State lawmaker shelves effort to assist Universal Studios Hollywood
State lawmakers on Friday dropped a last-minute push to change California's environmental law to speed construction of a $1.6-billion expansion of the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and nearby movie and television production facilities.
A group of legislators led by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) was working on a bill similar to one approved last year by the Legislature that protected a proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles from protracted environmental lawsuits. The new bill also might have streamlined approval for redevelopment projects at USC and the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts.
In the end, those involved weren’t able to reach consensus on a bill by Friday's deadline for amending legislation for this session. Some environmentalists, in particular, were against altering requirements of the California Environmental Protection Act, or CEQA.
"We are opposed to these one-offs, these individual special interest bills," said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If we’re going to take a look at CEQA, we should do it comprehensively."
In an interview Friday morning, Gatto defended his proposal. "We’re just trying to make it a little easier for a project that will do a lot of good for Southern California to move forward without a whole lot of hassles," he said.
"A lot of times corporate entities talk about California regulations moving jobs out of state," Gatto added. "I think here there is a real danger of that. I don’t think it’s just rhetoric. There are obviously theme parks in other states in areas that draw lots of tourists.''
However, later in the day Gatto let people know that he had decided not to pursue a bill this session, which ends Aug. 31. A spokeswoman for NBCUniversal said work on the expansion is going forward.
-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento
Photo: Guests walk into Transformers: The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood in May. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times