Basketball and Community Benefits

There is a lot of debate about whether new sports arenas are good for local economies. To make sure that there will be local benefits from the new proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena in Inglewood, California, NRDC supported, the Clippers agreed to, in 2018 the state legislature passed, and Gov. Brown signed AB 987. That bill requires the arena to be net-zero with respect to GHG emissions, including from fans attending games, and includes a well-defined list of required local benefits. No bill has gone farther to require local benefits from an arena project. 

To illustrate this, AB 987 provided in part that:

To maximize public health, environmental, and employment benefits, the lead agency shall require measures that will reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in the project area and in the neighboring communities of the arena.

Not less than 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary to achieve the requirement of paragraph (3) of subdivision (b) shall be from local, direct greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures, including, but not limited to, any of the following:

(A) Project design features or onsite reduction measures, or both design features and onsite reduction measures, that include, but are not limited to, any of the following:

(i) Implementing project design features that enable the arena to exceed the building energy efficiency standards set forth in Part 6 of Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, except for 50 percent of emissions reductions attributable to design features necessary to meet the LEED gold certification requirement.

(ii) Requiring a transportation demand management program to reduce single-occupancy vehicular travel and vehicle miles traveled.

(iii) Providing onsite renewable energy generation, including a solar roof on the arena with a minimum peak generation capacity of 500 kilowatts.

(iv) Providing solar-ready roofs.

(v) Providing cool roofs and “cool parking” promoting cool surface treatment for new parking facilities.

(B) Off-site reduction measures in the neighboring communities, including, but not limited to, any of the following:

(i) Temporarily expanding the capacity of a public transit line, as appropriate, to serve arena events.

(ii) Paying its fair share of the cost of measures that expand the capacity of public transit, if appropriate, that is used by spectators attending arena events.

(iii) Providing funding to an off-site mitigation project consisting of replacing buses, trolleys, or other transit vehicles with zero-emission vehicles.

(iv) Providing off-site safety or other improvements for bicycles, pedestrians, and transit connections.

(v) Providing zero-emission transit buses to serve arena events and to meet other local transit needs, including senior and public school transportation services.

(vi) Undertaking or funding building retrofits to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

The applicant may obtain offset credits for up to 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary to achieve the requirements of paragraph (3) of subdivision (b). The applicant shall, to the extent feasible, place the highest priority on the purchase of offset credits that produce emission reductions within the City of Inglewood or the boundaries of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Any offset credits shall be verified by a third party accredited by the State Air Resources Board. Offset credits generated by a project located outside the United States shall not be used pursuant to this paragraph.

(k) As a condition of approval of the project, the lead agency shall require the applicant, in consultation with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, to implement measures that will achieve criteria pollutant and toxic air contaminant reductions over and above any emission reductions required by other laws or regulations in communities surrounding the project consistent with emission reduction measures that may be identified for those communities pursuant to Section 44391.2 of the Health and Safety Code.

AB 987 also set up a procedure for the Clippers project to receive certain procedural benefits if it received certification from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Governor for meeting the goals of the bill. In a letter from CARB Chair Mary Nichols sent to project proponents, Ms. Nichols wrote:

AB 987 directs that no less than half of the required greenhouse gas emission reductions come from “local, direct” measures such as expanding public transit, replacing buses and other public service vehicles with zero-emission alternatives, and expanding energy efficiency in buildings in the community. I am confident that by looking at creative and innovative approaches to mitigate any net increase in emissions from the project we can in fact ensure that IBEC delivers the range of potential economic benefits to the community while at the same time protects air quality, increases affordable mobility options, and provides other environmental and public health benefits the community as well.

Unfortunately, the Clippers’ application for AB987 protection falls far short, potentially depriving Inglewood of the benefits called out in the bill. You can read NRDC’s comment letters on the Clippers’ application here and here. In short, the Clippers are trying to evade meeting the bill’s requirements by pretending that the GHG emissions from the project will be far lower than reality. 

Here is how they are doing this. The Clippers currently play 41 home games per year at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, easily accessible by public transit and right across the street from a stop on the Expo Line light rail. When the new arena is built in Inglewood, a transit desert relative to downtown Los Angeles, fans will drive to those 41 home games and emit GHGs from their cars along the way. Rather than estimate those emissions and mitigate them, as AB 987 requires, the Clippers count them as zero on the theory (don’t laugh) that the net change in GHG emissions due to the game site change is zero because the 41 home dates at Staples will stay dark forever. That is, the world-class Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) that owns and operates Staples cannot or will not book any events into those open dates—forever. When challenged on this by NRDC and others, the Clippers grudgingly admitted that 7 dates will be replaced but the remaining 34 will not. 

By analogy, let’s look at the recent Newhall Ranch project in northern Los Angeles County. That project will add 20,000 new homes to the area. The developers have committed to making the project zero net GHG, including GHGs from residents coming and going. If they had used the Clippers’ novel theory, they would have said that the project GHGs will be zero because the inhabitants of the 20,000 new homes all live somewhere now and the houses that they will move from will stay vacant forever. That theory would be laughed out of court and indeed the Clippers are having trouble getting CARB to buy it.    

This problem, caused entirely by the Clippers ownership, is easy to fix. Just estimate the GHG emissions from the new arena honestly, and mitigate them locally as AB 987 requires. As Ms. Nichols pointed out, they can do this by, for example, investing in new local public transit, weatherproofing homes in the local community, installing solar panels in the community, increasing opportunities for non-auto transit such as bike lanes, planting trees, or installing EV chargers. Yes, those things will cost money, more than claiming that the net GHG emissions are zero will cost, but the Clippers agreed to that when they supported AB 987. The net-zero GHG requirement was also an important condition for NRDC’s support of the bill.  

The Clippers’ coach, Doc Rivers, a tough guy, would never let the players cheat. Clippers ownership should be held to the same standard. They should meet the terms of AB 987 and give the local community the benefits that the bill requires. Once they get back on track, the Clippers will be in position to bring the promised local benefits to Inglewood.


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