The NFL moved a step closer to returning to Los Angeles on Tuesday but a step back if you expected a team to be playing here as early as next season.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Tuesday to expedite legal challenges to Farmers Field, Anschutz Entertainment Group's $1.2 billion proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles.
Basically, the bill would allow legal challenges to the stadium's environmental impact report (EIR) to be heard immediately in the California Court of Appeal, which would then come to a decision within 175 days.
While this is a huge victory for AEG because the expedited process would bypass the Superior Court and avoid the protracted litigation AEG has been fearful of, it doesn’t change the fact that it will still take close to six months for any case to be decided.
AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke expects to file the EIR for Farmers Field by June 1. Leiweke would like to break ground that day but that’s not going to happen. Once the EIR is filed, the clock begins on legal challenges and if one is filed within 30 days it will likely not be decided on until November 2012.
“Assuming we file the EIR June 1, it will be 175 days maximum from there,” Leiweke said. “Those 175 days includes 30 days for us to respond, but we won’t take 30 days to respond, we’ll be ready to respond in 10 days, so we think 175 days could be 155 days. It is what it is and we agree with the process. It allows everyone a voice if we did something wrong in the EIR, then there is going to be timely process to allow people to come in and question us and we’re prepared to live with that.”
Obviously if an NFL team is going to move to Los Angeles it would have to do so before NFL training camps begin in July and honestly it would be ideal if a team moved in February so you could have a complete off-season to adjust and give fans in a new city time to get excited about their new team through the NFL draft and off-season signings, workouts and mini camps.
There is no way an NFL team is going to relocate to Los Angeles until their proposed new stadium ready to break ground. No team would move to downtown Los Angeles before AEG has completed its EIR, which won’t be done until June, and before any potential lawsuits are resolved, which likely won’t happen until November.
So when will the NFL be returning to Los Angeles?
Obviously there are no guarantees after a 17-year absence, but all signs point to February 2013 as the likely date and with the San Diego Chargers being the current likely team.
The Chargers, who began as the Los Angeles Chargers playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1960, have tried unsuccessfully for the past decade to get a new venue to replace 45-year-old Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers can announce their intentions to leave San Diego between Feb. 1 and May 1 of each year through 2020 if they pay off bonds tied to the expansion of Qualcomm Stadium in 1997, which would be about $24 million next year.
Here’s how I see it all playing out:
Since AEG won’t be in a position to break ground on Farmers Field by May 1, 2012, the Chargers will stay in San Diego for one more year. They will try to get something on the ballot for voters November 2013, essentially asking the public to finance the majority of a downtown stadium. It will fail since any tax increase in California needs two-thirds approval from voters and no one is looking to raise their taxes during a recession. Around the same time the Chargers’ stadium ballot measure fails (assuming it even gets on the ballot, which is a big assumption at this point) AEG will likely clear any and all of their legal challenges. Soon after AEG and the Chargers will engage in serious negotiations and hammer out a deal with AEG buying Alex Spanos’ 36 percent of the Chargers which is for sale for estate planning purposes. The Chargers and AEG will then come to an agreement on a long-term lease to play at Farmers Field and the Chargers will announce plans to move to Los Angeles the same day ground is broken on Farmers Field sometime in February. The Chargers will play in their first home, the Coliseum, which will be in the midst of massive renovations after USC takes over the master lease this December, until Farmers Field is completed in 2017.
Make sense? Good, because there’s also a chance none of the above will happen and I’ll still be writing about the NFL coming to Los Angeles in 2017. With this story you just never know.