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The fight to build a new arena for the Sacramento Kings is now in the hands of Gov. Jerry Brown, as the Legislature on Thursday night approved a bill to streamline development of a downtown arena for the pro basketball team.

The California Senate voted 32-5 in favor of Senate Bill 743, written by Sacramento Democrat Darrell Steinberg. The bill seeks to speed the judicial process for handling environmental lawsuits, limit the courts' ability to stop construction and change the way traffic impacts are measured in environmental reviews. It represents fewer changes to the California Environmental Quality Act than Steinberg originally hoped to achieve but would be sufficient, he said, to develop an arena that would keep the Kings in Sacramento.

"The NBA has said... if we don't meet this timeline, if we don't get this project started in 2014, we're at risk of losing it," Steinberg said. "The opponents are still out there."

Steinberg and Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, showed team pride by wearing purple ties for the occasion.

Republican Sen. Tom Berryhill voted for the bill but voiced frustration that it was flawed because it favors one project above others.

"It seems like the only time we have CEQA reform is when we want a new stadium," he said, referencing past votes on arenas in San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco.

"Professional sports teams are not the only ones worried about CEQA laws delaying projects... Regular joes trying to expand their businesses in my district and in your districts throughout California would like to see their projects approved more quickly too."

Berryhill called on the Legislature to continue working on changing California's landmark environmental law, an effort that failed this year.

As the debate took place on the last night of the Legislative session, Sacramento Kings President Chris Granger and others from the team's ownership group gazed down on the Senate from the viewing gallery above. Steinberg acknowledged them as he spoke, along with the Sacramento-area Assembly members who came into the upper house to watch the vote.

PHOTO: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson clasps hands with California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in April following the announcement that the NBA would not allow the Kings to move to Seattle. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer


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