Lawmakers in Sacramento have a responsibility to legislate for the public, not for donors or the politically connected; they have a duty to write laws that apply to everyone, and not to allow certain interests to benefit from carve-outs and exemptions. And yet, sometimes the state's broken legislative system forces Californians to choose between that kind of bad lawmaking and worse consequences.
Such is the case with SB 292, the bill to expedite judicial review of AEG's proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles in return for AEG's commitment to exceed the state's environmental requirements for the facility. It's wrong to pass a bill just for AEG. Cutting a special deal for a high-profile developer is unfair to other builders, encourages backroom corruption and fails to address the systemic problems that bedevil growth in California. And yet, failing to pass this bill would be worse.
Importantly, SB 292, carried by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and coauthored by a geographically and ideologically broad group of legislators, does not exempt AEG from any of the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. If the bill passes, AEG would still be required to complete an environmental impact report, and it would still be subject to lawsuits brought by opponents. The bill does not immunize AEG from so-called frivolous lawsuits, a vague notion that AEG's chief executive, Tim Leiweke, has been pursuing for months without making much headway.
The bill does give AEG special treatment in one respect: It accelerates the judicial process that would be employed to review any challenge to the project. Any lawsuit would be directed immediately to the appellate courts, bypassing Superior Court, where projects can languish for a year or more. Once in court, the two sides would be required to adhere to a tight briefing schedule, winnowing down to 175 days a process that typically takes nine to 12 months. That kind of acceleration is unusual though not unheard of. Federal law occasionally grants appellate courts original jurisdiction in areas where speed is of the essence, as in cases involving voting rights.
In return for these concessions, AEG has promised to go beyond what state environmental law demands. The new facility would have to be the most environmentally sound in the NFL, and it would have to be carbon-neutral, which the developer can achieve by maximizing the use of public transportation and other improvements; if those come up short, AEG would be forced to purchase enough carbon credits to reach that goal.
This bargain, then, benefits the environment and green-lights a project that promises tens of thousands of jobs, substantial new tax revenue and the revitalization of Los Angeles' struggling Convention Center. That is too much to pass up.
CEQA needs broad reform, and some of the elements in this bill might help frame that effort. But while the Legislature dawdles, its negligence should not stop this important project from going forward. Lawmakers should pass this bill.