields the kind of
seasoned political leadership that inspires confidence. That’s a loss
far greater than a football team.”

The ink was hardly dry on those words of LA Times columnist Jim Newton when the City Council’s self-styled skeptics on AEG’s NFL stadium plans — Westsiders Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz — were proving his point.

As Koretz put it after hearing yet another shift in the proposal espoused by Tim Leiweke at a Mar Vista town hall with Neighborhood Council acitivists Monday night, “By having a good degree of healthy skepticism, this plan already is
considerably better than the one that originally came to us. We have to make sure that, in the absolute worst-case scenario, no
matter what goes wrong — and unfortunately with the Dodgers, we’ve seen
what can happen — that the city is still in good financial shape.”

Koretz’s remark as quoted in Sam Farmer’s report on the town hall in the Times is worth parsing because it exposes exactly what’s wrong with the debate on Farmers Field to this point.

The issue isn’t whether the city gets stiffed by AEG on the loans to tear down and rebuild half the Convention Center — reduced from $350 million to the high 200s thanks to a discount announced by Leiweke Monday night — and it’s not about the worst-case scenario which is the NFL is a dud in L.A. for the third time and leaves the city in even worst financial shape than it is today.

The issue is what’s in this for the city when all the profits from the stadium, the massive array of digital billboards, parking lots and turning over the Convention Center  to AEG — an issue that has gotten zero attention — go to Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz.while all the tax revenues go to paying off the city’s debt of three-quarters of a billion dollars.

It’s not like there’s a groundswell of public demand for a football team at a time when the Lakers are in decline and everybody hates the Dodgers whose owner has stiffed everybody in town, including Vin Scully who the team owes $150,000 to.

The plain truth is Leiweke cut a deal two years ago with the mayor for this stadium and took what was a done deal public last fall with an ultimatum that he wanted a signed deal with the city within three months, no questions asked, no environmental study, no cost-benefit analysis.

He’s been stumbling ever since over the details and needed City Hall to prop him up at every turn with one effort after another to whitewash what’s wrong with a Council;and a citizens committees pre-disposed to believe whatever Leiweke tells them while keeping the debate focused in irrelevant directions.

Isn’t it fair to ask what is in it for you and me, the people who are taking on the debt, paying the bills for all the infrastructure costs and support services like police and will rarely even be able to afford a ticket to a game?

Isn’t it fair to ask, as former Councilman Nate Holden did Monday night, whether AEG fulfilled all its commitments when we gave the company all that land and cash for Staples Center?

Isn’t it fair to ask why we gave $300 million in tax revenue for the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotel/condominium project at L.A. Live and now find out it’s a financial disaster — one that is potentially so damaging to AEG’s credibility that Anschutz had to buy out the State Teachers Retirement Fund and other investors before their losses got any deeper?

At the town hall, AEG pulled out of its promise to guarantee the city’s debt in this deal, offering instead to build two parking garages — one of which it was supposed to build as part of the subsidies it got for Staples Center — and commit the revenue toward paying off the city’s borrowing.

What AEGt offers the public is the thrill of a downtown stadium as opposed to Ed Roski’s stadium in Ihe City of Industry, which comes without risk or cost to the public anywhere, and the illusory promise of a boom in convention business, luxury hotels and entertainment venues on every corner of downtown, tens of thousands of new jobs, millions of tourists throwing money at us.

Maybe, maybe not.

Guys like Phil Anschutz don’t get to be billionaires playing nice with suckers like city officials who wouldn’t have the price of a ticket to Lakers or NFL games if they weren’t on the public dole.

To this point, what he has put on the table provides him with a low-risk,high-profit deal for himself and a no-profit,high-risk deal for the city and its people.

If you think the people you elected are going to do anything to serve you and protect your interests between now and July 31 — AEG’s latest ultimatum deadline — you are living in a fantasyland. All your public servants see is the free tickets and the parties in the luxury boxes.

AEG’s NFL Stadium: The Sweetest of All LA’s Sweetheart Deals

It must be hard for the mayor’s “Blue Ribbon Commission” on the downtown NFL stadium to keep such straight faces as they sit through a series of public meetings inquiring into what was a done deal months ago.

In the name of due diligence, they are staging a double-header today, climaxing the dog-and-pony road show performances that started Friday in the San Fernando Valley with an overview of all aspects of the project.

At the end of that session, the soon-to-depart Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, the investment banker and equity fund manager who serves as chairman, conceded in response to my comments that “it’s still early.”

By that he meant there are no studies of the economic or environmental impacts of the project, the infrastructure improvement costs, comparative analysis of the regional impact of the downtown vs. Industry stadium proposals or many other critical details.

What was totally clear was that the city gets no direct revenue from any aspect of AEG’s stadium, parking lot or the presumed AEG takeover of the reconstructed Convention Center as part of its Staples Center, LA Live hotel and entertainment operations.

