How a Big Deal was Kept Secret
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor, and Lyn Jensen, Carson Reporter
When Carson’s political leaders announced that an 80,000-seat football stadium was going to be built on the San Diego and Harbor freeway juncture a month ago, no one knew a deal was brewing—not members of Carson’s city council and not the city’s planning commission.
The only clue to this secret was a lawsuit filed against Carson the day after it was announced that a stadium would be built.
Until recently, 157 acres of this former landfill produced so much methane gas that anything built on top could have spontaneously combusted, like it almost did in the early 1980s when there was a drive-in theater. This and other hazardous waste at the site made it too toxic to build on, thwarting Carson’s chances of landing a professional football team at least two times in the past 20 years.
But after the announcement, the Department of Toxic Substance Control deemed the land ready for construction once all the extraction wells—built to safely release the methane gas—are installed within the next six months.
Construction on the Boulevards at South Bay projects was to begin in 2012. But when former Mayor Jim Dear was asked about the project’s progress in 2014, he blamed the economy for the delay and the “thousands of [polyethylene] piles” that still needed to be driven before construction could begin.
Before the Feb. 20 announcement, council members Lula Davis-Holmes and Elito Santarina appeared unaware of any stadium plan. Santarina talked about how the Boulevards at South Bay was going to open in 2016 and Davis-Holmes complained about the lack of progress on the project.
Grassroots Solutions, an out-of-state public relations firm, hit the ground running building community support. With a client list that includes major labor and environmental groups—an apt choice given the leftward political leanings of the city—the firm formed Carson2gether.
With major backing from the Oakland Raiders and [San Diego] Chargers Football LLC, paid circulators swarmed Carson for several weeks, aggressively soliciting signatures on a 309-page spiral-bound initiative—a document based on the Boulevards at South Bay plan with the addition of a stadium overlay zone and the removal of residential housing. Applicable laws regarding site remediation is not as strict for commercial development.
The group delivered the completed petitions containing almost 14,000 signatures to the Carson City Clerk on March 21.
The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder has 30 days (until April 20) to verify that the petitions contain at least 8,041 valid signatures. If so, the initiative may end up on the November ballot, unless the city council acts to change the zoning before then.
While there’s widespread support for a team in Carson, there are still voices of trepidation in the city on building anything on the former landfill.
When the city was last in consideration for an NFL team in the early 2000s, several Carson residents, including former Mayor Vera Robles DeWitt, Robert Lesley and Pat Seals raised serious concerns about the remediation of the toxic soil on the property.
Lesley recently expressed concern about “horrendous” traffic around an 80,000-seat stadium and whether an adequate traffic study was ever completed.
“They [stadium supporters] don’t understand an 80,000-seat stadium is different from a 30,000-seat stadium,” he said, comparing the proposal to the StubHub Center.
Carson2gether spokesman Fred MacFarlene said that the stadium project will rely on the traffic studies of previous environmental impact reports such as the one for Boulevards at South Bay and the L.A. Metromall. Random Lengths News was not able to find a traffic study that takes traffic considerations of a stadium in the Boulevards at South Bay plan.
MacFarlene also told Random Lengths News that the Oakland Raiders and Chargers Football Co. were in the final stages of purchasing the property from Starwood Capital, the latest entity to hold title to the 168-acre piece of land.That information was confirmed by the San Diego Chargers special counsel Mark Fabriani on April 8.
After all is said and done, this is a big deal. For the city, it has been a 30-year wait for the land to become rehabilitated enough to build on.
Twenty-four of the 32 NFL team owners have to approve any deal that relocates a team in the Los Angeles market. How this Carson deal came to be is still a billion dollar question.
NFL in Carson in Context
NFL team owners have teased Angelino football fans with the prospect of a franchise in Los Angeles since the late 1990s. Each of those times, Carson was a part of the conversation.
In the late 1990s, the site attracted the attention of Hollywood deal-maker Michael Ovitz, who, along with a few partners including Glimcher Realty Trust, sought to develop the property into a stadium.
