A Stadium Full Of Excuses

The Los Angeles Rams used to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a stadium that was built in 1923, used in the 1932 Olympics and used again in the 1984 Olympics.  I used to go see them play when I was a kid, but lost interest when they moved to Anaheim in 1980. 

Yes, it's been nearly 30 years since we had pro football in Los Angeles, and many of us would like it back.  But a new proposal to build a stadium in the City of Industry carries too high a price.  

The man behind the project, billionaire Ed Roski, is asking the California Legislature for a free pass to get out of complying with two provisions of California law:  one calling for environmental review of major projects, and one requiring that projects in a City be consistent with the City's General Plan, which is like a local Constitution that governs how the City is to be built out.  These are common, garden-variety land use laws that apply to most major development projects in California.  The argument being made is that these laws will lead to extortionate litigation by neighboring cities and that enforcement of the laws will kill jobs.  

We hear these claims often.  And yet, development projects are completed all the time in California.  The CEQA process is not just a paperpushing waste of time:  it can improve projects, as we have seen repeatedly at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. 

Nearly every law carries with it the possibility of meritless litigation.  Should the civil rights laws be abolished because some losing cases are filed?  

Equally troubling is that the request for special treatment for the City of Industry stadium  is being pushed in the last week of the California legislative session, with a joke of a public "hearing" that only Capitol insiders will be able to attend.  Why the sudden rush?  

NRDC and eleven other major environmental groups have written to the California Legislature in protest.  Let me quote some of the text here: 

"Regarding the proposal for a CEQA exemption, for example, we understand that one reason for the proposal is that it will create jobs.  We agree with you that the state's high unemployment rate is devastating families and is unacceptable.  Like you, we support the creation of good jobs in California.  We are vigorously supporting legislation to establish a renewable electricity requirement (AB 64 and SB 14) that will create thousands of high-paying green jobs in new, clean technologies.  And environmental groups and the State Building and Construction Trades Council are co-sponsoring legislation (AB 1404) to ensure that AB 32 offsets will stay in California and create green jobs for the state's economy.  

"Nor do we oppose large construction projects like a football stadium.  What we oppose are eleventh-hour amendments to exempt a massive construction project in the midst of a heavily urbanized area from the state's most basic environmental protection and public right-to-know law.  By definition, with one week to go in the session, there simply will not be time for adequate public hearings, and the staging of perfunctory and rushed hearings will not change that fact.  

"Perhaps most fundamentally, we oppose the suggestion that the construction of a football stadium must be a choice between jobs and the environment.  You have both rejected this simplistic either/or logic in the past, and we are disappointed that you appear to be engaging in it now.  Obviously, the building of Mr. Roski's football stadium will create jobs whether or not it is subjected to CEQA review.  The only question is whether the jobs will come at the expense of the public's right to participate in the review of the project and the environmental impacts that will be overlooked by exempting the project from CEQA.  

"These proposals are bad public policy.  The timing of these proposals is bad legislative governance.  At a time when the Legislature is already held in low regard, their passage will bring further discredit to the Legislature and will undermine your admirable efforts on other fronts to show that the Legislature can solve important public policy problems in a thoughtful and deliberative manner.  We would like nothing more than to work with you to achieve those solutions.  But we will work strenuously to make sure the eleventh-hour gutting of environmental laws is not a part of the legacy of the 2009 legislative session." 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also went on record yesterday, on a motion by Supervisor Molina, to oppose these end runs around California law.  The Los Angeles Times quotes Sup. Molina as writing:  "While there are many reasons to support the development of a new NFL Football stadium in Los Angeles County, there are just as many reasons to ensure that the project complies with the same environmental regulations that govern virtually all projects in California.  Hospitals, police stations, freeways and all sorts of valuable projects manage to be built without the necessity of CEQA exemptions." 

The clock is running on this session of the California Legislature.  We don't need the two minute drill -- there will be plenty of time in the next session to work on bringing pro football back to Los Angeles in a fully public process and without doing violence to long-settled land use laws that exist to serve the public interest.