All the direct revenue — leasing the city land, sales tax, ticket tax, parking tax — will go to pay off the $350 million in new city borrowing needed for AEG to tear down the Convention Center’s old wing. Even that won’t be enough so AEG’s owner Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz will need to pay up to $10 million to cover the city bonds cost.

The property tax increases generated directly from the stadium and indirectly by all the new luxury hotels, restaurants and bars that will flourish when construction is complete in 2016 will go to the Community Redevelopment Agency or its successor if the Legislature abolishes it on Thursday.

The City Council will see to that with its outrageous approval today of a subterfuge that undermines Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to restore California to financial solvency by protecting the property tax increment increases in all CRA project areas like downtown from going to schools or the city general fund.

This is one of the sweetest deals in the history of City Hall’s sweetheart deals — a deal so artful that the “Blue Ribbon Commission” made up of businessmen and dealmakers could not help but admire, showing their respect with softball questions.

The city’s business leaders, led by Carol Schatz of the Central City Association, didn’t even need to ask questions about the vagueness of AEG’s proposal. They simply stood up and saluted.

No one can deny the beauty of the deal from AEG’s perspective.

It’s an absolutely sure thing without risk to the company: Free land, free road improvements, probably reduced DWP rates and free sewer hookups, maybe even a three-year business tax holiday like other new businesses are getting.

It’s perfectly clear that AEG’s actual investment is small. The NFL will put up as much asa $250 million as it has for new stadiums in New York and Dallas suburbs; the city $350 million plus the freebies, and bankers will provide a lof of the upfront investment.

The only commitment AEG is making is the company they are forming to own the stadium and pieces of the San Diego Chargers and a second team to be named later will not put the city’s deficit-laden general fund at risk to paying any of the bills– a fine line distinction that excludes the DWP and all other city special funds.
.
In other words, taxpayers face a no-risk, no-gain proposition. Any revenue to the city will come years down the road, if at all, in the form of increased sales and hotel taxes generated indirectly from the promise of a boom that will come to downtown from all those football fans and all those major conventions that will die to party at LA Live.

But that’s OK with the mayor and everyone else at City Hall.

There will be construction jobs that will put ex-gangbangers and trades people to work and lots of opportunity for “living wage” jobs serving beer and hot dogs on Sundays in the autumn.

Jobs are all that matter in the calculus of measuring the value of this deal — that is the official policy of City Hall which has destroyed more jobs — 100,000 more — than it has created with its policies over the last three decades.

You can trust these people and even re-elect them today if you want. But I’d rather invest my money in a piece of AEG if I could than in City Hall. AEG is a winner, City Hall is a loser.

Here are links to videos of the complete commission hearing on Friday:
AEG’s ROAD SHOW, Part One
AEG’s ROAD SHOW, Part Two
BUSINESS: No Questions
THE PUBLIC: Few Facts, Many Questions

FOLLOW-UP: Antonio’s NFL Video Cost Taxpayers Nothing — Just Like NFL Stadium

CurbedLA writer Dakota Smith got the first shot at the mayor’s astonishing video promoting AEG’s plan to build an NFL stadium downtown on Convention Center property and was told it didn’t cost taxpayers a dime to make.

“Arielle J. Goren, press secretary for the Mayor’s office, acknowledges
that no stadium proposal deal is really yet on the table,” Smith reported, “but ‘we would
prefer to have a stadium built within the city of LA.’ She also insists
that ‘no costs’ to the city were incurred to make this video, which was
made by the Mayor’s new media team, according to Goren. The new media
team consists of one full-time person and a handful of interns, she
says.
Thumbnail image for 432424.jpg
Wait just a minute, aren’t those city workers using city equipment and driving all over town in a city vehicle on city time to shoot video of people cheering for an NFL team?

Isn’t this an LA Fire Department crew and a mayoral aide begging for an NFLThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 544535.jpg team?

How many other city workers were involved in the project to propagandize for a stadium proposal that doesn’t exist — supposedly — and has a “blue-ribbon panel” of backers ready to examine it when it does?

Whatever happened to the mayor’s outrageous policy of full cost recovery?

You know the policy that makes taxpayers pay the “full cost” of every service they get from the city like trash pickup, ambulances and just about everything else.

It’s the same policy applied to city departments that has forced parks and libraries to close because they are forced to choose between paying salaries and paying for water, power and everything else that can be applied.

You can be sure if the full cost recovery policy was applied to this video, the bill would run into many thousands of dollars, taxpayer dollars, dollars needed to keep the city afloat.

“No costs” and “full costs” — it’s the mayor’s situational financial policies that have gotten the city into all this trouble on his watch.without him ever making a video or even a speech discussing the extent of the city’s money problems let alone offering solutions.

So when Antonio swears on a stack of Bibles that AEG’s secret plan to build an NFL stadium will be “100 percent” paid for by billionaire Phil Anschutz at “no cost” to the public, you have to assume he’s using the same bookkeeping method he used to declare this astonishing video didn’t cost a dime.



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