At the time, a union pension plan acquired the property from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in an auction for $10.8 million. They planned to build the L.A. Metromall, but ultimately ended up selling the land to the Carson Marketplace LLC, a shell company for the LNR Property Corp. The sale was made for $30 million in 2004.
In 2005, Carson officials including Dear, Jerry Groomes and Ron Winkler met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about developing a stadium at the former Cal Compact Landfill. Dear said at the time, there was no NFL team committed to playing in Los Angeles but, “if you build it, they will come.”
A month later, Carson abandoned the stadium plan. Instead they pursued the Boulevards at South Bay project, a retail and residential space with no stadium.
The developer of the Boulevards project was LNR Property Corp.’s Commercial Property Group and Hopkins Real Estate Group.
In 2012, Starwood Capital acquired the property after purchasing LNR Property for $1 billion.
In 2013, representatives from Starwood Capital submitted a development plan that identified a 43-acre outlet mall to be built along the San Diego Freeway, accompanied by two parking garages. Their plan saw the future buildout of a warehouse discount store along with more than 800,000 square feet of retail space, 209 hotel room, as well as 850 residential units, and 1,150 rental units, all in conformance with the Carson Marketplace plans.
Rand Properties Jilted Before the Dance
Now that the former Cal Compact Landfill is just about ready for construction, bit players in Carson’s decade’s-long saga of getting a football team to Los Angeles feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under them.
This past February, Beverly Hills developer Richard Rand filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the city and Leonard Bloom of U.S. Capital LLC.
Rand claimed in the lawsuit that he began working through his companies Rand Resources LLC and Carson El Camino LLC to bring one or more NFL franchises to the city and play in a “state of the art” stadium within the city.
This is not the first time the city and Rand have tangled in the courtroom. In 2003, in a suit against the city and its redevelopment agency, Rand accused then Mayor Darryl Sweeney of soliciting a bribe in exchange for various entitlements in connection with a “$100 million mixed-use development” he had planned for the 91-acre property. Rand said he refused to pay the bribe and as a result, the city denied the entitlement, despite earlier assurances.
In 2006, a jury sided with Rand, finding that his civil rights had been violated. The city appealed the civil verdict and Rand filed a cross-appeal seeking $20 million in damages.
In 2008, while the appeal was still ongoing, Rand and Carson’s redevelopment agency entered into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement. The agreement was contingent upon Rand halting his cross appeal and not enforcing the judgement.
The agreement was first extended for three years, then extended a second time in 2011 to end in 2012. Rand and the redevelopment agency entered a new two-year agreement similar to the first one.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s dismantling of the state’s redevelopment agencies caused Rand to question his rights. In September 2012, Rand proposed entering into an exclusive agency agreement with the city in exchange for staying his $20 million cross-appeal of the 2003 lawsuit. This agreement allowed Rand to operate as the city’s exclusive agent in talks with the NFL about bringing a team to Carson.
Under the agreement, no one other than Rand Resources was permitted to represent the city in negotiations with the NFL, and Rand was to shoulder all the cost of meeting with NFL executives and hiring architectural firms to draft proposed stadium designs, among other costs. The agreement was to end in 2014.
Rand accuses the city of double dealing while the contract was enforced—starting at least in the summer of 2013. He accuses the city specifically of meeting with Leonard Broom of U.S. Capital while his exclusive agreement with the city was in force.
For perspective, Rand owns 12 acres of a 91-acre piece of land adjacent to the 157-acre brown field. The remaining 79 acres are owned by at least two other parties. Before California’s redevelopment agencies were dismantled, Rand hoped the Carson Redevelopment Agency would use its powers of eminent domain to enlarge the 91-acre property to help entice the NFL. A substantial portion of the 91 acres has the same issues with hazardous waste as the 157-acre field.
Rand Resources lawyer Joseph Ybarra said he’s confident the courts will find that the city violated the Exclusive Agent Agreement. Councilman Albert Robles said the council was asked not to speak on the NFL stadium just yet.