Los Angeles Downtown Stadium Cloaked in 'Green' Snake Oil

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AEG's downtown stadium in Los Angeles isn't just a playground for really big guys or just another site for really rich guys to consume conspicuously in luxury boxes. If you believe the chorus of hype, Farmers Field also grows good jobs, solves the city's debt crisis, transforms downtown Los Angeles into a nicer version of Manhattan, and builds strong bodies eight ways. It may even cure cancer.

But the downtown stadium - if it's built - isn't going to be particularly "green" in ways that matter.

According to a report by David Futch in the L.A. Weekly:

AEG has promised to build a "carbon-neutral" Farmers Field football stadium that will add no extra emissions to the current load in polluted downtown Los Angeles. But there's no way to accomplish that, according to environmental lawyers, climate researchers and traffic engineers who've seen it all before.

Claiming "carbon neutrality" for a massive construction project that will have a usable life measured in decades is beyond the ability of good science (and common sense), but it sounds good in press briefings. "Most labels are nonsense, dreamed up by marketing departments," Konstantin Vinnikov, a University of Maryland climatologist and atmospheric scientist, told Futch.

In defense of green nonsense, the state Legislature has put on Governor Brown's desk SB 292, a special bill that would permit the city of Los Angeles and AEG to declare Farmers Field a model of environmental sensitivity while shutting out critics of the project, whose ability to force a real review of the stadium's environmental impact would be severely limited.

Under SB 292, legal challenges would have to go directly to the state Court of Appeals, where bringing suit is much more expensive.

In exchange for giving AEG a fast track to judicial review in a favorable setting, the downtown stadium would have to show zero net emissions of new greenhouse gases from automobile trips and achieve a ratio of automobile trips to attendance that is at least ten percent lower than other NFL stadiums.

Since nearly all NFL stadiums are not in downtowns but at the suburban fringe, where tailgaters gather in massive parking lots, this last criterion is essentially meaningless.

But AEG has another out. If cutting more automobile trips isn't "feasible" (a very slippery term), AEG can buy carbon credits to reduce emissions somewhere else - even in another state - rather than cut the stadium's emissions downtown.

Certifying that AEG's trip reduction measures have met the goal of greenhouse gas emissions (to the extent "feasible") is the responsibility of the city - not the state agencies that currently oversee air quality. In fact, all of the mitigation measures promised by AEG are equally squishy, hedged with qualifiers that permit AEG and the city to quietly waive costly mitigations and allow others to be achieved without measurable improvements. That's just standard operating procedure at city hall, which explains why state regulators are cut out of the process.

Santa Monica environmental attorney Doug Carstens reminded Futch, "When developers (like AEG) start shedding mitigation like crazy, then instead of revoking approval, public agencies tend to forgive and forget."

SB 292 is almost certain to be signed into law. And it's so perfect a model of environmental duplicity that other developers demanded and a got a companion bill - SB 900 - that gives every big project in California generally the same benefits. SB 900 is sure to be signed into law, too.

Farmers Field won't be environmentally neutral in the context of downtown's crowded streets and neighborhoods and, say many experts, can't possibly be "carbon neutral" overall. As one traffic engineer asked, "Do they include the carbon dioxide emitted by all of the additional motor vehicles, buses and trains serving fans going to and from the games? Do they count the carbon dioxide emitted by the power plants supplying the electricity for the billboards?"

Actually, AEG doesn't have to count anything, except the profits it intends to make. And the only green that will wrap Farmers Field will shine from its gigantic LED billboards.

This piece originally appeared at KCET.org.

D. J. Waldie is a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Times and a contributing writer for Los Angeles magazine. He is the author most recently of California Romantica with Diane Keaton. He blogs for KCET TV at http://www.kcet.org/user/profile/djwaldie.

Photo by Pete Prodoehl