Tailgate Your Ass Off

by Gary Phillips

As chronicled in Mike Davis’ seminal book about L.A., City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, in 1914, F.J. Zeehandelaar of the Merchants and Manufacturers Association boasted to representatives of the United States Commission on Industrial Relations that the key to contented workers and maintaining the open shop was to make sure they made just enough to be able to put a down payment on their tidy little bungalows. The term open shop is a bit of a euphemism supposedly meaning a worker isn’t required to join a union in their place of employment, but in practice in Los Angeles it meant orchestrated and often virulent anti-union campaigns should an organizing drive be mounted. This city, unlike the growth of New York City and once union-heavy Detroit, has a long history of keeping organized labor at bay—though certainly there is even today union representation of longshoremen, janitors, and steelworkers, and in the public sphere.

How interesting then that Service Employees International Union Local 721 got a shout-out from the dais when I attended the panel discussion at the swank Biltmore Hotel downtown about plans for a new football stadium in L.A. on Thursday, March 31st. Entitled “The NFL in LA: A Touchdown for Angelenos?” the discussion was put on by the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs as part of their 2011 California Agenda Series. The panelists were 9th District Councilwoman (and mayoral candidate) Jan Perry, whose district includes much of downtown, John Semcken of Majestic Realty, David Pettit of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Dan Beckerman, COO of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG).

Harold Meyerson, editor at large for the progressive American Prospect magazine and former executive editor of the L.A. Weekly—back when the Weekly mattered—wrote in an op-ed in the L.A. Times this past April 4, “L.A. Labor—Getting the Job Done,” for the most part organized labor has been on the defense for some time now. He recounted the attacks on labor as exemplified by Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker ending collective bargaining for most of his state’s public sector workers and Ohio governor John Kasich being on that bandwagon too. I find Kasich particularly egregious, given he’s a multimillionaire who received a $400,000 bonus as managing director of Lehman Brothers the year they went bankrupt and were part of the machinery leading to the economic meltdown.

Los Angeles Stadium
proposed Los Angeles Stadium in City of Industry

Anyway, Meyerson pointed out that in L.A. there has been success in providing good jobs at livable wages, specifically in the field of construction, where there are initiatives being pushed by the likes of the Black Workers Center and the L.A. County Federation of Labor around training of people of color. For many decades those folks were locked out of apprenticeships and skilled work tiers in the building trades. There are plans to expand the ports and, as evidenced by the Expo Line being built near my Aunt Margaret’s house, our Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking to expand light rail construction. SEIU 721 is not a hard hats local nor does it rep private sector workers, but mostly city and county workers across the Southland.

Yet AEG has been cozy with unions before when it came to building the Staples Center and erecting L.A. Live, and looks to again as they proceed with their stadium plans. Majestic has also reached a tentative agreement with the L.A./O.C. Building Trades Council to have their stadium built by union hands. Nonprofits in L.A. will also look to extract a decent community-benefits agreement from AEG. In Industry, well, it seems that city will be bending over backwards just to have something that size built out there, as it will include an office complex, skate park and apparently, according to their slick, fold-out brochure, overhead gondola rides.

The debate then in Los Angeles is not whether football stadiums generate revenues for a municipality—most studies would say they don’t—or if low income people are going to get displaced—they already have in downtown L.A. in the area where AEG’s stadium, Farmers Field (Farmers Insurance reportedly agreed to pay $600 million for 30-year naming rights), is planned. In the City Of Industry where Majestic wants their Los Angeles Stadium, there’s no one to move. Rather, as presented on the panel, the debate is where the stadium should be built.

Semcken, representing Majestic, made the case for their City Of Industry site, comparing it to the new Cowboys stadium that’s not in Dallas, but 25 miles away in Arlington, Texas. You, that is we, would have all the benefits and none of the headache of traffic congestion and freeway tie-ups. He noted that at this past Super Bowl, held at the stadium in Arlington, it was Dallas hotel rooms where the out-of-towners stayed (there are a whopping 292 hotels rooms in Industry, Semcken noted), and it was in Dallas where all the cool parties were held. Semcken was also big on the tailgate experience his stadium would offer, as there’s a park and ride about a half mile away. I’m sure Mr. Semcken is not suggesting people should drink or eat to excess, but this business of plenty of room to tailgate, and stumble around, is echoed in their brochure. Beckerman of AEG countered that sure, that was for the Super Bowl, but how many of those happen at any one stadium?

Farmers Field
proposed Farmers Field in downtown Los Angeles

For their part, AEG’s deal would not only put a stadium in downtown L.A.—though I doubt the duck canapé craving loft dwellers care—but includes the expansion of the Convention Center even as they have to tear down West Hall for the football field. This is where the numbers get interesting, as Majestic’s bid is the $800 million they’re looking to raise, all private funding. AEG also looks to raise private monies for their $1.35 billion wonder, coupled with floating $350 million in municipal bonds to cover the Convention Center overhaul. Councilwoman Perry was emphatic the deficit-hurting City of Los Angeles can’t afford to be on the hook for those bonds. The City and AEG are negotiating terms, but the idea is that the annual $25 million or so of debt service on the bonds would be covered by a portion of ticket sales and other revenues—including AEG paying out of pocket should those revenues fall short.

Of course there’s no commitment from a team to move here and the NFL is in the middle of a lockout and nasty protracted labor struggle. The players and owners are butting heads and egos over revenues while the owners want to squeeze two more games per season out of the athletes.

On Majestic’s brochure, there’s a statement by Ed Roski, head of the company: “Designed for the NFL, the Los Angeles Stadium will provide an all-day experience, better views for all fans and a Super Bowl atmosphere each and every Sunday.”

I guess it’s party all the time at the L.A. Stadium. But will it be fun and games for either city should a stadium be built?

Gary Phillips' latest is Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers, a collection of his short stories.

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