Reporting from Sacramento —
Worried about a possible end run, 72 environmental groups are calling on state lawmakers to require a football stadium being considered for downtown Los Angeles to undergo a full study of its effects on traffic, noise and air pollution.
Just months after the Legislature waived environmental laws for an NFL stadium proposed for the City of Industry, the groups are demanding that lawmakers not to do the same for a stadium being talked about by the Anschutz Entertainment Group near its Staples Center.
"We cannot allow wealthy developers to buy their way into exemptions from state environmental laws,'' said David Pettit, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The entire point of our laws is to ensure that a project won't do more harm than good to our environment."
Pettit's group joined Sierra Club California, the Planning and Conservation League and others in sending a letter to lawmakers last week raising their objections.
Legislation has not been introduced, but environmentalists said they are taking seriously talk in the halls of the Capitol that a waiver bill is coming, and last October's bill for the City of Industry project was fast-tracked through the Legislature before opposition groups could fully mobilize.
"Our goal is to stop it before it gets any traction," said Tina Andolina, legislative director for the Planning and Conservation League, regarding a new waiver.
AEG executive Ted Tanner helped build the latest buzz by testifying before a state Assembly committee two weeks ago that the firm owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz is looking into whether an NFL stadium should be built downtown.
"This project is still in the early stages and all alternatives are being researched and evaluated," Michael Roth, a spokesman for AEG, said in an interview this week.
Roth said he would not comment on any "speculation" about legislation. "We haven't said we're doing any of that," he said.
The NFL has not agreed to approve a franchise for Los Angeles or City of Industry. It also has not talked to lawmakers on behalf of the AEG project, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.
"We have been monitoring all stadium developments in the Los Angeles area," he said.
Also noncommittal is Assembly Speaker John Pérez, a Democrat whose district includes downtown L.A. Pérez voted for the Industry stadium waiver but will consider any new proposal separately on its merits when it is in writing, said spokeswoman Shannon Murphy.
A full environmental review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act could take a year or more, depending on legal challenges, which could put any stadium proposal by AEG at a disadvantage with the competing 75,000-seat stadium proposed by developer Ed Roski Jr.'s Majestic Realty in the City of Industry.
Andolina said she worries that AEG will argue that an environmental exemption is justified for its proposal because one was granted to Roski's. She said one big difference is that Roski had conducted an environmental review of his project, whereas none yet exists for a downtown L.A. stadium. Roski's exemption was sought to make moot a lawsuit by residents citing environmental concerns.
A new bill could be written in a way that would still require AEG to do an environmental study but make it immune to legal challenge. That could allow a developer to submit a brief review that would not otherwise survive a court challenge, Andolina said.
The letter sent this week to lawmakers said granting an exemption would set a bad precedent and is not necessary because AEG showed it could comply with environmental laws when it built Staples Center.
"There is no reason a new football stadium cannot manage the same process," the letter said.