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ARena.jpgWith Sacramento-area lawmakers emphasizing a potential economic and development boom, the Assembly on Thursday passed a bill expediting the environmental review process for a planned arena in downtown Sacramento.

The 55-6 vote sends the bill to the Senate for final action before lawmakers adjourn for the year, likely tonight.

The arena project stems from Sacramento's successful campaign earlier this year to prevent the Kings, a professional basketball team, from being bought by a group of Seattle investors. In order to secure the National Basketball Association's blessing, the Sacramento ownership group committed to building a new arena.

Legislation streamlining the process, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would help Sacramento hew to a tight NBA-imposed timeline, said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. Dickinson predicted the arena would have a "catalytic" effect on job creation and urban development, pointing to rising downtown property values since the arena deal was solidified.

"In order to succeed with this very aggressive time requirement, this legislation not only ensures we retain a professional sports team here in California and the only major league team here in Sacramento," Dickinson said. "It further ensures we replace a outdated, transit-inaccessible arena."

Opponents hammered what they described as preferential treatment for a project benefiting a handful of lawmakers' constituents, particularly since the late-surfacing Kings bill appears bound for the governor in lieu of a broader overhaul of the California Environmental Quality Act.

"We're here to govern for the whole state," said Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, arguing that the bill allows "unequal treatment under the law."

But supporters said Senate Bill 743's effects would extend beyond the Kings arena. In response to a question from Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, about an Apple construction project in his district, Dickinson said the bill would restore fixes enacted in a 2011 CEQA reform bill that a California court invalidated.

"One of the principal components of this bill is to restore Assembly Bill 900 and make it constitutionally sound," Dickinson said.

PHOTO: A conceptual drawing of the proposed downtown Sacramento Arena released by AECOM and city of Sacramento.


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