Stadium has fans and foes
When Mayor David Perez of the city of Industry looks out over the rolling, 600-acre site on his city’s eastern edge, he sees the future home of an NFL stadium and an economic engine that would bring jobs and tax revenue for the entire region.
When Joaquin Lim, the mayor of nearby Walnut, imagines a stadium there, he sees a potential disaster: traffic, noise and “passionate, emotional” football fans.
The eastern San Gabriel Valley has become the latest battleground in the decades-long -- and some say quixotic -- campaign to bring pro football back to the Los Angeles region.
Industry, a city of more than 2,500 businesses and fewer than 800 residents, thinks it has what Irwindale, Pasadena, Los Angeles and Carson lacked.
Skeptics abound. But Industry is taking a first step today, when the city’s 84 registered voters will consider a $500-million bond that would pay for stadium-related infrastructure bonds. And two days later, the City Council is scheduled to certify the project’s environmental impact report.
Those plans, which include the construction of four practice fields, restaurants, banquet facilities, offices and an NFL attraction, have divided the valley.
Some neighboring cities, including West Covina and La Puente, passed resolutions in favor of the stadium, citing its potential economic effect on the area. And earlier this month, the Independent Cities Assn., a nonprofit that represents 52 cities in Los Angeles County, endorsed the plan.
But two of the stadium’s closest civic neighbors, Diamond Bar and Walnut, oppose the plans. They cite concerns about traffic and the effect that thousands of visitors to the stadium could have on their streets and quality of life.
By contrast, Industry’s focus is primarily on, well, industry. In the early 1950s, as the Los Angeles area was quickly urbanizing, residents in the area feared that the city of Los Angeles might annex their land for industrial use. The city charges no business taxes but instead relies on revenue from various retail outlets within its boundaries, including the Puente Hills mall. And it is unabashedly business-friendly: Factories and other facilities are allowed to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The fact that the city has so few residents, Perez said, is one of the reasons that it is so attractive as a potential NFL site. “They are going to be unencumbered.”
When billionaire Ed Roski announced plans last year to build an $800-million NFL stadium in Industry, part of a shopping and entertainment center he had been developing for the 600 acres near the intersections of the 57 and 60 freeways, he was doing so, he said, because he thought that having a professional football team was important for Los Angeles.
Roski, who is chief executive of Majestic Realty, which is headquartered in Industry, and was one of the key forces behind the construction of Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, was not alone in that desire.
Since both the Raiders and the Rams left the region after the 1994 season, communities across the Southland have tried to rally support for NFL stadiums within their boundaries, to little avail. Anaheim and Carson considered but ultimately abandoned the idea of building stadiums. Pasadena’s Rose Bowl and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum both were ultimately rejected as potential sites, either because they were civically unpopular (Pasadena) or structurally unsuitable (the Coliseum).
Even if Roski is successful at obtaining the necessary civic support within Industry, there are still significant obstacles to his bid. It remains to be seen whether the NFL would sanction moving a team to Industry.
The city of Los Angeles continues to actively lobby for bringing a team to a stadium within its own boundaries.
And he may face legal opposition from Walnut, or Diamond Bar, or both.
The two communities object to the fact that the environmental impact report that the Industry City Council will vote on Thursday is simply a supplement to an earlier report by Roski’s company, done when the project was envisioned as a large shopping center, not a home for one or two NFL teams.
“We are seeking either a renewed study or more detail and/or financial resources to properly deal with the traffic . . . not created by us,” said Jim Di Stefano, Diamond Bar’s city manager.
Last year, the city submitted a 102-page response to Industry’s plans and has made all of its correspondence available on the city website.
Besides traffic, Di Stefano said, Diamond Bar leaders are worried that the stadium could diminish public safety for their city. Walnut and Diamond Bar share a sheriff’s station, which is located in Walnut, only a few blocks from the planned stadium, near Grand Avenue, which is the main artery into Diamond Bar and would serve as a major thoroughfare in and out of the stadium. Di Stefano said that without adequate planning, authorities might not be able to get to Diamond Bar in a timely fashion around the time of a game at a new stadium.
Walnut Mayor Lim said that ultimately, he thought that although a stadium might make sense for Industry, it did not for its neighbors.
“They believe the stadium suits the charter of their city,” he said. “We, however, feel that the city of Walnut is a totally different setup.”
Industry’s mayor, Perez, said that concerns about traffic and other effects from the stadium had been addressed in the project’s supplemental environmental impact report.
“They call it quality of life issues,” he said of Walnut and Diamond Bar. “For my take, they don’t want the stadium. They just don’t want an NFL stadium.”
Perez and John Semcken, a vice president of Majestic Realty, said they expected a lawsuit seeking to block the project from moving forward should the Industry City Council approve the supplemental EIR.
But they also vowed that they would ultimately succeed.
“In the long run,” Semcken said, “they will lose and have spent thousands of dollars. We will go forward and bring one team, possibly two, to Los Angeles.”
Douglas Johnson, a fellow at The Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College, said that in many ways, this current dust-up is no different from previous clashes among East San Gabriel Valley towns over trash dumps, recycling plants and other high-impact facilities.
“Certain people with power are trying to make things happen, and other people lacking the power are getting stepped on,” he said.
“It is fairly crazy politics, without a doubt,” Johnson said.
Heidi L. Gallegos, chief executive officer of the Regional Chamber of Commerce-San Gabriel Valley, said that the project spurred a “back-and-forth” dialogue among her members, but the organization’s board ultimately decided to support the project.
“Some of our local businesses are looking forward to the repatriation of funds and the creation of jobs, while others were worried about additional traffic impeding their respective business,” she said of the businesspeople who make up the chamber’s membership.
Di Stefano said he was surprised by how many local cities had supported the stadium -- especially because the nature of the suburban venue would mean that they would see little effect, positive or negative, from the proposed development.
“The cities that have embraced it won’t feel it or see it or hear it when it’s operational,” he said.
On a recent sunny morning, Bryan Gonzalez was sitting on the patio of a Subway sandwich store in Walnut, barely a mile from the hillside site where the NFL stadium would be built.
Gonzalez, a student at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, had schoolbooks open on the table in front of him.
The Upland resident said he worried that if the stadium was built, the traffic for him and others in the area “would be pretty messed up.”
But then he smiled when he thought about the idea of an NFL stadium near his home. “I would like to go there,” he said wistfully.
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