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Magic's Kingdom? Let's Establish a Vehicle for Community Input

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Here we go again. New financiers and their lieutenants have purchased the Dodgers, the stadium, and the choice surrounding parking parcels. There's a lot that we, the fans and the community, still don't know. Who owns what and how much? What are their plans? What is Frank McCourt's cut on the parking? We know no more about these questions than we did when McCourt held the keys to the kingdom. But thanks to some prodding from the Los Angeles Times, the successors to the throne have thrown one tiny morsel to the masses: When it comes to development of the parking parcels, Magic Johnson, functioning as the delegate of the majority owners, Guggenheim Partners, will give thumbs up or thumbs down to McCourt's proposals.

That's fine for the new owners, but how do the fans and the community express themselves? Many of us have already wondered why the ownership group overpaid McCourt by approximately half a billion dollars, judging by the next highest bids. Are there undisclosed concessions or commitments? Is the deal viable only because they are planning a particular type of development -- a shopping mall, upscale condos, high-rise office buildings? Even if not already planned, is some mega-development project the fallback position if the return on investment doesn't match expectations? These concerns are real, and they affect vital interests of the community, ranging from whether the team will be shortchanged, whether residents who live near the stadium will be adversely affected by environmental and traffic flow impacts, and who will be employed under what wages and benefits to develop the parcels in question.

McCourt alienated lots of Angelenos by milking the Dodgers to pay for his profligate lifestyle. The new owners should recognize the opportunity to create a more positive relationship with the fans and the community: Create a community advisory board. Choosing Magic Johnson as ambassador (with limited portfolio) is a nice symbol but a poor substitute for actual community representation, in the form of an ongoing, formal dialogue between the ownership group and representatives of neighborhood associations; community, environmental, and civil rights groups; and organized labor. Commitment to that valuable input could restore the owners' already lost luster.

The history of Chavez Ravine is testament to the need for community participation in its future development. The original redevelopment plan in the 1950s was for much-needed affordable housing, to be designed by architect Richard Neutra. With federal funds from the Housing Act of 1949, the city planned to build two 13-story structures and 160 two-story townhouses. But Norris Poulson, elected mayor in 1953, had no interest in affordable housing. After the real estate industry and conservatives labelled the proposed housing plan "socialism," Poulson cancelled the plan. By that time, however, most of the Latino residents of Chavez Ravine had already been evicted. The vast tract of empty land was given to Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley for the construction of a new stadium.

We don't need another real estate land grab now, 50 years after Dodger Stadium opened its gates. And we certainly don't need more luxury condominiums. The debate about whether to develop, and if so in what manner, will take place with or without a community advisory board, but that dialogue will surely be more productive if the owners invite and respect the input of all stakeholders.

The new owners are still in the honeymoon stage of their relationship with the fans and the public. The reinvigorated team has already won our hearts and minds this season, particularly when playing at home. But the honeymoon won't last if the new owners hatch development plans without a broad public airing and community participation in decisions of vital interest to all of us. A good start would be thumbs up to a community advisory board.