SACRAMENTO — Unable to mediate a settlement with opponents of a football stadium proposed for the city of Industry, the California Senate approved a measure Wednesday that exempts the project from state environmental laws.
The action was taken after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) was unsuccessful in negotiating an agreement that would have a citizens group drop its lawsuit seeking to block the 75,000-seat stadium. The suit alleged that the project violated state environmental laws.
The Senate decision to exempt the stadium from the laws was blasted by Howard Wang, a vice president of the group Citizens for Community Preservation, which filed a lawsuit demanding that the developer redo an environmental impact report.
"It's a sad day for California," said Wang, a college administrator. "It opens up the door for other developers who are well-off enough to hire lobbyists to go to Sacramento and get exemptions from the environmental laws."
The bill, which passed on a bare majority vote of 21 to 14, was drafted to allow developer Ed Roski's Majestic Realty to build the stadium with private funds near the intersection of the 57 and 60 freeways to attract an NFL team.
Steinberg cited the double-digit unemployment rate in Los Angeles County as a reason for granting the exemption.
"These are extraordinary times," said Steinberg, adding that the stadium is "an opportunity to create thousands of construction jobs, thousands of permanent jobs."
However, Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said the bill would mean that California's environmental laws are "mortally wounded."
"We are allowing powerful interests to take away the rights of citizens to challenge laws made by this body," he said.
Amid concern that Roski might persuade the San Diego Chargers to relocate to Industry, Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) tried unsuccessfully to change the bill to require that any team based at the new stadium come from out of state.
His proposal to have San Diego given the same exemption to environmental laws so it could build a new stadium also failed.
Others said the free market should decide whether the Chargers stay in San Diego or move to Los Angeles County.
"Let me remind you, the Chargers started out in L.A. to begin with," said Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood).
The Senate action, following approval last month by the Assembly, sends the measure to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The governor plans to review the final language before deciding whether to sign the bill, but "he supports the construction of a stadium in Los Angeles to create jobs and bring the NFL back to L.A.," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger.
John Semcken, a vice president for Majestic, said the legislative action would help expedite a project that had been stalled by the litigation. He said the bill is not about circumventing environmental laws.
"This is about good union jobs," he said.