SACRAMENTO -- A last-minute bill to streamline environmental review of a basketball arena proposed in Sacramento is drawing flak from three high-profile groups that support strict scrutiny.
The gut-and-amend bill is a threat to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), according to Sierra Club California, the Planning and Conservation League and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has proposed legislation that would expedite judicial review of the project once an environmental impact report is done.
The bill provides for mediation to resolve contested issues without litigation and limits injunctive relief so that downtown arena-related construction cannot be stopped unless the court finds that it is a danger to public health and safety or disturbs Native American archaeological grounds.
In past years, bills to expedite environmental review were approved by the Legislature for football stadiums proposed in the cities of Industry and Los Angeles.
“We're disappointed to see yet another CEQA streamlining bill for yet another sports arena popping up in the last days of the legislative session,” said Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League. “While we appreciate the proposed bill doesn't affect the actual environmental review undertaken, the streamlining provisions included in this bill combine to take away many of CEQA's important enforcement mechanisms.”
The environmental groups are concerned that the bill would allow the city of Sacramento to take land by eminent domain before the environmental review is completed.
“Allowing special exemptions for the sake of a sports arena in our state’s capital continues an unfortunate recent pattern of legislating for entertainment complexes, not for the public interest,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.
She said state law requires the environmental review process to be completed before the start of construction so that alternatives can be considered.
“This bill sets a terrible precedent by eliminating any realistic chance of halting construction if the arena is approved illegally,” said Kevin Bundy, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a wink and a nod to public officials that they can ignore California’s most important environmental law with impunity.”