Updated April 5, 2012 @ 5:25 p.m. ET
By Robert Jablon, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A group seeking to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles unveiled a massive environmental plan Thursday, laying out ways to deal with the traffic nightmare that throngs of fans could create around the proposed $1.4 billion downtown stadium on game days.
Required under a state agreement to make the planned 72,000-seat Farmer's Field environmentally friendly, Anschutz Entertainment Group said it will spend about $35 million to reduce the traffic footprint by, among other things, expanding the nearby U.S. 101 freeway and a commuter train station.
The environmental impact report has a goal of having 25 percent of fans use alternative transportation, with 5,000 people estimated to walk or bike to games.
"We have to change people's habits from the day they buy their first ticket," AEG president Tim Leiweke said at a City Hall news conference.
Leiweke stressed the stadium's green credentials in unveiling the 10,000-page document, which is a key step in returning professional football to Los Angeles for the first time since 1994. Leiweke said he hopes the stadium will be ready in time for the 2017 season and added that if an NFL team arrives before the stadium is ready, it can use temporary venues such as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena or the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The report, which took two years to complete, is a milestone on the way to luring back a team to Los Angeles, which lost both the Raiders and Rams in 1994. After a 45-day public comment period, the report goes to the City Council. It also could face legal challenges, but Leiweke praised the completion of the $27 million report, which he called "the world's most expensive piece of paper."
"In terms of football, we are now in the offensive zone, not the defensive zone," Leiweke said at the news conference, where he was surrounded by helmeted construction workers, janitors and other union laborers who back the stadium.
The report estimates the stadium could provide 11,000 permanent new jobs, in addition to thousands of construction jobs, and generate $1.7 billion for the local economy. However, some analysts have argued that the benefits are overstated.
Traffic is a crucial concern. The report itself says the stadium will have "unavoidable significant impacts," including nearly 20,000 additional car trips downtown on weekends.
Leiweke said he was confident that the mitigation plans could deal with the upsurge and even the crush from a Super Bowl, noting that 365,000 people currently travel in and out of downtown every day.
"We can do that on a Sunday for 68,000 people," he said. "We can do this. We just have to teach people and reward them for using mass transportation."
One idea would be to give mass-transit users first crack at tickets, he said.
But some critics were skeptical. Kevin James, who is running for mayor next year, said football's tailgate party culture is hard to change. He said the percentage of fans who take public transportation to games in other cities has been low.
"You can't put your barbecue on the subway," he said.
The environmental review could be approved by late this year or the first quarter of 2013, Leiweke said. With a political plan and $1 billion in private funding in place, Leiweke said, "we'll be able to look the NFL in the eye and tell them there is no more excuse, there is no more reason, there is no more delay, and there should be no more negotiation on why we cannot bring football back to Los Angeles."
A rival group, Majestic Realty, has proposed building a stadium in the City of Industry, outside Los Angeles.
Farmer's Field got help from the state in September with the passage of a law that will help it quickly resolve legal challenges to the project by sending lawsuits over its environmental impact directly to the California Court of Appeal and bypassing the Superior Court. The appeals court would have to make a ruling within 175 days.
In return, AEG pledged to build a "green stadium" and make it public-transit-friendly.
Earlier in the week, Leiweke addressed reports that the company and the NFL were at odds over team ownership and stadium revenue, saying developer Philip Anschutz is willing to buy a team himself in order to make the deal work.
Leiweke told the Los Angeles Times that Anschutz is ready to write a check for both the downtown stadium and a team as long as he can get a "reasonable" deal out of the football league.
Reports, including one from Yahoo! Sports, said the NFL was unhappy with Anschutz's proposal that he own just a small part of the team but collect stadium revenues usually reserved for owners.
Leiweke has said he has spoken with several teams about moving to Los Angeles but declined to specify which ones. He said he plans to follow the guidance of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about which teams would be candidates.
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