A bill to cut red tape for Olympics projects in Los Angeles and a new Clippers’ arena in Inglewood has been shelved, but political favoritism in development is not going away.
Senate Bill 789 by state Sen. Steven Bradford, who represents Inglewood, would have exempted Los Angeles transit projects that will be built for the 2028 Olympics from the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. It also would have reduced the time period during which opponents of a new Clippers’ arena could file lawsuits under CEQA against the project.
For this effort, Bradford was attacked in online ads. “So-called ‘Democratic’ state senator Steve Bradford is trying to gut CEQA,” read an ad paid for by MSG Forum, LLC.
MSG Forum is the owner of The Forum in Inglewood, a venue that would compete with a new Clippers arena. AEG, owner of the Staples Center, where the Clippers have a lease through 2024, also opposed the bill.
This is an example of how CEQA, a law passed in 1970 to protect the environment, has become a battering ram in disputes over development having nothing to do with the environment. The law requires developers to conduct environmental impact studies of proposed projects and mitigate any negative effects. Slow-moving CEQA lawsuits challenging the plans can add years of costly delays, sometimes fatal to the projects.
CEQA reform has been discussed for decades with little to show for it. A law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, Assembly Bill 900, created a fast-track legal process for CEQA lawsuits against projects that met certain requirements, but only seven projects statewide have since qualified under the law.
Projects that lawmakers want to advance can receive the special treatment of legislation to grant an exemption from CEQA. Senate Bill 743 in 2013 by then-Sen. Darrell Steinberg expedited a new downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings by limiting a judge’s ability to halt construction of the project, except in the case of serious safety or health risks. Steinberg, now mayor of Sacramento, said, “Without that bill, [the arena] would not have happened. The delays would have killed the project.”
Some in Sacramento have called these CEQA exemption deals “billionaire justice,” an objection that helped to put SB789 on ice. But another bill, SB699 by Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, would fast-track an expansion of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters and the Millennium Hollywood project, a pair of proposed towers that have generated…