Over two hot Sacramento days, something unusual happened in the California State Capitol building. Assembly Speaker John Perez and his staff brought together the California building trades unions and two major environmental groups, the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) and NRDC, to negotiate changes to a bill that would fast-track litigation review for a new football stadium in Downtown Los Angeles. The trade unions and enviros don’t always see eye-to-eye on projects, but with the help of the Speaker's tough negotiation skills we were all able to support a much-amended version of Senate Bill 292 -- the AEG stadium bill.
I harshly criticized the original bill on Switchboard, in public hearings and in the media. What changed? Here is what my colleagues at CLCV (Tom Adams and Warner Chabot) and NRDC (Annie Notthoff, Victoria Rome, Joel Reynolds) and I were able to achieve:
- The biggest environmental problem I see with the stadium is traffic congestion and an attendant increase in air pollution. The original bill contained a vague and unenforceable requirement for AEG to implement "best in nation" mode shift provisions to incentivize stadium attendees not to use private cars for travel to and from events; even that requirement went away after 10 years. The final bill put teeth into the mode shift requirement, made it permanent, and authorized the City of Los Angeles to enforce it so long as the stadium exists.
- The original bill also had a vague carbon neutrality provision that would have allowed AEG to buy its way out through purchasing non- local carbon offsets. This was changed so that AEG has to pursue local (job-creating) offsets first, and only then can purchase offsets within the South Coast Air Basin.
- One of the most problematic provisions of the original bill was an opt-out provision that would have let AEG take its ball and go home of it didn't like how the judicial review process was going -- and to get out of its commitments to mode shift and carbon neutrality. This was a provision that couldn't be fixed. It had to go, and with the Speaker's help, it went.
So what is left? AEG has to go through the entire environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). There is no CEQA exemption. None. AEG will have to mitigate all traffic impacts down to the "baseline" level -- as though the AEG stadium never existed. What AEG gets for its mode shift and carbon neutrality commitments is an expedited judicial review process that starts in the California Court of Appeal rather than in the Superior Court, similar to the way that many federal environmental cases are handled. This is way tougher than what developer Ed Roski got for his City of Industry stadium project -- a free pass from all CEQA litigation. AEG will have to face the music in court.
AEG has also committed to a project labor agreement for the project as well as a community benefits agreement.
Make no mistake -- this was a tough negotiation. AEG is a savvy negotiator and had a lot of momentum backing the original stadium bill. Bottom line, this is a good project in a perfect a location in LA - with access to public transit. I'm not a sports economist and I don't know whether the stadium will be a net benefit to Los Angeles when built. But I do know that the project will get thousands of construction workers back on the job, and that's good for everyone. And without Speaker Perez's keen understanding of both the environmental and labor concerns involved, this would not have happened.