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Attorney warns that lawsuit could 'kill' downtown NFL stadium

Rendering of proposed downtown NFL stadium.

A lawyer with a high-profile environmental group warned Thursday a lawsuit recently filed by anti-poverty activists could kill the $1.2-billion NFL stadium planned for downtown Los Angeles.

Appearing before a council committee examining the stadium project, Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney David Pettit said he wants to see talks resume between stadium developer AEG and the Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition, a group of environmentalists and anti-poverty activists that filed the lawsuit.

Pettit and his group support the stadium and are not involved in the case. But he warned that if the coalition prevails, AEG could lose the ability to show the National Football League it had resolved all of the legal issues surrounding its project by March -- just as critical talks on obtaining a possible team are expected to take place.

“If that litigation is successful ... it could take down the entire project,” said Pettit, who noted his group has been a backer of the stadium “from day one.”

Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition, a group that includes the nonprofit group Community Action Network, filed a challenge last month to the state law that shortened the time frame for challenging the project’s environmental impact report. Under that law, all challenges must be resolved within 175 days.

Pettit's statement disturbed Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents neighborhoods west of the stadium site. He said he did not want to lose out on the jobs that would be created by the project. “There’s a lot at stake here. I can’t take this lightly,” he said.

Ted Fikre, AEG’s chief legal and development officer, told the council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Downtown Stadium and Convention Center Renovation that he was “obviously aware” of the lawsuit.

Fikre said AEG had talked to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit about renewing talks. Nevertheless, he said he expected the state law crafted for AEG’s stadium project would withstand a legal challenge. “Ultimately, if our [environmental impact report] is challenged, we feel confident that we could defend it,” he said.

Pettit's organization attended some of the mediation sessions with the Community Action Network. Although he would not divulge the contents of those talks, he said those groups have warned in writing that the stadium and accompanying renovation of the Los Angeles Convention Center would lead to gentrification in nearby working-class neighborhoods, which would in turn cause a loss of affordable housing.

Pettit said he would like to see Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the area of downtown where the stadium would be built, lock representatives of AEG and the Community Action Network in a room until they come up with a deal.

Whether Perry would be open to such intervention was unclear. She said she did not understand why affordable housing was an issue, because no apartments or condominiums would be removed to make way for the project.

"I feel like a dog chasing my tail in some ways, because [affordable housing is] something that’s not at issue at this point," she said.

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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall 

Image: Rendering of proposed downtown NFL stadium. Credit: Anschutz Entertainment Group

 
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