The City Council in Carson, California voted 3-0 tonight to approve a planned $1.7 billion stadium that would house both the Raiders and Chargers, according to the AP. Council members decided to bypass a public vote on the stadium project, following the shitty example of the City Council in nearby Inglewood, who want to build a stadium for the Rams.
It isn’t yet clear—and won’t be for several months—what exactly the council members approved, because the project is so light on details. The most salient unknown, of course, is who the hell is going to pay for the stadium. Those are the sort of details normally worked out before the stadium is approved, but after the Inglewood City Council decided they didn’t give a damn what Inglewood residents thought and skipped a public vote, the Carson City Council decided to follow suit.
The 26-page Carson stadium proposal promises that city tax dollars won’t be used, but when it comes to building stadiums broken promises are the norm, and that doesn’t rule out a variety of other funding mechanisms that will leave the people of Carson holding the bag for a stadium built for billionaire NFL owners. The Los Angeles Times has a laundry list of important issues that probably should’ve been worked out before a vote, but weren’t: leases, personal seat leases, a three-way land swap, a new city agency, and an at minimum billion dollar investment led by Goldman Sachs.
The city of Carson conducted its own report on the stadium, released over the weekend, which identified even more unresolved issues. Via the LA Times:
• While a two-team stadium would help Carson’s budget, just one tenant may not generate enough tax revenue to cover city costs for decades.
• The difference between making and losing money hinges on $1.4 million a year in federal housing funds the city could lose if room can’t be found elsewhere for more than 1,500 housing units that were originally planned for the stadium site.
• While developers have agreed to pay for street work estimated at $37 million, the stadium would need 16,000 off-site parking spaces, hindering development of nearby land and the subsequent property tax revenue.
There are two big problems here. First, the City Council voted to approve something that is much closer to a dream than reality at this point. If anybody else went in front of the City Council with such a half-assed plan, they would get laughed out of the room. The other issue is not allowing the public to vote on approval.
To be clear, bypassing a public vote on the issue is completely legal. The Raiders and Chargers funded a signature drive “to qualify the initiative for a public vote or consideration by the Carson City Council,” and gathered more than enough. Basically, in cases like this, California initiative law allows that if one has enough signatures for a referendum, the City Council can vote to skip that referendum and approve the project outright.
Following closely behind the Inglewood City Council ramming their stadium proposal through, this entire mess showcases the race to the bottom that is public funding of sports venues. Inglewood wants the Rams, St. Louis wants the Rams, Carson wants the Raiders and Chargers, and at some point Oakland and San Diego are probably going to get involved with their own stadium proposals. With a finite number of football teams and an infinite (not actually, but close enough) number of cities that want one, greedy owners and leagues will always choose whoever gives them the most free money.