JUST WIN BABY: The past two weeks, I’ve watched enough football to have sustained the secondhand smoke equivalent of so many concussions I could have had a stroke. Football is a great and horrible game, and by any moral reckoning, I should be repelled. Yet still I watch in rapt wonder as 22 mutants run pell-mell in search of new heads to decapitate. Ascending out of all this carnage — like the most beautiful “Ave Maria” ever sung — is the forward pass, which, aside from the American Constitution, ranks as the single most important cultural contribution made by Native Americans. Clearly, I’m in need of a new drug. But last I heard, heroin induces a constipation powerful enough to block Highway 101. Personally, I’m hoping for something more sublime than a losing battle with the toilet bowl.
The big news — now that Santa Barbara has been subsumed into the supernova of the Greater Los Angeles Exopolis — is that the Los Angeles Rams are returning from St. Louis, where they’ve been hiding out the past 20 years. To be precise, the Rams are moving back to Inglewood, where, in fact, they’ve never been. How this came to pass will make for an amazing book, as the cities of Carson and Inglewood — led by their respective mayors, Albert Robles and James T. Butts — duked it out hammer-and-claw to have the new stadium built on their turf. That Robles and Carson lost, in hindsight, appears all but predetermined. The site Robles has been touting, it turns out, remains drenched in toxic solvents. Soil remediation costs are estimated in the neighborhood of $80 million. And then there’s Robles himself. In the past year alone, the Carson mayor has been accused of attempted rape by the daughter of Mervyn Dymally, the now-deceased former congressmember in whose service Robles cut his political teeth. California’s Fair Political Practices Commission called Robles out for missing the deadline for filing his most recent campaign finance report by six months. And a high-ranking Carson administrator accused Robles of dwelling well outside Carson city limits. This, by the way, is a serious crime. Robles, who’s been skating on thin legal ice his entire political career, insists these charges have surfaced now to undermine Carson’s chances to win the NFL Stadium Sweetstakes. For 20 years, he’s been late filing campaign reports, so why now? Likewise, he wondered why rape allegations have just surfaced given that the alleged attack — which he denied — occurred two years ago. As for living in L.A., Robles, an attorney who defends other California mayors accused of corruption, explained he’s been “visiting” his wife and their kids — with whom he enjoys “an unconventional relationship.”
As always, I reconcile the conflicting accounts by assuming both sides are absolutely correct in the worst things they say about each other.
Compared to Robles, Inglewood’s mayor Butts is a choirboy, but he’s a choirboy who will kick your ass. Butts — a former police chief with an impressive, imperious, get-things-done résumé — made headlines recently for suing a video-blogging Inglewood gadfly named Joseph Teixeira for copyright violations. Teixeira downloaded snippets of televised Inglewood City Council meetings — made and paid for at city taxpayer expense — and used them to craft anti-Butts diatribes he posted to YouTube under the pseudonym “Dehol Truth.” Butts — thin-skinned in the extreme — charged Teixeira had no right to use any video from city council meetings and brought the full weight of City Hall upon Dehol Truth’s head. Even by the most totalitarian interpretations, this was a stretch. Accordingly, a federal judge ruled against Butts with nothing less than extreme prejudice. Inglewood has been ordered to pay Teixeira’s legal fees.
Compared to the massive violence wrought upon California’s environmental protection act, however, Butts’s assault on the First Amendment — that’s freedom of speech — pales in comparison. The stadium proposed for Inglewood is only a portion of a much bigger 300-acre, three-million-square-foot, $3 billion development extravaganza that also includes 3,000 new homes, a 6,000-seat performing arts center, and more retail space than one could shake a stick at. As Butts boasted, he and the developers have amassed a chunk of uninterrupted, undeveloped real estate twice the size of the Vatican. Yet somehow this unimaginably vast development scheme — known now in the business press as “NFL Disney World” — has escaped any of the environmental evaluation, oversight, and regulation demanded by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In so doing, Butts et al have demonstrated — yet again — the best forms of corruption are always legal. It turns out that development projects that have been the subject of ballot initiatives are legally exempt from CEQA. Early on, Butts and the developers circulated an initiative petition in favor of the new stadium. Twenty thousand signatures were collected. Now here’s the truly diabolical part. No election on that ballot initiative was ever held. Even better, no election ever had to be held for Butts to squeeze the 300-acre stadium proposal through this astonishing legal loophole. Late last February — well before the proposed ballot initiative could go to a popular vote — Butts and the Inglewood City Council unanimously voted to approve the stadium plans. One can’t help but cynically admire the audacity, scale, and execution of so blatant a ruse.
Contrary to Dick Tracy’s timeless dictum, crime, indeed, does pay. In five minutes, no fewer than 5,000 people paid $100 to secure themselves a spot on the waiting list for when Rams ticket sales actually start. Ticket prices, it’s estimated, will hover somewhere between $300 and $1,750 a seat.
On second thought, maybe constipation isn’t such a bad alternative