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A close call on AEG's stadium

Postscript

September 17, 2011
  • An artist's rendering depicts the proposed Farmers Field stadium, to be located in downtown Los Angeles. (Associated Press)
An artist's rendering depicts the proposed Farmers Field stadium,…

Few issues have drawn such one-sided response from our letter writers as the proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles. So when The Times published an editorial on Sept. 4 supporting a state bill to expedite judicial review of the project (a narrower accommodation than the broad protection from environmental lawsuits that developer AEG had asked for originally), and a follow-up editorial on Sept. 12 calling for a comprehensive review of the California Environmental Quality Act, several readers expressed incredulity over the paper's position. Steve Murray of Huntington Beach, whose submission was published last week, ended his letter, "What is your editorial board thinking?"

Jim Newton, the Opinion section's editor at large and a columnist, responds:

This was a tough call for the editorial board, but not an unthinking one. It pitted two strongly held views of our group in opposition: The board has supported the stadium, which promises to deliver badly needed taxes and jobs and offers hope to the city's Convention Center, but the board also has been opposed to special deals and environmental exemptions for particular developers.

So, we chewed it over in our normal fashion. The board, composed of 10 editors and writers, meets three times a week to discuss possible editorials. Those meetings are presided over by the editor of the editorial pages and sometimes are attended by the publisher or the paper's chief operating officer (no members of The Times' news staff are invited or allowed to participate). In this case, before discussing the specific proposal, members of the board met with opponents of the project as well as supporters and the proponent, AEG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke. We discussed the matter with land-use lawyers, elected officials and community activists.

The board already had voiced its support for the stadium, but we had opposed Leiweke's call for an exemption that would insulate AEG from "frivolous lawsuits" filed under the California Environmental Quality Act. Indeed, we had opposed such an exemption for another proposed stadium in the City of Industry. This bill, however, was crafted differently than the Industry exemption. It required AEG to comply with CEQA's requirements, including the preparation of an environmental impact report, and allowed opponents to sue to block the project. Moreover, in return for an expedited legal review, AEG agreed to provisions that would enhance the stadium's compatibility with the environment.

Not all members of our board were persuaded, and we still do not all agree that this is the right way for the project to proceed. Our editorial reflected those differences, noting our reluctance to back one-time deals while also stressing the benefits of this project. On balance, we concluded that this bill was worthy of our support.

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