Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Does Eli Broad Want The Times, Or Tax Writeoffs?

Is the Eli Broad-Ron Burkle offer for the Tribune Co. real, or is it simply a means of gaining municipal tax write offs for big downtown Los Angeles projects?

Municipal politicians, noticing that Broad has been talking about buying the L.A. Times, might simply have decided, as a matter of career prudence, to let Broad get away with $66 million in tax write offs for his proposed Grand Ave. project.

That occurred to me when I read Steve Lopez's excellent column today in the Times on the many questions raised by giving away $66 million in public money for a project which, if it is worthwhile, could probably go forward on its own.

Lopez remembered when Joel Wachs was on the City Council and objected to such giveaways, quite successfully. He mentioned that when Wachs objected, wealthy businessmen would decide that, by golly, they could go ahead without so much in city funds.

Besides, his interviews showed, people out in the San Fernando Valley would rather have longer library hours than more downtown skyscrapers.

I found as a consumer columnist for the Times that Broad's old building company, Kaufman and Broad, often resorted to cost-cutting in building homes and that many buyers reported they had found defects. The firm was frequently not too quick in fixing them.

Broad, in short, is not quite the public servant that he pretends to be, and it would be distressing if he were using the prospect of Times ownership as an incentive for the City Council to give him special favors.

Our City Council, like the Board of Supervisors, is often not too zealous in protecting the public interest. Be it doing away with Los Angeles' magnificent palm trees, or giving developers special privileges they do not deserve, they are too often inclined to sell out the people without adequate reason.

In any event, at this point, it doesn't look like Burkle and Broad will obtain control of the Times or the whole Tribune Co., because (1) their offer is not very generous and (2) Chicago interests are resisting selling out despite their proven incompetence in running Tribune.

Sometimes, it is worth giving some tax concessions to developers, especially when they provide something that cannot be acquired any other. But in this case, it looks like we are being had.

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