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Special law for NFL stadium project unconstitutional, lawsuit claims

August 30, 2012 |  4:08 pm

Rendering of proposed Farmers Field NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles.

A coalition of environmental activists and community advocates has mounted the first major legal challenge to a planned downtown Los Angeles NFL stadium, filing a suit Thursday that says a state law intended to assist the project is unconstitutional.

Developer Anschutz Entertainment Group and supporters of the Farmers Field project successfully lobbied for passage of SB 292 last year, which sets deadlines for legal challenges to the stadium's environmental impact report and requires any lawsuits go quickly to an appeals court.

But a coalition known as the Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition argues that the Constitution protects their right to file challenges to the environmental review in county Superior Court. The suit also says SB 292 cannot supersede the review process set forth by California Environmental Quality Act.

Coalition attorney Dan Stormer called the law an unfair attack on the environmental review process. Superior courts have more experience handling California Environmental Quality Act challenges than appeals courts, he said. The suit asks the court to invalidate SB 292 and halt its enforcement.

AEG spokesman Michael Roth said that he had not read the lawsuit and could not comment on specifics. But he accused the coalition of trying to "undermine the state's legislative will" and said he was "highly confident in the legality" of the law.

The lawsuit comes a month after a meeting of the city's stadium ad-hoc committee in which several members of the coalition claimed that AEG had ignored their concerns. The coalition wants more traffic and air pollution control measures, as well as commitments to support low-income housing in the area. Even assuming that 25% of ticketholders use public transit, stadium planners expect 19,000 more cars downtown on game days, according to a draft environmental report released in April.

Extended delays from legal challenges could hurt the city's chances at getting an NFL stadium, which is proposed for a site next to AEG-operated Staples Center and the LA Live residential and entertainment complex. A competing stadium proposal in the City of Industry also secured legislation protecting the effort from environmental challenges, and city leaders there certified an environmental report in 2009.

Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, defended AEG's expedited environmental review process, noting many jobs are at stake.

"Anyone can find a legal trip-up in any proposal, but in this case I think it's irresponsible," said Durazo, who helped get SB 292 passed.

Stormer said the community has a right to a comprehensive environmental review of the stadium project, which includes rebuilding part of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

"There's this overriding necessity to have a football field. So follow the Constitution," Stormer said. "If the City of Industry did it right, they should have the stadium."

The City Council is expected to vote on the environmental report for the stadium proposal in September.

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--Frank Shyong

Image: Rendering of proposed Farmers Field NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Anschutz Entertainment Group

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