Los Angeles lawmakers rolled out a bill Friday that would hasten environmental reviews and help a major developer build a downtown NFL stadium there, but the plan provides no help to other budding sports venue projects in Sacramento and Santa Clara.
The proposal spearheaded by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Sen. Alex Padilla is solely focused on expediting environmental reviews of Farmers Field, a $1.3 billion project adjacent to Staples Center in Los Angeles that also involves replacing part of the downtown convention center. It requires that the developer, Anschutz Entertainment Group, attempt to control traffic spikes that would result from the 68,000-seat stadium.
The two Democratic lawmakers framed the proposal as a job creator, projecting that it would bring 12,000 jobs during construction and 11,000 permanent jobs once the project is completed. Senate Bill 292 is backed by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, whose powerful executive secretary-treasurer, Maria Elena Durazo, was in Sacramento with other labor leaders Thursday to lobby lawmakers.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said earlier this week he thought the stadium exemption would work as part of a broader change to environmental reviews. Some Democrats are against the idea of passing bills that aid one specific project, especially after facing negative reactions to a 2009 exemption for a competing NFL stadium development in the City of Industry. And lawmakers based in San Diego see no reason to potentially help Los Angeles take the Chargers away, one possibility for the NFL.
Of course, Los Angeles isn't the only city with a professional sports project. The San Francisco 49ers are trying to build a new stadium in Santa Clara to open by the 2015 season. Sacramento is hoping a new downtown arena will keep the Kings in town. Financing appears to be more of a challenge for both projects than in Los Angeles, where AEG has deep pockets and Farmers Insurance has committed $700 million over 30 years for naming rights.
Asked if he'd expand SB 292 to aid stadiums in Sacramento or Santa Clara, Pérez suggested it was more appropriate to grant CEQA changes on a case by case basis. "This is a wonderful groundbreaking example," Pérez said of Farmers Field. "I gotta tell you, I haven't seen very many other developers who want to say, we'll completely finance it ourselves and hold this to the highest environmental standard of anyone in the country."
Environmentalists have applauded AEG's proposals to incorporate environmentally-friendly design into the stadium, including waterless urinals, waste composting and solar panels. But they consider any exemption or easing of the California Environmental Quality Act protocols a bad precedent.
Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney David Pettit raised concerns earlier this week that the project would add too much traffic to the area. After seeing SB 292, he said in a statement today, "Members of the California Legislature propose to give AEG special treatment in return for things AEG would need to do anyway. This weak, last-minute back room deal is a missed opportunity for Los Angeles and a dangerous precedent for California. It can and should be fixed."
Even if some Democrats oppose SB 292, proponents are counting on bipartisan support to send it to the governor. The Assembly speaker has lined up several Republican co-authors in both houses, appealing to their longstanding opposition to CEQA procedures.