State lawmakers shelved a bill Friday that would have fast-tracked bus, train and other transit projects for Los Angeles' 2028 Olympic Games and a new Inglewood arena for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The measure, SB 789, unveiled a week ago, would have lessened the projects' developers duties under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. The law requires developers to disclose and reduce a project's effects on the environment, a process often fraught with costly and time-consuming legal challenges.
SB 789 would have exempted Olympics transit projects from CEQA entirely and, among other benefits, reduced court-decision timelines for potential lawsuits against the Clippers' arena. These perks could have limited opposition and dramatically sped up construction.
But legislators on the Assembly Natural Resources Committee expressed concerns about giving well-heeled developers special treatment, and the bill failed to get enough votes to advance.
"There's been a lot of angst as far as big CEQA exemptions for projects with individuals with tremendous means, billionaire justice, whatever you want to call it," said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).
Since 2009, legislators have passed numerous measures to benefit proposed professional sports stadiums and arenas in Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento, and supporters of SB 789 said they wanted similar help.
State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), who represents Inglewood and proposed the bill, said that the arena was the first lawmakers were considering in a lower-income city with predominantly black and Latino residents.
"What makes this bill different from all the other previous CEQA bills related is that it directly benefits a black and brown community," Bradford said.
The legislation faced a rough road prior to Friday's vote. After the bill's introduction, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city hadn't asked for the CEQA exemption for the Olympics projects and didn't need it. Organizers behind the city's bid requested that Bradford remove the Olympics from his bill entirely.
The Clippers have a lease through 2024 at the AEG-owned Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, and the company opposed the bill. So did executives from Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the Forum arena in Inglewood. The Clippers' planned arena is viewed as its competition.
Joe Lang, a lobbyist representing the Clippers, told committee members the team wanted the bill so AEG and Madison Square Garden couldn't use a CEQA lawsuit to block the arena.
"They're not the guardians of CEQA," Lang said. "They're not the guardians of the environment."
After the vote, the Clippers said they wanted to continue pushing for the bill.
"We remain steadfast in our process and believe we will ultimately prevail in securing what has become a consistent treatment for projects with a community benefit of this magnitude," Chris Meany, the development manager for the arena project, said in a statement.
Lawmakers are still considering another measure that would offer shortened court-decision deadlines under CEQA for projects that cost more than $100 million to build, provide union-level wages for construction workers and meet greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy targets.
Facebook, which wants to expand its Menlo Park headquarters, and a developer proposing two skyscrapers in Hollywood are pushing for that bill, and it faces a Senate committee hearing Monday. Supporters of the Clippers arena indicated Friday that they're interested in that legislation too.
All bills face a Sept. 15 deadline to pass both houses of the Legislature before lawmakers adjourn for the year.
7:08 p.m.: This article was updated with a quote from arena development manager Chris Meany.