THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: Who benefits from Inglewood development

California

West / California 69 Views

“Build the Stadium — Create the Jobs!”

That was the campaign slogan emblazoned on all the public relation handouts by proponents of the new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers in 2014.

The slogan, and its variants, have been the standard war cry for sports facility proponents and virtually all public officials who hungrily want new stadiums and arenas in their cities. In many of those cities, hundreds of residents and activists have been just as loud in opposing the projects.

The issue always comes down to jobs and housing and beyond that the impact on the quality of life in these communities.

Inglewood is a near textbook example of the raging battle over this issue. The issue came up first with the new multibillion-dollar stadium for the Rams and Chargers. The issue has gotten even more intense and impassioned with the fight over a proposed new arena complex for the L.A. Clippers in the city.

There’s myth and fact aplenty about who really benefits from new, big showy, showplace stadiums and arenas.

It is a fact they do create lots of jobs, spur business development, the awarding of contracts and lots of new housing. The myth is that all these economic perks accrue to and fully benefit a city’s residents and minority businesses and contractors and workers.

For every study that zeroes in on the economic impact of new stadiums and arenas that show a job boom with a new stadium or arena, others show marginal overall job effect on these communities. In fact, many stadium employees work part time at very low wages and earn a small fraction of team revenues.

Thus, substituting spending on sports for other recreational spending concentrates income, reduces the total number of jobs and replaces full-time jobs with low-wage, part-time jobs.

A question that is rarely asked is how much, if any, displacement will a new stadium or arena bring to a city’s residents. New developments slated in cities such as Inglewood do create lots of new housing. However, the affordability of this housing is the flashpoint issue.

This is an especially acute point of debate and controversy given the skyrocketing cost of housing in Southern California The unaffordability crisis in rental and housing costs strains budgets to the breaking point.

It’s an even more sensitive issue in Inglewood. There is no rent control. That puts the rash of planned new million-dollar housing developments out of reach for most modest income workers and residents. That brought dozens of Inglewood housing advocates out in protest at Inglewood City Hall demanding limits on the rent hikes.

The fact is that the new Inglewood stadium and possible Clippers arena will be a boon for many businesses in Inglewood, but only if those businesses can be sustained. Many will give way to larger, pricier retail establishments with the capital and financing to accommodate the flood of tourists and sports fans, many of whom will come from outside the area.

There are fierce debates over the potential adverse environmental impact that increased traffic and noise and air pollution will have on residents. It will have an effect. There will be more cars, more buses, more traffic.

But Inglewood has had a long history of dealing effectively and efficiently with traffic control from the decades the Lakers and Kings were at the Forum and in controlling traffic during events at the revamped Forum. However, a new stadium and arena within a stone’s throw of each other will present an entirely different challenge and potential environmental nightmare.

It’s true, as Inglewood city officials repeatedly say, that not a dime of public money is spent in the construction of the stadium. Rams Owner Steve Kroenke has the deep pockets to pull it off. However, there is a public expenditure on police, fire, paramedics, traffic control, street maintenance and so on that servicing any new stadium or arena requires.

The expenditures for these support services will not solely come out of private coffers. This expense is supposedly offset by revenues from ticket taxes, sales taxes on concessions and other spending outside the stadium, as well as the property tax increases arising from the stadium’s economic impact.  

How much of that revenue will offset those costs is open to question? The rosy financial scenarios for future sports complex revenues are at best future revenue projections that assume few economic bumps, slides or downturns.

The battle over the Clippers arena raises many of the same issues and concern — jobs, housing, land use, taxes — and the issue of another billionaire owner, Clipper’s owner, Steve Ballmer, locating his franchise in a city. The debate gets even more publicity because it pits Inglewood city officials, the Clippers’ Ballmer, on one side against the Forum owners, Madison Square Gardens, and rent control advocates on the other. There has been a rash of lawsuits, charges and counter charges of payoffs and influence peddling, and subpoenas that has intensified the controversy.

The arena is just a proposal at this point, a costly and contentious one, but still just a proposal. Yet, it shows that any sports facility and big development project will stir passions much opposition and can divide a city.

While Inglewood has gotten much media ink and public attention in the fight over who really benefits from big development in a city, it’s hardly unique. It’s a question that other cities are and will continue to battle over.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the weekly co-host of “Hutchinson’s Inside L.A.,” a Southern California news and public affairs show Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK-Pacifica Radio 90.7 FM streamed at kpfk.org. and Facebook Livestreamed. He is president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.

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