The third rail of American politics is Social Security. The third rail of California politics is Proposition 13. And the third rail of Los Angeles politics, as Boston developer Frank McCourt is about to discover, is Dodger Stadium.
McCourt is the guy who's agreed in principle to buy the Dodgers for $430 million from Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corp. Even before a single pitch is thrown, this makes McCourt a hero to Dodger fans everywhere. Under Murdoch's brief ownership, the Dodgers traded away their best player, made radio listeners subscribe to a cable TV channel if they wanted to hear Vin Scully past the third inning and, in general, earned much the same reputation for on-field futility that it's taken the Cubs and Red Sox generations to create.
But there's one folly that Murdoch was either too diversified or, probably, too smart to contemplate. Other than adding $50 million worth of luxury boxes and fast-food stalls, he didn't mess with Dodger Stadium.
McCourt, on the other hand, isn't a billionaire, just a multimillionaire. He may even have to unload a few acres of the Boston parking lots he owns, or at least borrow on them, to pay for the team. In other words, McCourt won't be too diversified to futz around with Dodger Stadium. The question is, is he smart enough not to?
To be sure, the rumors have begun to swirl. He wants to put condominiums in Chavez Ravine. He wants to put a football field next to the ballpark. He wants to knock over Dodger Stadium and build a field next to Staples Center, the same way he proposed to raze Fenway Park during his unsuccessful bid to buy the Bosox.
But I have faith in McCourt, and for two reasons. First, I'm a Dodger fan. Without faith, what would be the point?
Second, and more important, there's a way for McCourt to make a mint and still leave Dodger Stadium right where it belongs. It all comes down to this: What does downtown L.A. need much more than a ravine full of new condos? Easy parking at nonextortionate rates.
And what does Dodger Stadium have in abundance, 20 hours a day for 90 days a year, and around the clock for the other 275? Empty parking spaces, 16,000 of them, readily accessible from three freeways. Just think about the congestion that would take off downtown's many delightful one-way streets.
So you're Frank McCourt. What do you do?
* You open the parking lot gates at dawn on nongame days and don't close them until an hour after last call at the Disney Hall bar.
* You buy the cleanest-burning, lowest-emission, most tax-credit-rich shuttle buses you can find and run them on a 20-minute loop from the stadium around downtown and back. Maybe you festoon these buses with the Dodgers' blue-and-white "LA" insignia -- still the most effective piece of local logo-craft ever -- and drop a discreet monitor from the ceiling showing highlights from Dodger history.
* You take Parking Lot 7, the sliver inside the grounds closest to downtown, and you turn it into a shuttle stop. Note: This shuttle stop would not be a mall. It would be a pleasant, south-facing depot with, count 'em, one coffee establishment, one independent bookstore/newsstand and one decent restaurant overlooking the skyline.
* Finally, you charge a reasonable flat fee for parking and, to encourage walking and biking in, you make the shuttle free.
Now the bad news: Probably none of this will work. At a minimum, sharing Dodger Stadium with the world's biggest park-and-ride lot wouldn't be easy. The neighbors in Solano Canyon and Echo Park would want and deserve generous mitigation, and the downtown parking companies would squawk. But compared with lining up financing, securing permits and massaging public opinion to tear down what may be the most beloved public building in Los Angeles, isn't it worth a try?
McCourt needs to know that people love Dodger Stadium. They love it not just for the baseball or for its incomparable loveliness at sunset, but because it may be the last place in L.A. where 56,000 people of different classes and races -- even, alas, different rooting allegiances -- can come together and have the same good time.
This much I can guarantee: If McCourt ever declares his intention to harm a single blade of grass on the Dodger Stadium infield, there's only one sure-fire way he'll ever see a dime from it. That's if he sells tickets to Angelenos for the honor of lying down in front of his bulldozers.
David Kipen, a native Angeleno and the book critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, is a contributor to "The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles" (Red Hen Press, 2003). E-mail: email@example.com.