Op/Ed: Touchdown Pass or Lost Yardage—What Will It Be AEG?

As places celebrating athletic discipline and active lives, professional sports stadiums should energize physical activity and empower health.  Unfortunately, the sports-entertainment giant Anshutz Entertainment Group’s (AEG)proposal for a football stadium and new Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles will hurt surrounding communities.  The proposed stadium will permanently change the landscape–and harm the health–of downtown Los Angeles.

As physicians, we know our patients’ health is shaped more by where and how they live than by what pills they take. The residents near the proposed development already suffer from hypertension, diabetes and obesity at substantially higher rates than in other parts of the City and County.

In response to worries about the potential negative impacts of this project, community groups worked with local residents and a reputed consulting firm, Human Impact Partners, to conduct a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of AEG’s proposed Farmers’ Field downtown development.

The study reveals that the Farmers Field project has the very real potential to increase air and noise pollution, to unfairly displace low income residents, and to pose public safety threats to long term residents of the communities of South Park, Pico Union and Central City areas of downtown.   Fortunately, the assessment contains community and evidence-based recommendations to reduce these threats to health.

AEG promised the world that Farmer’s Field will be “the most environmentally responsible sports and entertainment district in the world.” Thus far, those promises appear empty, including a promise that the stadium will be carbon-neutral and that between 18.5 and 27 percent of patrons would arrive on transit, foot or bike.

Unfortunately, the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) prepared by AEG and required under state law does not cite any local examples of active transportation shares anywhere near this ratio: Rose Bowl’s share is 5% and Dodger Stadium’s is approximately 2%.  The DEIR does not analyze the use of transit to STAPLES Center, which is immediately adjacent to the proposed stadium.  Further, many of the mitigation measures described in the DEIR are inadequate, unenforceable, or improperly deferred until after the close of the environmental review process.

When we plan developments around just automobiles, we are casting bad health policy in permanent concrete. Los Angelenos deserve to see clear, specific plans for how AEG intends to significantly increase public transit ridership and decrease car trips.  These measures are required by the California Environmental Quality Act and by the state legislature under SB 292.  AEG could look to the Pac Bell Stadium in San Francisco as a successful model for increasing rates of active transportation.   In response to local residents’ and businesses’ concerns about traffic and parking, San Francisco required the development and approval of a Transportation Management Plan.  The plan included the construction and promotion of existing and new transit services and an ambitious marketing campaign called “Your Ticket Home,” which provided incentives to utilize transit and walking.    San Francisco is rightly proud of Pac Bell Stadium; it is frequently sold out.  It has 40,800 seats, with only 5,000 parking spaces.  With 50 percent of fans arriving a block from the stadium via light rail and a regional commuter train, the parking lots are rarely full to capacity.

Doesn’t Los Angeles also deserve the benefits of excellent transit access to our sports stadium?  AEG must commit to measures that make taking public transit to stadium events easy, safe and affordable.

With this investment in a new Convention Center and downtown stadium, the City has a chance to make a long overdue pass and score a touchdown that benefits the health and livelihood of all Angelenos. But the current plans for Farmers Field will lead to lost yardage when it comes to our city’s health and a future of dreary, congested asphalt.

If AEG takes steps to reduce the number of car trips to events, limit air pollution, and preserve affordable housing, the new stadium will encourage physical activity and healthy lifestyles in the surrounding neighborhoods and for all event patrons.  A compact stadium design with space for parks, community gardens and farmers’ markets could truly integrate the new development into an active neighborhood.

AEG should give Los Angeles a Stadium and a public asset that all Los Angelenos can be proud of, especially the local residents. Los Angeles fans deserve a winning team, the greenest stadium possible, and a truly healthy and vibrant community.

Richard Jackson is Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA and recent host of the PBS series, Designing Healthy Communities.  He is also a Board Member of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles.

Rishi Manchanda is the founder of HealthBegins, an Assistant Professor at Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science, and was formerly the Director of Social Medicine and Health Equity at St Johns Well Child and Family Centers.