January 18, 2006 - From the January, 2006 issue

Parks Lobbies for NFL's Return to Coliseum; Seeks to Capitalize on Build-Out of Expo Rail Line

The influence of Los Angeles City Councilmember Bernard Parks extends far beyond the confines of District 8, which encompasses Central L.A. In addition to addressing the housing and economic challenges of a relatively poor district, he sits on the MTA board, and he has taken active roles regarding LAX modernization, the city budget, and the effort to attract an NFL team to the Coliseum. MIR was pleased to speak with Councilmember Parks about his plans for CD 8 and the city.

Bernard Parks

You've taken public leadership on transportation matters in L.A. and now serve as a member of the MTA board. Give us your sense of the city's and region's transit priorities.

Although you have to do the small things such as synchronizing lights and putting in left turn signals and such, if you do not have a system that accounts for the larger aspects of transportation, the smaller things will have minimal impact. We have to look at things such as the Eastside light rail line, the Expo Line, or eventually looking at extending the Wilshire subway, but those are all long-term, very costly programs. In the interim, bringing in Rapid buses, such as the service we started on Western Ave. with the new accordion buses, are the mid-range and shorter-range stuff that keeps transportation flowing.

As we focus on transportation corridors and reorganize how MTA deploys buses, people will be more inclined to look at how the zoning, businesses, and housing now become a major function of supporting the transportation corridor. I put a motion forward with Jan Perry a while back to look at how to increase the density along Figueroa. It's already a major transportation corridor, but we won't get the full benefits of that corridor unless we can increase the density of development so that people one day might live in a building and come downstairs to their office or their job site, or they may walk downstairs from that building and get on a Rapid bus or light rail train and get to their job. So, I think that the need is to merge housing, business and development, and that requires densification. As a result, the MTA increasingly will involve itself with zoning issues in and around corridors of transportation in the future.

Elaborate on the Expo Line's potential impact on your council district, as well as your role in the line's implementation.

My role in it is two- or three-fold. One, I'm on the MTA board, which approved final EIR late last month. I'm also on the authority that's going to build the line, which will go from the 7th St. tunnel down Flower St. and then down the MTA dedicated track along Exposition in the first phase to Culver City. And then I'm the councilmember for the district through which about two miles of the line passes. Getting the approval of the EIR was very important, and now we are receiving community input. The authority now takes on the role of building it and ensuring that we have taken into consideration all of the issues of design-build.

I am most concerned that we do not end up with just train track and gravel as we see on the Blue Line. We only have to look at the Orange Line to see how you can beautify a right of way and how landscaping can impact the environment. And you only have to go to the Gold Line to see how development and housing can be built in concert with the stations. The city of L.A. came forth with a comprehensive motion recently, and all the city departments with a role in this have actually concurred on the kinds of things that we should be looking at on the rail line.

Overall, this line offers so many benefits: it will include the Coliseum – maybe a new Coliseum – the expansion of the two major museums, the Science Center, and the Natural History Museum. It will also serve a major university campus, which is the largest private employer in the city. As we look towards Culver City, we should be looking at a variety of things, such a park and ride, because some of those cross streets like Vermont, Western, and Crenshaw are heavily traveled.

We should also look at how we can develop along that corridor while remaining sensitive to the safety, the sounds, and the schools, such as Foshay and Dorsey, but also what we can put on that corridor to allow that system to be put to maximum use. And so as development comes along, we're looking at higher density, mixed-use, a variety of things that can bring people closer. And the park and rides are absolutely essential so that we can allow people who live in the immediate communities to drive a block or two, park, and get on the rail system.

On the Gold Line and Blue Line they thought people would access the lines only from the public transit system when in fact many people will access it if they can park and then ride those lines. We want the Expo Line to be a hybrid in between the environment and landscaping of the Orange Line and the development of the Gold Line. But we don't believe that it's of any value to the community to just have a stark system with just track and gravel.

Let's turn to the LAX master plan. Lydia Kennard has returned to LAX as its manager, and a settlement is in the works between the litigants and the city of L.A. to resolve the master plan's issues. You've been very forceful and eloquent about the need for a master plan alternative. Are you satisfied with the announced settlement?

I'm satisfied to the degree that it will work. But, again, as always with these issues, the devil is in the details. I think getting the settlement allows everyone to put their energy into developing a real regional air transportation system. The plan to focus on the runway is absolutely essential for safety and for bringing in the new larger planes. The development of the Bradley Terminal is also essential, because the international flights will start using the larger planes. Manchester Square was not well conceived for safety, and it was not well conceived for transportation either.

I believe that it's going to be critical to find a way to get the Green Line into the airport or closer than its current location, because if we're going to talk about regional transportation, we have to bring the rail system into the airport so that we're not bringing in more cars. In terms of safety, we believe that car bombs and individual vehicles are the most dangerous part of the conveyance system, and we can eliminate some of the risk by providing access from our rail system. We are also considering a dedicated track along Aviation Bl., which could be part of the rail system that eventually brings people from the Crenshaw area into the airport.

And the other thing we have to look at is goods movement. We have a rail right of way that goes down Slauson that's not being used, and it's the only rail system that connects the airport and the harbor. So eventually we hope that that rail system could be part of the goods movement strategy so we can reduce the number of trucks that have to come in and pick up air cargo.

But also with this focus on regionalization, Palmdale and Ontario should be expanded. No one in the Inland Empire should come to LAX to get on an airplane. No one should be coming from the Valley if we get the Palmdale airport on line. That allows the city to manage these 78 million passengers. If we do not manage it, the FAA has said that it will send as many passengers as can fit on the planes. If we have any hope of managing what comes into LAX, we have to provide avenues for flights to go to other sites.

