Ted Fikre, chief legal and development officer for Anschutz Entertainment… (Associated Press )
Reporting from Sacramento — A proposal to build an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles could be jeopardized if state lawmakers fail in the next two weeks to approve special legislation limiting legal challenges to the project, the developers warned Thursday.
"If we don't succeed in getting something this session, that will be a significant blow to the project, and we would have to reevaluate the path forward from here," said Ted Fikre, chief legal and development officer for Anschutz Entertainment Group.
Fikre said it will cost up to $50 million to complete design and environmental work needed to move the $1.2-billion project forward in the coming months, and legislation defining the process for resolving legal challenges will be essential.
The developers are afraid that without protections, competitors for building a stadium in Southern California could file a frivolous lawsuit to delay the project by years, and the NFL might balk at approving a team for the stadium.
"Without that [legislation], there are question marks about whether it is prudent enough for us to be making an investment of another $50 million and waiting to see if we can succeed in getting that next year," Fikre said.
The AEG executive for the first time outlined a possible legislative solution: Any legal challenge to the stadium project on environmental grounds would have to be resolved in three months, either through binding arbitration or a limited court review.
He said AEG's preference would be that no appeal be allowed after the initial decision by the courts or arbitrator, but talks with lawmakers may result in a limited appeal process after an initial ruling.
The 72,000-seat stadium has been proposed by the firm owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, and his executives are in daily talks with legislators about getting a measure introduced and passed before the Sept. 9 deadline for action on bills. To create room for the stadium, city bonds would first finance a roughly $300-million reconstruction of one wing of the adjacent Los Angeles Convention Center.
The idea of custom legislation requiring binding arbitration for one billionaire's project drew opposition from David Pettit, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Our view is we have a legal system for everybody in California," Pettit said. "Just because you are a rich stadium developer, you don't get your own legal system."
The group might be open to a bill that puts time limits on lawsuits in the court system, but he said a three-month limit is "unrealistic," given that the environmental study on the project is likely to be 10,000 pages.
Pettit downplayed the comments that the Legislature has to act fast or see the project jeopardized.
"That's more bluff than anything else," Pettit said.
The proposal was anticipated by state lawmakers who have already begun a review of the options.
On Friday, the Senate Select Committee on Sports and Entertainment will hold a public hearing in Los Angeles to examine whether legislation is warranted to protect the stadium project from environmental challenges.
At the same time, Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) has appointed five members of the lower house, including L.A. Democrats Bob Blumenfield and Mike Feuer, to review alternatives.
The request to grant the L.A. stadium project special treatment has some lawmakers struggling between the desire to protect the state's environmental laws and the need to create more jobs for California's sagging economy.
Stadium supporters, including Robbie Hunter of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, are pitching state lawmakers on the promise that the stadium project will provide more than 10,000 new jobs.
Blumenfield and Feuer have not yet committed to any legislative proposal and would not talk about specific ideas Thursday. But both say generally a balancing act is required.
"I'm looking at this project closely because we have a shot at bringing football back to Los Angeles, revitalizing economic expansion in the city, and creating a lot of good jobs," Blumenfield said. "But we should not cast aside our laws protecting the environment."
Blumenfield was among a minority of lawmakers who did not support a 2009 bill to give a football stadium proposed in the City of Industry an exemption from environmental laws.
"I don't want to see a repeat of last session when our environmental laws were weakened as a last-minute stadium bill rushed through the Legislature," said Blumenfield, who abstained in 2009.
Feuer voted against the City of Industry bill, which was pushed by developer Ed Roski Jr. for a stadium seen as a rival to the one planned in L.A. In reviewing the latest proposals, Feuer said he wants to help create jobs while "strongly protecting California's environmental laws."
AEG officials have promised to conduct a full environmental review, but they originally said they wanted an exemption from environmental laws similar to that granted Roski. Pérez and other leaders signaled early that was not likely to happen.
Sen. Kevin De Leon voted in favor of the 2009 environmental waiver. On Friday, he is chairing the Senate Select Committee hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Ronald Reagan State Building auditorium. The hearing will include an examination of "land use and environmental concerns."
De Leon said he may introduce legislation on the stadium project based on what he hears.
"With only a couple weeks left in session, it is critical we best understand all the community impacts of this proposed stadium in anticipation of any action that may be taken," the senator said.