Texas businessman Billy Bob Barnett says he wants to protect you, the taxpayer, from an NFL stadium proposed in downtown Los Angeles.
Barnett, who once ran a honky-tonk billed as the world’s largest, has enlisted California lawmakers to place tough restrictions on the stadium project thousands of miles from his home. That way, his lobbyist says, it won’t become a boondoggle unfair to Angelenos.
Never mind that Barnett, a 6-foot, 5-inch former Chicago Bears defensive end, is locked in a bitter feud with the man behind the stadium plan, Philip Anschutz. The two have been battling over the prospect of competing concert halls in the Lone Star State.
There, in the city of Irving, Barnett wants to build a $250-million entertainment project 10 miles from an existing complex owned by Anschutz’s firm AEG. Anschutz is helping to bankroll a lawsuit that could derail Barnett’s plan.
Now the fight has moved to California, where Anschutz’s supporters say the Los Angeles stadium project would create much-needed jobs.
“It appears that the objectives of all parties interested in creating good local jobs are in conflict with a failed Texas developer,” said AEG spokesman Michael Roth.
Barnett and his political advisors have persuaded at least two California lawmakers to help draft legislation that could undermine the stadium plan. One proposal would limit use of the facility to weekends, meaning no lucrative Monday night football games or Friday night rock concerts. Another would restrict borrowing.
A linchpin of the stadium plan is the sale of more than $200 million in city bonds to move part of the downtown Convention Center, making way for the $1-billion NFL facility. Barnett’s Sacramento lobbyist, Jim Cassie, said his client wants to help Los Angeles residents by ensuring that any bonds involved are a safe risk.
“He feels that if you are going to use bonds, they really have to be protected for the taxpayers,” Cassie said.
State Sen. Bill Emmerson (R-Hemet), a moderate with a respectable measure of clout in the upper house, has introduced one of the measures. It would block the sale of bonds benefiting sports facilities until the state reviews them and reports to the involved city “on the future financial risk imposed on the taxpayers.”
His bill, SB 156, also would require a professional sports team that benefits from debt approved by a public agency to post a bond to cover the borrowed money.
Emmerson said he took up the legislation at Cassie’s request. The senator said he was unaware that Cassie’s client was Barnett, although a fact sheet on the bill provided by the senator’s office identifies the sponsor as OS Consulting, Barnett’s firm.
Another lawmaker, whom Cassie declined to identify, has directed legislative lawyers to write a separate bill at Barnett’s behest. It would impose strict new environmental rules on the stadium project, adding to the challenge of getting necessary government approvals.
The measure also would include the ban on weekday events, according to a copy of the draft bill provided by Cassie.
“Polling that was done for the proposed Los Angeles stadium shows that the biggest concern people have is traffic,” Cassie said. “So, limiting use of the stadium to weekend days and nights made sense.”
Adding to the intrigue is that one of Cassie’s business partners used to work for AEG’s biggest local rival on the stadium project, Majestic Realty. Majestic wants to build a professional football stadium in City of Industry.
The Los Angeles area probably could not support both stadiums. AEG and Majestic are jockeying, each hoping to push its own project forward first.
Cassie says the former Majestic manager, Meghan Loper, is not working on the Barnett legislation.
The lawyers AEG is paying to press the Texas lawsuit against Barnett’s project say Anschutz’s company, too, is concerned only with taxpayers’ well-being.
AEG “didn’t think that the project made economic sense and thought that the city was going to find itself with a problem property,” said Jim Harris, the attorney for Irving Taxpayers Opposed to Illegal and Wasteful Use of Tax Money.
The case is pending in the Texas Supreme Court.