After more than five hours of debate, Pasadena officials early Tuesday morning cleared the way to begin negotiations with the NFL that could bring professional football to the Rose Bowl for as long as five years.
Roughly 120 people packed the meeting at Pasadena City Hall, many of them residents of wealthy neighborhoods surrounding the iconic 90-year-old stadium. They complained that traffic jams, trash and rowdy fan behavior would disrupt enjoyment of the Arroyo Seco by homeowners and recreational users alike.
More than 25,000 vehicles would hit the area on game days, according to a city study, shutting down the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, Kidspace Museum and Brookside Golf Course.
But allowing a football team to use the Rose Bowl up to 13 Sundays a year while a new NFL stadium is built in Los Angeles could also be a financial boon for the city-owned stadium.
The price tag for ongoing renovations to the Rose Bowl, once budgeted at $152 million, have grown to nearly $195 million.
Barrett Sports Group, a Manhattan Beach consulting firm hired by the city, projects an NFL lease could raise from $5 million to as much as $10 million for the venue each year.
Pasadena City Council members voted 7-1 to increase the number of events allowed at the Rose Bowl from the current 12 a year to 25 if a deal is struck with an NFL team.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the whole city to take the next step,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin. "I’m not excited about the NFL, and clearly [the Rose Bowl’s neighbors] are not excited, but it’s the responsible thing to do."
“We can’t in good conscience close the door on this,” said Councilman Steve Madison, who represents neighborhoods south of the Rose Bowl that would be impacted by game day traffic congestion.
Madison cast the swing vote against a 2006 plan to bring professional football to the Rose Bowl on a permanent basis, “but this is different,” he said. “This is a temporary matter when we have dire financial needs.”
Councilman Terry Tornek was the lone vote against the increase. He said he is not convinced the city should burden neighborhoods near the stadium with shoring up finances for the renovation.
“I think this city has a moral contract with the residents of these neighborhoods,” Tornek said. “Just the prospect of having protections lifted [for an NFL team] will have a permanent effect of reducing property values.”
Leaders of neighborhood groups opposed to professional football at the Rose Bowl threatened to take legal action to reverse the council’s decision.
Others said they supported the move as a way to boost the local economy as well as city coffers.
“You’re just trying to shove this down people’s throats,” Paula Shatsky, a resident of the nearby Linda Vista neighborhood, told the council. “This is the dark underbelly of the Rose Parade and all the worldwide press [it gets]."
Another Linda Vista resident, Anita Fromholz, broke from her neighbors' views. “The Rose Bowl is part of Pasadena’s heritage. Keeping the NFL option open until we know what comes up is one way to preserve it,” said Fromholz. “Until we know how negotiations play out, we should not close any doors.”
Monday’s discussion might also prompt changes in city policy regarding tailgating at the Rose Bowl during college football games, said Mayor Bill Bogaard. The Rose Bowl is home to UCLA football as well as the annual Rose Bowl game.
Members of Day One, a Pasadena nonprofit that aims to prevent youth alcohol and drug abuse, complained that Pasadena police and stadium security officers are not enforcing restrictions on drinking outside the stadium after kickoff that were enacted after a 2010 stabbing in a Rose Bowl parking lot.
“If we can’t manage to monitor a college game, how can we monitor an NFL game? This is revenue building at all costs,” said Day One Executive Director Christy Zamani.
Bogaard said city officials would review enforcement of tailgating policies and step up efforts to clean up trash left behind by stadium visitors.
“The impact of Rose Bowl activities is a burden on the neighborhood. Our maintenance and cleanup has simply not been adequate,” said Bogaard.
The proposal to host an NFL team at the Rose Bowl is speculative. No team has committed to Southern California, and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is another possible venue for any team awaiting a new NFL stadium to be built in the area.
Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of corporate communications, said in an interview that the league will "monitor all developments in the Los Angeles area" but “has not had any recent conversations with Pasadena or L.A. Coliseum officials."
Dean Baim, a Pepperdine University economics professor who specializes in arena financing, said in an interview that the Rose Bowl has a competitive advantage over the Coliseum.
“Given its current state, I can see where the NFL might be reluctant to locate at the Coliseum,” said Baim. “There’s historical marquee value, but as far as seating I think you’d have to upgrade that significantly.”
"The Rose Bowl is in a better state of repair," he said. "To some degree, the Rose Bowl is already at a professional level."
John Sandbrook, interim general manager at the Coliseum, declined comment.
-- Joe Piasecki, Times Community News