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Environment & Science

As window closes for Farmers Field public comment, some groups wonder why it can't stay open


This afternoon, the L.A. City Planning Department and AEG hold a final meeting at which the public can weigh in on Farmers Field’s anticipated environmental impacts. It’ll be interesting to see who shows up because more than a few people seem to want more time to review the environmental impact report, which is 10,000 pages long.

Right after it dropped, a number of groups held a press conference to ask for more time. As Frank Tamborello of Hunger Action LA pointed out: “Someone would have to read nine pages per hour, 24 hours per day, in order to finish the document in the 45-day period.”

The coalition called Play Fair at Farmers Field has already requested an extension from the city council’s ad hoc committee on the downtown stadium, according to Zahirah Mann, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. Mann told me that LAFLA sent this letter to the city’s Planning Department. She argued that the city should and could extend the period for public comment because of the unusual circumstances surrounding Farmers Field:

These unusual circumstances are: the extensive nature of the Draft ER, limited judicial review provided under SB 292, limitations on the agency’s response to comments under SB 292, and the regional importance of the proposed Project. For these reasons, we ask that the comment period on the Draft ER be extended from 45 to 90 days. This would shift the comment period from May 21, 2012, to July 5, 2012, allowing the public a fair amount of time to review and comment.

Mann says she’s received no response from the city. I’m checking separately with the mayor’s press office to see if they can shed any other light on the situation.

While the law that helped along Farmers Field (SB 292) does set a 175-day “window” for judicial appeals, it doesn’t limit opportunities for public comment; those seem still to be guided by the California Environmental Quality Act, under whose authority this environmental review happened. But it does seem, according to earlier reports, that the goal is to finish up public comment by July to get that 175-day clock ticking. “That would put the proposed downtown site on equal footing with a fully entitled City of Industry proposal by March 2013, which, according to [AEG President Tim] Leiweke, is the soonest the NFL would make a decision on a site,” Sam Farmer wrote in the LA Times.

In the meantime, Legal Aid is working to get its comments on the record by Monday's deadline. “We are submitting comments, and in our letter we are going to reiterate that 45 days is an insufficient time to respond to such a long document,” Mann says. So are other groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, and supporters of Farmers Field.

What’s happening here is a practical example of the tensions in the state’s Environmental Quality Act. The law’s goal is to encourage public comment and participation, especially when it comes to proposed projects in their backyards. But lawmakers, lawyers, developers and others have raised questions over the years about frivolous (and costly) challenges to big projects. What's frivolous isn't always obvious, in the eye of the beholder. 

The meeting is at 3:00 4:00 in the West Hall of the Convention Center, room 501.