Field of Schemes: Crony capitalism is alive and well in L.A.’s pursuit of pro football
California, a state whose greatest innovation in recent years has been finding creative ways to inhibit economic growth, stepped out of character in late September: it went easy on a developer. Seated at a table outside the Los Angeles Convention Center, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill expediting the resolution of legal challenges to—and thus speeding the construction of—Farmers Field, the stadium that, its backers hope, will usher in the National Football League’s return to the City of Angels.
This is the latest step in L.A.’s nearly two-decade-long effort to exorcise the Ghost of Christmas Past. The yuletide in question was in 1994, when both of the region’s professional football teams—the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Raiders—played their final games in the Southland on Christmas Eve. By the time the next season rolled around, the Rams had decamped to their new home in St. Louis, and the Raiders had retraced their steps northward, departing downtown L.A. for Oakland, the city that they left in 1982.
The nation’s second-largest media market has gone without a professional football team ever since, but not for lack of effort. Several plans gained early traction but fell apart later. In the mid-1990s, Peter O’Malley, then the owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, sank more than $1 million into the development of a new stadium, only to see the plan grind to a halt when members of the city council proved unwilling to entertain the idea of a new football team’s playing anywhere other than the government-owned Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In early 1999, the NFL announced that Los Angeles had been awarded an expansion franchise, but canceled the deal later and gave the new team to Houston. The reason? L.A.’s chaotic bid failed to produce such basic requirements as an ownership group, a financial plan, and a stadium location. In the intervening years, other similarly half-baked proposals have fizzled.