Thursday, November 29, 2007

USC Should Be Given Complete Control Of Coliseum

First, let me pay tribute this morning to the tremendous article by Christopher Hawthorne on the future facing the glorious old stadium, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, on Page 1 of today's L.A. Times. He has said nearly everything that most needs to be said about the desirability of its preservation.

However, it may be useful for me to make a few observations, based on my two decades of reporting for the Times on the Coliseum Commission, most notably during the run up to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and then during the ill-fated relationship with the Los Angeles Raiders, which ultimately resulted in Al Davis' unfortunate decision to take his team back to Oakland.

During all that time, I was able to observe operation of one of the most motley bunch of state, city and county bureaucrats ever assembled in one place. (From this, I except my friends Margaret Farnum, for 40 years the Coliseum secretary and/or chief administrative officer, and the late Los Angeles City Councilman John Ferraro. The late commissioner and labor leader, Bill Robertson, at least tried. Unfortunately, however, these figures were unable to overcome the imbecility and venality that never ceased to mark the other Coliseum officials).

The only thing this group ever really accomplished was to successfully insist that the commission purchase many thousands of dollars of Olympic tickets which were then given free to each of the commissioners as a reward for their cooperation in allowing the stadium to be used as the main venue of the 1984 Games. Thus, the commissioners feathered their own nests, while not working effectively to keep the Coliseum fully tenanted and up to date.

It's not surprising that politicians are grasping of freebies for themselves. But often, with their little corruptions, they manage to accomplish a few other things that benefit the public.

Not this commission. Its bullheadedness exhibited in the contract negotiations with USC that, according to USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett, in a letter released yesterday, have led to an "impasse," were in evidence in countless other negotiations over many, many years. As noted in the Times this morning, this commission, with its changing membership, has managed to lose one team after another from the Coliseum and the adjacent Sports Arena, which it also controls.

The Rams, the Chargers, the Raiders, these were the professional football franchises that were lost, in part because of the hapless negotiating skills of such commissioners as Alexander Hagen and Richard Riordan. But also in part, it must be said, because the National Football League never really cared for a stadium that was so large that sellouts permitting televising the games locally could seldom be attained.

USC, being a much better football franchise than any of these professional teams, can frequently fill the stadium. And since it is right next door to the USC campus, USC has always had the most love for it. It would hate to leave the memories of the glory days playing against Notre Dame, UCLA, Cal and Stanford, behind to play in the Rose Bowl, no matter how splendid that stadium is.

However, it may have to, if the Coliseum Commission persists in its main bureaucratic pursuit -- maintaining its total control, so its members can get the perks of membership.

USC has come to the Commission with a generous proposal. It will take over the facility and pay for $100 million in renovations over a ten-year period. The commission will not have to go out of existence. It can continue to meet and do nothing (in secret, of course; all meaningful discussions there have always been conducted behind closed doors). Ownership formally will remain public, but USC will run the show.

Of course, such a deal would mean that USC would get the benefits from renting out the Coliseum for other events, such as soccer, mass religious and other meetings, etc., plus concessions and parking. The old stadium has managed always to partially pay for itself by such means.

One impediment to a deal with USC is that the Commission would have to finally and officially abandon the idea of attracting another professional football team. Sam Farmer, a L.A. Times sportswriter, recently wrote an excellent story confirming that the NFL has no intention of returning to the stadium and, if it ever returns to Los Angeles, will arrange to go somewhere else. But City Councilman Bernard Parks, the present commission president, is reported just this morning to be sticking to the hopeless dream of attracting the NFL back.

This would not be desirable, even if it were possible, because the kind of stadium reconstruction which has been discussed with the NFL would ruin the old place. It just would not be the same after it was downsized and made ugly by the football league's architects. Parks, who acquired a reputation for ridiculous rigidity as Los Angeles Police Chief, is now exhibiting it again. (And this is a man who has the temerity to want to be elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors). Parks needs to take a powerful relaxant, and then make a deal.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has at last, happily, smelled the roses (not in Pasadena but in the Exposition Park Rose Garden), and formally dropped the idea of appealing in the future to the NFL. However, it is certainly an ominous sign that among the members of the Coliseum Commission is Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Whereever you find the incompetent Yaroslavsky, be it rapid transit, the Martin Luther King Hospital, or the Coliseum, you can be sure he will louse it up.

USC will bring the stadium back to its glory days. And if the Coliseum Commission won't hurriedly agree to the terms the university has proposed, then somebody ought to go down there and adopt a Saudi Arabian-like punishment, lashing the commissioners to within an inch of their lives.


It appears the sale of Tribune Co. to real estate magnate Sam Zell will go ahead after all. More on this in a day or two.

First, let me pay tribute this morning to the tremendous article by Christopher Hawthorne on Page 1 of today's Los Angeles Times, on the need to preserve one of the greatest cultural monuments of this city, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He has said nearly everything that most needs to be said.

However, I will add my own observations in nearly two decades of covering the Coliseum Commission for the L.A. Times, during which time the Raiders left the facility and numerous renovation plans fell by the wayside.



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