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Should Arena Funding Issue Be Put to Vote?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, who is opposed to using public money to help build a new sports arena, is backing a ballot measure that would require that stadium projects relying on city funds be approved by a majority of voters.

The developers of the proposed $300-million downtown basketball and hockey arena have offered to guarantee repayment of the $70 million in municipal securities the city would take on to help finance the project.

Opponents of the ballot initiative claim it threatens a project that could bring jobs and revenue to downtown Los Angeles. Those who favor the measure say they want to ensure that tax money is not lost to wealthy sports entrepreneurs.

Should we have a ballot initiative on the public funding of sports facilities?

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City Councilman Joel Wachs:

“I think we should. Since people have to vote on new libraries and schools and new fire and police stations, at the very least they should vote on whether they should have to pay for new sports stadiums. My proposal calls for voters to have a say in whether we use city funds for new sports facilities. . . . Frankly, I believe the voters will drive a better bargain than City Hall will.”

Carol Schatz, president and chief executive officer, Central City Assn.:

“Is the City Council going to put every expenditure that impacts taxpayers . . . on the ballot? We hope that people won’t be fooled and deceived by this Populist rhetoric that Wachs is using in pandering to the public . . . With the [developers’] guarantees, this is a risk-free deal. . . . The simplistic rhetoric belies the complicated nature of a deal like this. It does nothing to further the public’s understanding.”

Mildred Weller, president of the North Hollywood Concerned Citizens:

“The public should be allowed to vote on any substantial amounts of money being spent that will have to be repaid out of the public taxes. There seems to be a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea of a sports arena in L.A., but in my mind it’s questionable whether the economic benefits that are being touted by the developers are really logical. One of the justifications for this enormous public expense is that it will revitalize downtown L.A. . . . In my opinion, this is pie in the sky. The primary benefits are for those people who enjoy sporting events. It won’t benefit us in the Valley one iota unless you’re a sports fan.”

City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas:

“The proponents of the ballot initiative have unfortunately misled the public by suggesting that this somehow came about because of a secret deal where the public has been ripped off. It has not been secretive. We’ve had public discussion in committee and in council . . . It has been well-established for months that the city’s general fund would not underwrite this project; it would be repaid. . . . I’m deeply disappointed in the persons who have taken a good project and for their own political purposes [made] it appear to the public to be a bad project.”

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