AEG’s Transpo. Plan, Early Returns Good, but the Devil Remains in the Details.

Last night, dozens of Westsiders and union members packed into the Mar Vista Recreation Center to watch the Bill and Tim Show.  Hosted by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a former talk show host, and featuring special guest AEG CEO Tim Leiweke, the two hammed it up with the help of a team of able sidekicks and more often than not brought applause from the audience as they sold Westsiders on an improved convention center and new football stadium.

A dapper Leiweke holds court last night in Mar Vista.

The headline-grabbing news of the night was Leiweke’s announcement that AEG has reworked their proposed deal to the city to reduce the amount of bonds the sports entertainment giant would purchase from the city.  But the CEO, sans-sports jacket but looking dapper in a suit vest, also outlined a pretty progressive transportation plan, going so far as to beg a questioner who argued that nobody wants to “walk 15 minutes in Downtown Los Angeles” to “Take light rail.  Please.  Take light rail, we all should be doing that more.”  You can read more about AEG’s bonding and fiscal proposals at LA Observed and the Times.  Streetsblog will be looking at parts of the transportation plan after the jump.

In our past coverage, Streetsblog outlined what we believe are four things AEG can do to allay transportation concerns about the stadium right now.  We’ll examine, based on what we know, how AEG is doing in meeting those goals. 

But first, one thing we haven’t mentioned in past pieces that is critical to a stadium or team owner committing to a true progressive transportation plan is that the parking spaces to serve the events center should not be controlled by either the stadium owner or team owner.  One of the problems working with the Dodgers to bring transit to Dodger Stadium is that they benefit from the dangerous conditions created by their out-of-control parking lot.  Ted Tanner, the head of real estate for AEG, estimated to Streetsblog that AEG would only own or rent about 8,000 spaces on event day with another 24,000 being controlled by outside interests.

That’s a good start.

Streetsblog also asked that the transportation study for the stadium be peer reviewed and made public before the city enter any Memorandum of Understanding with AEG over the Stadium and Convention Center project.  Leiweke addressed that concern by outlining that the environmental review for the stadium will be completed by “June 1, 2012″ and that any MOU with the city will allow for the city to back out if they are unhappy with the review.  Leiweke also promised a first-rate plan for the site that includes not just traffic counts, but also pedestrian counts and transit counts.  It is certainly a far cry from promising a peer reviewed traffic study, but it’s a good start.

Second, we urged AEG to come up with, and make public, a plan to encourage visitors to take transit to the Stadium.  In this respect, AEG is really ahead of the curve.  Promising free tickets to Metrolink customers, free DASH service from Union Station, and bundling transit costs in with ticket costs for people buying online; AEG promises a transit plan that is second-to-none to get people to and from the ballpark.

“We know the light rail station at Pico will need to be upgraded, and we plan on doing that,” Leiweke promised, inadvertently referencing the Sierra Club’s proposal for the station.  Walking home from the meeting, I asked three of my fellow Mar Vista residents how they would get to events downtown, the unscientific but unanimous result: The Expo Line.

AEG executives were very excited about Metrolink’s success moving 5% of all concert goers to a U2 Concert in Anaheim.  If one rail service can handle 5% of traffic, imagine with Metrolink, the Gold Line, the Expo Line and Downtown Trolley can do even before the Regional Connector and other rail lines come on line.

Third, we discussed bike parking.  I have to admit a personal bias because of the almost romantic idea of biking to a Bears game in December, but outside of my feelings, urban stadiums are experiencing great success with bike valet programs.  Leiweke didn’t have a firm plan for bikes, and neither did his transportation expert Mike Bates.  What is clear is that while AEG is basing a lot of their stadium plans based on the success of Staples Center, they’re going to have to do better when it comes to providing safe, accessible, ways for people to store their bikes.

The last major issue is whether or not AEG will lobby the state for protection from CEQA lawsuits.  Leiweke professes to fear that Ed Roski, the billionare developer of a rival stadium in the City of Industry, will file suit against Farmers Field for no other reason than the political damage and delay it could cause the Downtown Stadium project.  While they won’t be seeking an exemption from legal challenges to their stadium plans, AEG is planning to ask for expedited decisions through a sort of mediation panel instead of being forced to go to court to address every challenge.  Details on how such a proposal would work weren’t readily available last night, but it’s something that AEG has backed off verbiage asking for the same sweetheart deal Roski got from the legislature in 2009.

Some other notes from last night:

  • Anyone that represents Bill Rosendahl as an opponent of the stadium doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  Rosendahl introduced Leiweke as, “a man who’s out front bringing this thing together.”  Later, the two posed for a bear hug.
  • One of the perils of working with Neighborhood Councils and allowing them to dominate the Q and A portion of the evening is that you end up with a pretty homogeneous demographic breakdown.  By my count, there were over two dozen speakers.  Two were women, two were African-American, and two were under the age of 50.
  • The “July 31 deadline” for an MOU that Leiweke has pushed in the press appears to be a real one.  The Council is allegedly planning hearings in mid-July to move the project.
  • There will be some new car parking with the development.  AEG estimates an increase of 1,290 spaces bringing the total number of parking spaces for the 72,000 seat stadium to just under 30,000.