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Don’t Let Sports Fantasies Bankrupt LA

SPORTS ECONOMICS - My last three columns have criticized the economic studies that are prepared while cities are committing themselves to pursuing mega-events such as the Super Bowl, World Cup, and the Olympic Games.

This was not to discourage Los Angeles from bidding to host these events, but rather to underscore the importance of doing so with its eyes wide open, and in collaboration with the public.
According to independent sports economists, Super Bowl games can produce economic gains, but in the best case only about one-tenth of what the boosters predict.

And the World Cup and Olympic Games can be counted on to be budget busters.  

Because winning the right to host mega-events is highly-competitive, the details of the process, including the bribery and corruption, are private affairs.

But the public needs to get involved earlier, before the initial decision is made to pursue the event.

To those few who will profit most, it’s a given that the city should go after the events.  They meet in private to plan strategy, but all of their meetings shouldn’t be in private.  The “public” part of a public-private partnership should really include the public.

Los Angeles saw an example of that recently on a smaller scale.  During secret meetings held at least as early as March, 2009, representatives of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) lined up support from city elected officials for the building of a football stadium next to Staples Center.

As soon as the plan became public in November, 2010, the mayor’s office formed a blue ribbon group to review it.  To no one’s surprise, nearly every member had financial ties to AEG.

“Our charge is to make sure it is done right," First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner told the Los Angeles Times.  In other words, the decision had already been made that the idea was a good one, and now it was a matter ensuring that the details met some vague requirements that City Hall developed behind closed doors.

Neighborhood councils were designed with the hope that they would become strong, independent forces that could hold elected and appointed city officials accountable ... forming a new participatory democracy part of government.  

When it comes to sports teams and structures, it’s nearly impossible to find any officeholder who is willing to become the public’s watchdog.

Three factors have been keeping the councils from becoming more influential in city decision-making, meaning being able to change the course of and even initiate a conversation.

One, there is a shortage of leaders who can set aside their personal agendas long enough to guide neighborhood councils through the political process regardless of which positions the councils choose to take.  

This was supposed to be the job of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), but it got scared and ran from the responsibility.

Two, councils must understand that you can’t lead from a position of weakness.  Elected officials live a world dominated by political power.  They may not like the fact that you have power, but they will respect you for going out and getting it and using it.  

Remember that the kind of power that City Hall can give the neighborhood councils is also the kind that can be taken away.  Real power is taken.

Three, the small groups of neighborhood council leaders who try and solve every problem themselves are holding back the councils’ progress.  There is only so much that each person can do.

Neighborhood councils could profit greatly from reaching out and finding those who don’t want to spend hours and hours sitting in boards of directors meetings, but who would rather develop legislative and political plans on issues that matter to them.  

Mark Elliot, the long-time neighborhood council researcher with USC’s Neighborhood Participation Project, wrote a primer explaining how neighborhood councils can get help from our colleges and universities.  You can read his valuable contribution here.

Neighborhood councils could also ask DONE to add a place on their website where councils can post “want ads” for help they need.

Getting back to the issue of the real economic costs and benefits of mega-sports events, neighborhood councils could help everyone get prepared for the next big event, with at no cost, by asking the mayor and City Council to instruct the City Administrative Office and/or the Chief Legislative Analyst to summarize the existing economic studies that have been written, and peer reviewed, by truly independent economists, and starting that conversation before it’s too late.

(Greg Nelson participated in the birth and development of the LA Neighborhood Council system and served as the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. He also served as Chief of Staff for former City Councilman Joel Wachs. Nelson now provides news and issues analysis to CityWatch. He can be reached at: .) –cw

Tags: World Cup, Olympic Games, Austin Beut;ner, City Hall, AEG, sports economics, economics, football stadium, DONE, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, Neighborhood Councils

Vol 9 Issue 94
Pub: Nov 25, 2011