Special treatment for downtown stadium OK'd by Legislature
The Legislature on Friday approved a special legal process for a proposed 72,000-seat football stadium in downtown Los Angeles, but not before trying to expand the exemption from protracted environmental court challenges to other big projects.
The state Senate passed SB 292, to fast-track challenges against Anschutz Entertainment Group's stadium, by a 32-7 vote. It passed the Assembly earlier this week and now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not spoken publicly about it.
In the Senate advocates of the proposal said the stadium must be environmentally friendly and could create more than 20,000 jobs. "We can provide an economic stimulus by massive job creation, which protects our environment," said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).
AEG officials have argued that they need the 175-day limit on the duration of lawsuits to ensure the NFL and investors that the project will not be mired down in years-long litigation. A competing stadium proposal in the City of Industry won a last-minute environmental waiver from the Legislature in 2009.
Moments earlier, the Senate passed AB 900, a measure allowing other projects that cost more than $100 million to gain the same special treatment. The developments must be certified as environmentally friendly.
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said that bill, which he co-wrote, is aimed at reducing the state's 12% unemployment rate while upholding its tough environmental laws.
"We all agree we have an obligation to do everything in our power to try to help to put Californians back to work," Steinberg told his colleagues. "This bill is maybe our boldest effort yet to try to do that. "
Some environmentalists in the Senate opposed AB 900 in part because it allows wealthy developers to pay to get their court cases ahead of others.
The goal of the court system, according to Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), "is supposed to be justice for all, not just those who can afford to pay for it."
Environmental activists also objected to the fast-tracking of the bill and said it does not provide enough time for low-income communities and activist groups with small staffs to review and file legal briefs if projects end up in court.
"That's an impossible burden maybe for environmental groups" said Michael Endicott, a lobbyist for Sierra Club California at a Senate committee hearing Friday morning.
Some lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to include projects already undergoing environmental reviews, including a massive Universal Studios expansion.
Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) voted against the bill, saying it does not go far enough in reducing unreasonable impacts on business by state environmental law.
"This bill is not cooked. It was slap-dashed together last night," he complained.
AB 900 now goes to the Assembly.
-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento
Photo: Illustration of the proposed Farmer's Field in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: AEG