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Touchdown on L.A. stadium bill is within reach

A bill to fast-track lawsuits against the NFL stadium project in downtown L.A. would also expedite job creation and initiate needed reform of environmental litigation.

September 08, 2011|George Skelton | Capitol Journal
  • An artist's rendering of the proposed NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles is shown.
An artist's rendering of the proposed NFL stadium in downtown Los… (AEG )

Reporting from Sacramento — In gridiron jargon, promoters of a downtown Los Angeles football stadium have reached the legislative red zone. They're pounding toward the goal line.

They're at the 10 on first down, but time is running out.

This year's legislative session is slated to end Friday, although there's nothing written in stone about that deadline. Legislators could waive the rules and go into overtime, but it's not likely. They seem as sick of the Sacramento game as the public.

One of the heavily lobbied bills in play would fast-track legal challenges to Anschutz Entertainment Group's proposed 72,000-seat stadium, Farmers Field, next to Staples Center, which it also developed.

It would be nice for L.A. Basin football fans to have a local NFL team to root for again. It has been 17 seasons since the Raiders deserted to Oakland and the Rams to St. Louis.

Some degree of civic pride is at stake, although I tend to agree with the headline on a recent sports column by The Times' T.J. Simers, which read: "The best seat for games is the one in your house."

Simers wrote: "You take two NFL teams away at the same time and don't replace them for a span of 17 years, and as anyone [in L.A.] could tell you, it makes for great TV."

That's because with a local team come restrictions on televised games. The cruelest restriction is a local blackout on TV coverage of a home game if the stadium isn't sold out 72 hours before kickoff.

And these days, as Simers noted, "it's going to cost at least a car payment" to attend an NFL game.

Last season, the average ticket price for a San Diego Chargers game was about $158; for the San Francisco 49ers $142. That didn't include outrageous prices for parking, nachos and beer.

Of course, this stadium project isn't just about wealthy football hobbyists who can afford season ducats or millions of rooting couch potatoes.

Its chief selling point is job creation — and not just for the players, whose average salary last season was $1.9 million, or merely for the hordes of lobbyists and consultants hired by politically influential AEG to quarterback its bill.

Promoters contend this $1.2-billion project — essentially privately financed — would create more than 20,000 jobs, 6,320 of them permanent.

The bill, SB 292 — by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and strongly pushed by Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) — is aimed at cutting several months, if not years, off construction.

It would not exempt AEG from any requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, a costly quicksand pit for many frustrated developers. It still would be subject to lawsuits.

But court rulings would come more quickly than normal. Suits would bypass the Superior Court and go directly to an appellate court. And a decision would have to be rendered within 175 days, rather than taking up to a year, as is typical.

In return, AEG has promised to make its stadium the most environmentally friendly in the NFL, and the Padilla bill would require it. Farmers Field would have to maximize public transportation and be "carbon neutral." Not as sweet a deal as the Legislature granted two years ago to a potential rival stadium in the City of Industry.

The L.A. bill was tweaked Tuesday to pick up the support of two key environmental groups: the Natural Resources Defense Council and the California League of Conservation Voters.

The measure passed the Assembly overwhelmingly on Wednesday and moved to the Senate.

If AEG should come up short, it won't be the fault of any legislative dysfunction. It would be the fault of AEG for delaying the legislative process by not announcing its specific proposal until last Friday.

The developer's representatives spent weeks trying to negotiate a private backroom deal between competing interests. The plan was to jam through a bill at the last minute without public hearings, leaving little time for the generation of public opposition.

Actually, given high unemployment and the stagnant economy, there's little to complain about in the measure — especially since Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) entered the game.

Steinberg asked the same question that has bothered Gov. Jerry Brown: Why pass a bill just to help one outfit? Why not grant the same lawsuit shortcuts to other large environmentally friendly, job-creating developers?

Shortcuts that would help developers of renewable energy and urban "in-fill" projects — such as a potential downtown Sacramento basketball arena aimed at keeping the NBA Kings from moving to Anaheim.

Steinberg is pushing a companion bill to do just that, and it makes sense. The governor would decide which projects qualified for lawsuit expediting. It's a needed step toward reforming the cumbersome environmental quality act and erasing the perception that California is anti-business.

"Thirty days ago if you'd asked me whether there was a mood in the Capitol to embrace changes in [the California Environmental Quality Act] I would have said, 'I don't think so,'" Padilla says. "The unemployment rate has led to a climate that I haven't seen in five years up here."

And it's football season.

Hopefully neither the Legislature nor the governor will trip over their cleats.

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