I'm now on a committee with SCAG, and we know that if we want to get federal money for these projects, they have to be in the SCAG master plan and the MTA's master plan. Eventually we have to start thinking about connecting the ground transportation with the airport so that you can realistically get off one plane in one airport and get a connection at another airport.


I would hope that some time in our lifetime we will have, by state law, a six-county regional airport authority that can do things, as we see with SCAG. Some places such as El Toro and Orange County will never make a decision to absorb their fair share of the air traffic if they have to do it voluntarily. Unless you have a state-mandated airport authority that coordinates the air travel for the six counties as we do with SCAG for ground transportation and other issues, you're never going to have a county voluntarily taking an additional load.

MIR's sister publication, The Planning Report, carried an interview with Pasadena City Councilmember Chris Holden about their efforts to bring an NFL team to the Rose Bowl. Clearly, they're a little behind L.A. on their EIR and other approvals. Can you give us a status report on the L.A. Coliseum's bid for the NFL?

Certainly Pasadena was a viable choice, but I think the community has spoken, and, as a consequence, Pasadena is behind in the process, particularly if you listen to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who says that they want to make a decision by the time of the Super Bowl in February. I don't think Pasadena can meet that threshold. The NFL can obviously look at Orange County, and certainly they're making a viable pitch.

But Los Angeles has a very recent environmental impact study, and we have a stadium design that's been approved by our preservationists, by the Coliseum Commission, and by the NFL; it's also been approved by USC, which would be the other major tenant. We also have a term sheet that is now being converted into a 55-year lease so that we can begin to look at all the details of what a lease would entail. We are also the only facility that has all the infrastructure such as ingress and egress, freeway access, roads that are already in place, and by the middle of next year we'll have a $10 million transportation signage system much like the one around Staples Center.

The NFL had expressed concern about working with three levels of government in the Coliseum Commission, and the Coliseum Commission recently voted to remove itself from the operation of the new stadium. That would be done solely by the ownership of the stadium.

The commission would stay in place to run some of the other issues in the park. Most major projects requiring state money have been put on hold, so any other site needing that kind of infrastructure is going to be behind the curve. If the NFL is serious about getting a team in the area by 2009, there's going to have to be movement pretty quickly with the two-year building cycle. Right now the city is moving forward on its efforts to the point that we can pull building permits tomorrow if the NFL chooses the Coliseum. No other site is that far along.

Address some of the trade-offs that come with sharing parking revenue with the other civic institutions in Exposition Park. Why should the NFL, with only an eight-game schedule, receive the lion's share of these revenues? How do you assess the value of competing claims on this revenue?

The NFL would have eight to ten games, and USC would have six, but that new stadium also will be a viable venue for large soccer games, concerts, and, as part of the agreement, the NFL will get 25 prime dates. Those dates may be weekends that impact the museums, but they get only 25 of them. So I believe you're going to see far more events there than just the eight games for the NFL. Also, in a warm weather city we can begin to think about hosting Super Bowls with some regularity, and that's about a $300-$400 million infusion the city. But when you think about the revenue generated in the park, the game plan is going to eventually prove to be the best deal for any municipality in the United States.

I don't want to go into the specifics of the funds that are being negotiated, but when it's all said and done, the NFL will be paying on their dime the total cost of building the stadium. No other place in the United States has gotten that agreement. The city has made a commitment to build some of the infrastructure that may support both the community and the NFL – street widening or more parking – but they're not for just the NFL and just the stadium.

You've been a City Council leader in oversight of the city's budget and the fiscal issues that challenge the city's priorities. How does L.A.'s budget look for 2006, given the revenue and expenditure projections?

Right now, I think the word is caution. We're at about mid-year, and this is the first indication of how things are stacking up. We're seeing more revenue coming in on transfer tax from property tax. For the last couple of years that's been the significant increase. We also have certain liability issues that we have to be sensitive that could cut into our revenue. At this moment our reserve fund is about $190 million; I think we started the fiscal year somewhere around $130 million. But we believe that by June 30, 2006, we need to be able to have our reserve funds somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million just so that we break even for next year. So the structural deficit remains. We're still spending more money than what we have allocated unless we do some restrictive practices whereby we hold on to expenditures during the year that ensure that we're able to recover some of the funds. And as long as we're getting higher-than-expected returns on some of the revenues, we're going to be cautiously optimistic.

The key for us this year is that each month we're looking at every department, and if they go in any way out of their budget mandate, there's a provision for the council to put them under a freeze. This is not the time to come up with significant expenditures, particularly expenditures that deal with multi-year costs, such as personnel costs. If we fulfill this budget we have right now, we'll have more funds for infrastructure development and repair for streets, sidewalks, tree-trimming, alleys, and pavings higher than we've seen in the last several years.

The key as we go through this next round of salary negotiations with our unions is to hold the line, not to follow the path of the last four years in which we spent over $700 million in salary and benefits costs when the budget of the city grew about $1.3 million. We can't spend our $200 million reserve fund, and we have to stay consistent with our budget guidelines that say things such as, don't spend money you don't have; do not make commitments for long-term expenditures with short-term money; find revenue sources before you commit to an expenditure; and also to continue working for our bond rating and the health of the city we're going to end up with about a 5 percent reserve fund so that we have the flexibility to deal with emergencies and unexpected costs.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.