Proposed downtown stadium could require county as well as city approval

In a political twist few officials appear to have anticipated, the proposed downtown National Football League stadium could require an approval from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, not just officials at City Hall.

A Times review of records spanning nearly half a century of financial and development issues involving the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the stadium would be built, shows that the county board has had to consider and vote on a range of city proposals involving the complex. That is because since Mayor Sam Yorty’s era, the two governments have been bound by a joint powers agreement created for construction and operation of the Convention Center.

The firm behind the stadium proposal, Anschutz Entertainment Group, has a track record and political allies at City Hall, where the plan generally has been well-received. But the company hasn’t sought county assistance or involvement in the project.

“We’re not asking anything out of the county because we don’t want to deal with them,” AEG President Tim Leiweke told The Times earlier this year during a discussion of the stadium and $350 million in proposed city borrowing for related Convention Center work.

An AEG spokesman said last week, “We don’t anticipate the involvement of the county or the Board of Supervisors.”


But he added that it was early in project negotiations and “premature to speculate about what approvals would be required in connection with the transaction and, in particular, the issuance of bonds by the city.”

City and county officials last voted to change the Convention Center agreement 13 years ago, clearing the way for construction of AEG’s Staples Center. The company now wants to relocate and upgrade part of the Convention Center to make room for a privately owned stadium that would complement its arena, hotel and entertainment holdings.

In initial interviews, some officials seemed only vaguely aware of the interagency pact signed in 1967. After some research, county Deputy Chief Executive Officer Ellen Sandt said the $1.4-billion stadium project could require a Board of Supervisors vote, depending on how the deal was negotiated at City Hall. Changes to existing financing and certain land uses could necessitate altering the city-county contract, she said.

County officials have tended to defer to the city on the Convention Center because the city owns the land, backs financing bonds and appoints most members of a hybrid board that oversees the center. Thus far, county supervisors have not voiced strong opinions on the stadium project.

One, Mark Ridley-Thomas, said: “If it were to come to us, we would be obliged to do our due diligence.”

Another supervisor, Michael D. Antonovich, has asked county staff to research the supervisors’ Convention Center role and responsibilities.

“He will have subsequent questions moving forward,” said spokesman Tony Bell.

One of Antonovich’s concerns is that stadium promoters may ask for a special exemption from legal challenges filed on environmental grounds. Such projects shouldn’t be treated differently from other California developments, Antonovich said.

Two years ago, the supervisors unsuccessfully fought a similar California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit exemption for a competing stadium plan in the City of Industry. State lawmakers, citing potential new jobs, ultimately granted that exception despite objections from environmental groups. AEG has said it may seek some sort of state legal protections for its stadium but is first focusing on finishing a state-required environmental review.

Supervisor Don Knabe predicted that the county board would agree to any needed approvals, assuming there were no negative financial effects on the county. “I don’t see any problem at this particular point,” he said. “It would be great to have a team back in L.A.”

Among the issues that have triggered past county involvement at the Convention Center is a street realignment through the complex in 1980. Five years later, the supervisors agreed to a major Convention Center expansion. In 1993, they approved refinancing hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. And in 1998 they adopted property changes permitting a land lease for Staples Center.

City Hall talks on a final stadium proposal could take months. But if the Convention Center accord again requires changing, “both the city and the county must sign off,” said Special Assistant City Atty. Jane Usher.