Supporters of the Clippers' proposed new arena in Inglewood are pushing for major help at the Capitol to get the project built.
Backers are seeking last-minute legislation that would give the arena a significant break under the state's primary environmental law governing development, according to a preliminary draft of the bill obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Under the proposal, any lawsuits against the arena filed under the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires developers to disclose and minimize a project's impact on the environment, must aim to be wrapped up within nine months, a significantly shorter timeline than in typical cases.
The bill would also limit a court's ability to halt the arena's construction, even if it found the project's environmental review didn't adequately study traffic problems or had other flaws. Both of these perks were supported by the Legislature in 2013 to benefit a new basketball arena for the Kings in downtown Sacramento.
The Clippers proposal would also provide the same legal relief to a new transit hub that could include a street car or monorail for easier access to the new arena and the nearby under-construction NFL stadium for the Rams and Chargers. It would also allow the city to permit more billboards and other signage around the arena than otherwise allowed under the law.
The author of the draft bill is Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), who represents Inglewood in the Legislature. Bradford wasn't immediately available for comment Wednesday.
In a statement, Chris Meany, the project manager for the arena, confirmed that the team was supporting the proposal in the Legislature and likened it to breaks under the environmental law that lawmakers have given to other stadium and arena plans.
"The L.A. Clippers will fully comply with the California Environmental Quality Act for its proposed city of Inglewood basketball arena and team facilities," Meany said. "This compliance will include an open and transparent public hearing process."
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts said in an email to the Times that the city supports the proposed legislation and sought the help of its representatives in Sacramento to ease development of the arena and transit hub.
CEQA, as the California Environmental Quality Act is commonly known, has often been criticized for halting or substantially slowing projects including stadiums, housing developments and even bike lanes. At the same time, CEQA has been credited with helping preserve the state's natural beauty — and has the support of powerful environmental and labor interests.
Should Bradford introduce a measure to help move along construction of the Clippers arena, it's expected to kick up a major legislative fight in the final weeks before lawmakers adjourn for the year in mid-September. Scott Wetch, a well-known labor lobbyist who represents electricians, plumbers and pipe fitters in Los Angeles and has worked on behalf of past stadium legislation, said he expects to help support the effort.
The Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the Forum arena in Inglewood, has been outspoken in opposition to the development, and has hired the powerful lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs to oppose any legislation.
A statement from the company blasted the possible bill as a "blank check" to the Clippers at city residents' expense.
"The end-run being attempted around California's environmental regulations for a new basketball arena is back-room dealing that defies all of the city's past pledges to conduct itself in an open and transparent manner," the statement said.
Little is known about plans for the arena. There aren't any public site plans or renderings. The only specifics that have been made available are that it will be privately financed, seat 18,000 to 20,000 and will include parking, a practice facility and team offices.
The proposed arena has spurred substantial debate in the city.
Inglewood's City Council approved a 36-month exclusive negotiating agreement in June with Murphy's Bowl LLC, a Clippers-controlled company, to explore building an arena. Because of concerns about a possible violation of the state's open meeting laws, the council approved the deal again in July. After community protests and at least two lawsuits filed in L.A. County Superior Court related to the project, the proposal was changed in August to shrink the four-block area under consideration for the arena site so residents and the Inglewood Southside Christian Church would not be at risk of displacement.
The Clippers currently play at the AEG-owned Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, which they share with the Lakers, and their lease runs through the 2024 season. Owner Steve Ballmer has said the team will honor it.
4:50 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from Inglewood's mayor.