Rose Bowl neighbors threaten lawsuit over NFL plans
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As Pasadena officials move ahead with plans to bridge a $30-million funding gap for renovations at the Rose Bowl, the next hurdle for bringing professional football to the stadium may be a legal one.
Following more than five hours of debate, Pasadena City Council members voted 7 to 1 last week to increase the annual cap on large events at the Rose Bowl from 12 to 25. The move opens the door to negotiations with the NFL to bring a team to Pasadena for up to five years while a permanent stadium is built in Los Angeles.
Roughly 120 people packed the marathon meeting at Pasadena City Hall, many of them residents of neighborhoods surrounding the stadium who said that traffic gridlock and unruly fans would disrupt enjoyment of the Arroyo Seco by homeowners and recreational visitors alike.
Leaders with the Linda Vista – Annandale, San Rafael and West Pasadena Residents associations said their groups will likely mount a courtroom challenge to the Rose Bowl-NFL environmental study approved by the council.
The study estimated that NFL fans would drive more than 25,000 vehicles to the stadium on game days, generating noise and air pollution and crowding busy intersections in every direction. The impact, like during the Rose Bowl or UCLA Bruins home games, would prompt officials to shut down the Brookside Golf Course, Rose Bowl Aquatics Center and Kidspace Museum on game days.
Ron Paler, president of the San Rafael Neighborhood Assn., said the study downplayed a risk that games would stretch firefighting resources on the city’s west side and failed to account for gridlock on Avenue 64 and nearby freeway ramps.
Linda Vista — Annandale Assn. President Nina Chomsky said the study also neglected cumulative effects to citywide recreation and open-space access.
“Whether we’re going to end up [with a lawsuit] is unclear, but we’re not just going to roll over and play dead,” Chomsky said.
Council members who voted in favor of NFL talks said proceeds of a deal would help the city pay for stadium renovation costs. Initially estimated at $152 million, the price tag for ongoing Rose Bowl upgrades has climbed to $195 million.
Barrett Sports Group, a Manhattan Beach consulting firm hired by the city, projects an NFL lease could raise between $5 million and $10 million for the stadium each year.
Council members promised they would work to alleviate any impact on nearby neighborhoods.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the whole city to take the next step,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin. “I’m not excited about the NFL and clearly [the Rose Bowl’s neighbors] are not excited, but it’s the responsible thing to do.”
The NFL proposal is speculative. No team has committed to Southern California, and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is another possible temporary venue for a team.
While the city lays the groundwork to lure an NFL team, leaders of the Rose Bowl Operating Co., which is controlled by the city, have deferred some aspects of the project and asked the city to refinance a 2006 bond to pay for others.
On Dec. 3, council members will consider refinancing $43 million in 2006 Rose Bowl bond debt to raise an additional $30 million for renovation efforts, said city Finance Director Andrew Green.
Councilman Victor Gordo, president of the Rose Bowl Operating Co., said the influx of cash would cover the costs for all currently approved Rose Bowl work while stadium officials look at ways to pay for deferred work such as concession stand upgrades and a new field-level entrance for fans.
New bond proceeds would increase the total available funds to $168.8 million, not counting up to $20 million in projected future revenue from concessions, college bowl games and pledges raised by a private fundraising group. The two figures together are less than $7 million shy of the current estimate for the total price tag — $195 million.
City Manager Michael Beck said officials may scrap some tunnel expansion plans and scale back concession stand upgrades to reduce future costs.
“We want to assure the community that we will only spend what we have in hand,” Gordo said.
Already completed upgrades, including a new luxury seating pavilion, may give the Rose Bowl an advantage over the Coliseum in the eyes of the NFL, said Dean Baim, a Pepperdine University economics professor who specializes in arena financing.
“Given its current state, I can see where the NFL might be reluctant to locate at the Coliseum,” Baim said. “The Rose Bowl is in a better state of repair. To some degree, the Rose Bowl is already at a professional level.”
— Joe Piasecki