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Fox Seeks Law Barring Challenges to Expansion : Legislature: State, city officials decry effort for special interest bill. Studio says it is needed to stop suits that would delay newly approved plan.


SACRAMENTO — In a surprise move, 20th Century Fox Studios appealed to the Legislature and won initial approval Tuesday of a bill specially designed to allow its $200-million expansion in Century City to proceed.

With the help of Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), Fox pulled off the legislative maneuver in an effort to avert any last-minute lawsuits from homeowner groups in Los Angeles. The project won final city approval last month.

But Fox's sudden move ended up offending city and state officials, who vowed to derail the special interest legislation.

Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), who confronted the Fox contingent outside the hearing room, vowed to "do everything I can do to stop this." The expansion project is just outside Hayden's district.

In Los Angeles, City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said the move "is going to be a public relations disaster for Fox." He said Fox should abandon the bill and predicted that by week's end no legislator will want to touch it.

Fox, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, hopes to vacate its Hollywood television studio and consolidate its television and movie operations at its 53-acre site in Century City. Studio executives have threatened to leave the city if the project is derailed.

Critics of the project contend that it will further clog the streets of Cheviot Hills. They also decry the closure of the television studio, saying it will add to Hollywood's economic troubles.

The legislative maneuvering began Monday when Assemblyman Stan Statham, a Republican from Oak Run in Northern California who is a member of the state Film Commission, agreed to gut one of his bills and replace it with the Fox amendment.

Statham's measure, with Rosenthal acting as its co-author, went before the Senate Governmental Organization Committee and passed on a 10-0 vote Tuesday morning. The only opposition came from a Sierra Club lobbyist.

"It's time for the project to move forward," said Rosenthal, whose district includes the studio.

The bill is worded to apply only to Los Angeles and only to the Fox project, which includes a new 1.9-million-square-foot facility. It would prevent lawsuits aimed at blocking the Fox project by declaring that it complies with all local zoning and planning requirements. The bill also seeks to exempt Fox from further review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

David Handelman, Fox vice president, said the studio already will have to comply with 700 government-mandated conditions, at a cost of $35 million.

Handelman said he pursued the legislation because opponents in Los Angeles were planning to sue, which could delay the start of the expansion by years.

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