Congress Has a Role in Making Our Communities More Livable

Article excerpt

With some common sense and caring, Congress could help America's communities become more livable. That's the claim of a freshman member of Congress from Oregon, Earl Blumenauer.

As an innovative Portland city commissioner and before that a state legi slator, Blumenauer championed such causes as neighborhood-based city planning, efficient land use, light rail and environmental recycling.

He asks: Why couldn't Congress shift laws to give citizens real input on land-use and transportation decisions? Why couldn't it start practicing what it preaches on mass transit and clean air? Why not crack down on sports moguls who blackmail communities? Blumenauer talks of forming a congressional "Livability Caucus" to advance just such goals. Some early recruits, he hopes, will come from the ranks of the already formed Bicycle Caucus of members who enjoy two-wheeling their way around Washington and their hometowns. The proposal surest to grab attention is Blumenauer's "Give Fans A Chance Act." Congress needs to act, he says, because professional sports team owners have been able, by threats of moving, to get cities to pay out millions of their scarce dollars. Since 1950, 68 franchises in the four major sports leagues have moved. It's time, says Blumenauer, to let fans have a first shot at buying any team that proposes to move. His legislation makes it illegal for any professional football, baseball, hockey or basketball league to prohibit public ownership of teams. Indeed, before a league could approve a team relocation, it would have to weigh fan loyalty and whether there's a bona fide investor - government or private group - offering fair market value to purchase the team and keep it where it is. What happens if a league ignores that requirement? Simple, says Blumenauer: It would lose the antitrust exemption (voted by Congress in 1961) that lets leagues and their teams collaborate on selling broadcast rights. That would really hurt the owners. Last year the National Football League alone earned $1.2 billion by sharing broadcast revenues. Only the legendary Green Bay Packers are owned by hometown investors - a "grandfathered" exception to NFL rules. Passage of Blumenauer's bill would shrink the value of every existing franchise by thwarting the owne rs' game of threatening moves that cudgel millions from unwilling taxpayers. …