LA lawmakers move to expedite NFL stadium contruction

Rendering of proposed NFL stadium released by AEG.
Rendering of proposed NFL stadium released by AEG.
Illustration by AEG/Getty Images

New legislation proposed Friday by Assembly Speaker John Pérez and state Sen. Alex Padilla aimes to accelerate the construction of a possible NFL Stadium in downtown Los Angeles.

The lawmakers hope the stadium might lure a football franchise back to the area. If the legislation passes it would fast-track the environmental appeals process and allow the Anschutz Entertainment Group to start construction near the Staples Center earlier than anticipated. The stadium is expected to cost some $1.2 billion.

The legislation, SB292, would send legal challenges straight to an appeals court, shortening the amount of time it would take for them to be resolved, the Democratic lawmakers said at a briefing Friday.

They stressed that the stadium's builders would not be exempt from any of the state's rigorous environmental protections, but instead were promising to build the country's first LEED-certified stadium, where the cars-to-fans ratio would be lower than anywhere in the United States. It also sets up a process for community members to raise concerns far earlier in the construction process than in the past, they said. stadium

"It doesn't side-step any approvals, it just expedites the judicial review process," Pérez said. In exchange, he said, AEG is offering to do environmental mitigation in the area surrounding the and make all games "carbon-neutral."

"Everybody gets greater certainty in terms of the outcome," he said.

The proposal comes just a week before the end of California's legislative session, meaning it would need to be fast-tracked through both houses of the Legislature for approval.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said AEG is demanding a special legal process in exchange for promises to address traffic congestion and air pollution that could not be enforced for a decade.

"This weak, last-minute, back-room deal is a missed opportunity for Los Angeles and a dangerous precedent for California," said David Pettit, senior attorney with environmental group. "It can and should be fixed."

AEG president and chief executive Tim Leiweke has said the company needs to be protected from lawsuits alleging violations of state environmental laws to move forward with its plans for the 72,000-seat venue, which would be built on the site of the current convention center.

Leiweke has said that he fears stadium construction would be stalled by what he described as frivolous lawsuits and targeted legal challenges by Majestic Realty Co., the firm behind a rival stadium proposal in the east Los Angeles County City of Industry.

John Semcken, the Majestic vice president who has been overseeing work on its stadium plan, did not immediately return a call seeking comment about the legislation.

State lawmakers passed a bill in 2009 that suspended environmental laws to allow the City of Industry stadium to be built. The legislation nullified a lawsuit filed by residents in the nearby city of Walnut over the project's environmental impact. Months later, AEG began discussing its own stadium plan.

But Majestic has charged that AEG is putting Los Angeles taxpayers at risk with its proposal, which calls on the city to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance the relocation of a convention center building to make space for the stadium. The bonds would be paid off with new revenue from the stadium and a renovated convention center.

AEG, meanwhile, says Majestic has employed a team of lobbyists and consultants tasked with derailing plans for a downtown stadium.

The Los Angeles City Council last month unanimously approved a framework deal on the proposal with AEG. The agreement requires the developer to extend a series of financial guarantees over the course of the project as a safeguard against shortfalls and other risks.

Council members said they were swayed by arguments that the plan would create jobs, generate tax revenue and allow for the convention center to receive much-needed renovations.

The companies' proposals are the latest — and perhaps the most advanced — in a series of efforts to return an NFL team to Southern California about 16 years after the Raiders and the Rams left the region within months of one another.

Past efforts to renovate the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum or Pasadena's Rose Bowl or build a new stadium in Carson, Anaheim or other nearby cites, were thwarted by community opposition or other hurdles.

Pérez sidestepped criticism of the late-arriving legislation, saying it is the products of months of discussions that led to the best possible outcome. The legislation was introduced Friday in the form of a so-called "gut-and-amend" bill that previously addressed higher education.

Opposition to the bill could come from lawmakers in the San Diego area, where fans fear that the Chargers could be tempted north to play in a new stadium.

Chargers officials have said they wanted to move from the aging Qualcomm stadium to a newer, better-equipped venue, but that they would concentrate on building something locally before considering any out-of-town moves.

The lawmakers were asked Friday if they would be willing to extend similar treatment to other California cities hoping to attract sports franchises.

"I've got to tell you, I haven't seen many other developers who want to say 'We'll completely finance it ourselves, and hold us to the highest standard of the environment of anybody in the country,' but if those are out there..." said Pérez.

Padilla said only the owners can decide where franchises locate, but the lawmakers can offer a venue that provides economic benefits to the NFL and the city.

Other potentially targeted teams for Los Angeles include the Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars.