A Superior Court judge Monday complicated the Los Angeles Raiders' plans for moving to a new stadium in Irwindale when he ordered an environmental study on the project.
Opponents of the Raider move predicted the study could take a year or more.
In issuing a preliminary injunction, Superior Court Judge Ricardo A. Torres said he was acting squarely within the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires an impact report for any project that may have a significant effect on the environment.
"The law's against you," he told attorneys for Irwindale and the Raiders. "The court finds (Irwindale) has taken substantial activity on the project, which qualifies it for the California Environmental Quality Act." Torres' action was prompted by a taxpayers' suit brought against the Irwindale-Raiders deal by Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi, who called the ruling "wonderful. I'm very pleased."
Earlier this month, Torres had ruled against Bernardi's attempt to gain a temporary restraining order to block the sale by Irwindale of $90 million in bonds to finance the Raiders' proposed 65,000-seat stadium complex on the site of a rock quarry.
The lawmaker said he harbored no grudge against the Raiders but believes the deal should be a private one "strictly between (Raiders owner) Al Davis and the Irwindale people" and that public bonds should not be used to build a privately owned stadium.
R. Bruce Tepper Jr., one of Bernardi's lawyers, said the environmental study could take up to a year to complete. "There's no shortcut," he told reporters.
But Xavier Hermosillo, a public relations spokesman for Irwindale, played down the judge's ruling, declaring that it constitutes simply "a slight detour. . . . It's not a problem. If things get delayed, they get delayed. These guys are making a big mistake if they think they can make Al Davis look bad."
One theory that Irwindale officials put forth was that a quick "negative declaration" could be produced showing that the stadium project would not adversely affect the site. But attorney Tepper, standing nearby, simply shook his head and said the environmental issue is "extremely complex" and that there is "no way you could address it in a superficial document."
Whatever the case, the attorney for the Raiders, Richard Haas, who also attended the hearing, said his organization's "commitment to Irwindale is still strong."
Monday's court decision, however, casts a cloud over a $12-million general obligation bond measure facing Irwindale voters on the Nov. 3 ballot.
"The (preliminary injunction) could delay the election until they comply with the judge's order," said James Iverson of the Solana Beach office of Miller & Schroeder, a Minneapolis-based securities firm that is the underwriter for the issue.
But Irwindale's Hermosillo said, "The ballots are printed. If it passes, we'll put (the project) on hold until everything is cleared up."
Last Aug. 20, Irwindale, a San Gabriel Valley community 15 miles east of Los Angeles with a population of 1,000 residents, signed a formal agreement with the Raiders to build the stadium complex along the Foothill Freeway. Under the pact, the Raiders would move from Los Angeles to Irwindale by 1991 if the city could guarantee stadium financing by this Nov. 4.
But the Raiders and the city have indicated there is some leeway in that deadline if the city encounters litigation.
City negotiators gave Davis a non-refundable check for $10 million, which represented part of the $115 million in financing that Irwindale will provide to build the complex, consisting of the stadium, team headquarters, practice field, a Raiders Hall of Fame and parking facilities. The financial package includes $90 million in industrial development revenue bonds that have been bought by a Minneapolis bank, according to Irwindale City Manager Charles Martin.
Tepper, Bernardi's attorney, quoting from a 1975 Army Corps of Engineers master plan for the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area where the site is located, argued that the rock quarry is the home to "the last vestiges" of an endangered plant--the coastal sagebrush--"and certain other flora and fauna." The land, he said, has been nominated for inclusion on a national registry of natural landmarks, thus preventing its development.
'I'll Show Him Sage'
Irwindale attorney Michael B. Montgomery, piqued at the description, displayed for the judge a colored photo blowup of the site showing some plants but also displaying a massive dusty gravel pit. "If counsel wants to see coastal sage, I'll show him coastal sage," Montgomery said.
An official of the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum, responding to an inquiry, said that the plant is not on an endangered species list.
Montgomery also argued that in 1976 an environmental impact report was written for the site and later amended to include a reference to a football stadium--thus giving the city the green light to go ahead with the stadium plans.
But Torres ruled otherwise. Under California's environmental law, he told Irwindale's lawyers, "you need a study. . . . You have to do something . . . it's the law of the state. Irwindale has not complied."