Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gov. Schwarzenegger Sign's Unprecedented Environmental Review Waiver Bill for Los Angeles Area Football Stadium

Remember the Hawaii Superferry? California seems to be in the same fix, but with a different outcome.

The Superferry attempted to qualify for an agency exemption from Hawaii's environmental review law to avoid preparing an environmental assessment. Then the Hawaii Supreme Court determined that the exemption did not apply. But instead of preparing an environmental assessment, Superferry successfully lobbied the legislature and the governor to pass and sign a bill into law (Act 2) that allowed the project to move forward without an environmental study that some critics were demanding. Then the Hawaii Supreme Court, entering the fray a second time, determined that the Act 2 violated a provision in Hawaii's constitution that prohibits "special laws" concerning the use of state lands.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill No. 81 into law on October 22, 2009, which allows the construction of a 75,000-seat stadium that developers hope will lure an NFL team back to the Los Angeles area. The bill exempts the stadium project from, inter alia, the following land use requirements:
In voting to pass the bill, the California legislature considered, inter alia, the following:
  • The economic recession;
  • High unemployment in the state;
  • The project would provide provide economic activity in the Los Angeles and other counties;
  • The project includes an approximately $2,000,000,000 investment in the local economy, 12,000 construction jobs, and 6,700 permanent jobs in the Los Angeles region;
  • The project would generate over $760,000,000 in annual economic activity and $21,000,000 in tax revenues annually for state, county, and local governments;
  • The project prepared a 2004 environmental impact report, which analyzed aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazardous materials, hydrology and water, land use and planning, mineral resources, noise, population and housing, public services, utilities, recreation, and transportation and traffic; and
  • The project prepared a 2008 supplemental environmental impact report, which found that found that the traffic generated by the stadium complex and associated development would generate substantially less weekday traffic and less traffic annually than the original proposed project at the same site.
The California waiver bill, unlike the Hawaii waiver bill, is not constrained by a constitutional prohibition on special laws related to private use of state land. (See Hawaii Supreme Court Holds that the Superferry Bill is Unconstitutional.) In Hawaii's case, judicial invalidation of the environmental waiver bill killed Superferry. In California, the bill nullifies a lawsuit filed by nearby residents of the City of Walnut over the project's environmental impacts. (See State Senate's vote backs Southern California stadium developers.)

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