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Stadium Foe Takes Page from Paranoia Playbook

I don't like the idea of building an NFL stadium, presumably for the relocated St. Louis Rams, in Inglewood. You know who really doesn't like he idea? Anschutz Entertainment Group. But do you know who does like it? ISIS. Or al-Qaeda. Or the Taliban. I'm not really sure, but, apparently, one of those groups hates the stadium so much that they're going to want to blow it up. 

We can imagine why an extremist terrorist group wouldn't like an NFL stadium. Western decadence and all. AEG's position is more complicated. AEG doesn't want the stadium built because it cares. You see, AEG is worried for the stadium. Worried that one of those groups will make it a target. They don't want to see Rams owner Stan Kroenke spend a billion or so of his hard-earned dollars only for his pride and joy to suffer a terrorist attack.

AEG's concerns came out in a report published last week on the security of the potential Inglewood stadium. Co-authored by Tom Ridge, the former DIrector of Homeland Security, the report warns that the Inglewood stadium would indeed be a ripe target for terrorism. It sits almost directly under the flight path of LAX and therefore is only a tip of the yoke away from tragedy. Alternatively, terrorists with incredible weaponry and impeccable timing might try to shoot down an otherwise innocent plane so that the debris crashes into the stands.

Ridge told the Los Angeles Times that the stadium has "a significant risk profile with the potential to produce consequences that will not only the impact the airport and region, but global interests."

Interestingly, this report wasn't commissioned by Kroenke or by a government agency. (The FAA has signed off on the plan.) It wasn't, as far as I know, commissioned by Al Qaeda either. It was commissioned by � and this is odd! � AEG. 

For everyone who lives outside of Los Angeles, and for everyone in Los Angeles who lives under a rock, AEG is the biggest player in the city's live entertainment industry. It owns Staples Center, the Kings hockey team, and the Nokia Theater. It also holds a ton of real estate and is credited with driving the revival of downtown Los Angeles. 

AEG has one other little project on the drawing board. What might that be, you ask? Could it be�.a football stadium? No, it's not a stadium. OK, you got me. It's a stadium! 

AEG's plans for the already christened but utterly nonexistent Farmers Field was once the frontrunner among proposed venues that are vying for an NFL team. Now it has serious competition, from both Inglewood and  a possible Chargers-Raiders partnership in Carson. To be honest, I'm sick of writing about, and even sicker of thinking about, the six-stadium circus that is the NFL's non-plan to return to L.A. But, it's the story that will not die. 

Now that AEG's desperation is in full swing, what sort of altruism will we see from them next? Maybe they'll draw up plays for the Anaheim Ducks. Maybe they'll hire an interior decorator for the Forum. Maybe they'll give Sacramento advice on its stadium. Maybe they'll put up billboards with disturbingly banal inspirational sayings, for all the word to see. (Actually, they already do that last one.)

But let's stick to the matter at hand. It's just so convenient that someone proposes a competing stadium and that someone's biggest, and increasingly most desperate competitor, just happens to produce a report linking that project with Americans' single greatest fear. What terrifies me is that AEG thinks Angelenos are stupid enough to fall for this craven gambit.

It's a target because its under the flight path? I'm sorry, but it's not as if the World Trade Center was under the flight path. The whole point of planes is that they can fly. Subways, however, cannot fly. But they too lead to terrorism, at least when you ask their opponents.  If L.A.'s Purple Line is built under Beverly Hills High School, terrorists will, of course, stop the train and blow up the school. (Have you ever tried to blast through a subway tunnel? It's not easy.)

Must every major debate be reduced to terrorism? And how much damage are we going to inflict on the public realm in the process? We've seen, and I've written about, this paranoia play so many times before. By all means, cities must take reasonable security measures. But crying wolf over terrorism does grave damage, both to public discourse and to the public realm.

In the wake of the LAX shooting, I wrote that the shooting had little to do with the fact that LAX is an airport. Danger is a natural part of living in public. And, fortunately, the dangers of terrorism, even at airports, are unspeakably rare. But when we talk about terrorism so much � as AEG is doing with this latest kerfuffle � the politics of fear casts a pall over our places. What AEG wants is not for public officials to rationally expect a stadium attack. What they want is for every Rams fan to walk through the turnstile thinking, "What if�?" If that happens, it doesn't mean the terrorists have one. It means AEG has won. 

Really, though, we all lose. if the Inglewood stadium would be a target, then surely Staples Center, Dodger Stadium, and every other public and semi-public place not only in America but also in Los Angeles are already targets. The great thing is, though, they're still standing. Life goes on. We only need to enjoy it. 

Of course, American cities do face real dangers. Terrorism is one of them. But they also face the danger of pollution. They face the danger of automobile collisions and pedestrian deaths. They face the danger of obesity in places that discourage walking. They face the danger of anomie and ennui in places without civic life. Fortunately, they decreasingly face the danger of crime. But poverty, poor schools, and police misconduct persist. 

While things are turning around in many cities, public life in the United States remains too stunted as it is. We don't have the plazas or great shopping streets of Europe. We don't have neighborhood pubs like the UK does. We don't have the street markets of Asia. We sit in our cars and, though we used to go to malls, now we sit at home and stroll the aisles of Amazon. 

As I said, I don't care where or whether a football stadium is built in L.A. And I don't care what ISIS, the Taliban, or Al Qaeda thinks about it (let us hope that all are gone long before the NFL kicks off in L.A.). And I increasingly don't care what AEG thinks about anything. For all the ways that good planning and good development can get disrupted in California, frivolous cries of terrorism should be out of bounds. I care about real, present dangers that face our cities, and so should every planner and developer in California.