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St. Vibiana's Demolition Bill Stalls in Senate

Cathedral: Measure falls one vote short in committee after attempts at compromise fail.


SACRAMENTO — A state Senate committee Wednesday stalled legislation that would exempt the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles from environmental review before demolishing St. Vibiana's Cathedral or building a new one in its place.

The bill by Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles) fell one vote short of moving out of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee after lawmakers failed to broker a compromise between people who want to preserve the 120-year-old building and those who want to replace it with a new church complex that they say could help revitalize downtown.

The 5-1 vote for Caldera's bill came after a four-hour hearing laced with thinly veiled accusations by state Sen. Tom Hayden that the archdiocese and city officials colluded to try and tear down the Spanish baroque bell tower last month without getting the required permits. Only Hayden ended up voting against the bill, but several other senators raised concerns about changing state law solely for a project being developed by a religious organization and about having the state Legislature deal with local planning conflicts.

Msgr. Terence Fleming said the lengthy hearing left him more dubious that the $45-million Cathedral Square will be built at 2nd and Main streets, in the city's so-called "historic core."

Hoping to break ground next year so the new cathedral would be ready by Sept. 4, 2000, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has set July 22 as a deadline for deciding whether to build the cathedral on the St. Vibiana's site or move it elsewhere, perhaps outside downtown or even beyond the borders of Los Angeles.

Although church officials were hoping that Caldera's legislation would clear the way for them to demolish the landmark cathedral and rebuild without conducting the normally required environmental review, they are also pursuing similar waivers through the City Council and the court system.

The Los Angeles Conservancy, which has sued the archdiocese in an effort to save St. Vibiana's, last month obtained an injunction blocking its destruction. That ruling, however, could be overturned after an appellate court hearing Tuesday.

To expedite demolition permits, the City Council has also indicated that it would support removing St. Vibiana's from the city's list of cultural and historic monuments. A vote on the issue is scheduled before Mahony's deadline.

Wednesday, Hayden and several other senators tried to amend Caldera's bill to mandate an environmental review but speed up the process, a move Caldera and the archdiocese opposed.

The Senate committee at first passed the change on a 4-3 vote, then rescinded the amendment at Caldera's request. When the bill came up for a vote, only six of the 11 committee members were present and Hayden's opposition left it short of the majority necessary for the legislation to move on.

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