A bill that would exempt a planned football stadium and an adjacent 3 million-square-foot entertainment and retail complex in the City of Industry from the California Environmental Quality Act, and state planning and zoning law is speeding through the Legislature at a rapid pace.
The exemptions are contained in AB 81 X3 by Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton). Although the Legislature previously has exempted certain projects from CEQA, there appears to be no precedent for letting a project bypass the planning and zoning law that requires a project to be consistent with a city's general plan. What's more, the legislation – which is both retroactive and prospective – would bar any legal challenge to the project, including a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the City of Walnut (see CP&DR In Brief, April 2009).
Industry and the project developer, Majestic Realty, have been lobbying for the exemption since lawmakers returned from their summer recess in August. However, actual bill language did not begin to circulate widely until about September 1, and the legislation did not have a bill number until about 2 p.m. on Wednesday, September 9. Once it had a bill number, the measure was immediately assigned to the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media – and not the Assembly Local Government Committee, which is where the bill belonged. The Arts Committee approved the bill on a 7-0 vote Wednesday evening. The bill then moved across the hall to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which voted 13-0 to send the bill to the Assembly floor.
It all happened so quickly that Walnut – whose lawsuit over the project would get quashed – could not even get a representative to the committee hearings in time.
The bill is likely to pass the Assembly either today (September 10) or first thing Friday morning. The question then becomes whether the legislation will get a real hearing in a legitimate forum. Either the Senate Local Government Committee or the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, or both, would normally have many, many questions about such a bill. However, the normal procedural rules clearly do not apply to AB 81 X3, as the typical procedures would prevent the bill from passing before the Legislature goes into recess Friday night.
Although AB 81 X3 passed the Assembly 55-15 on September 10, it did not come up for a vote in the Senate before the Legislature concluded its regular session for the year.
There are two primary reasons the bill is moving so quickly: First, developer Ed Roski Jr. and his Majestic Realty are heavy campaign contributors that typically get what they want out of Sacramento. Second, Roski and the City of Industry have cleverly lined up support from organized labor, which is lobbying heavily in favor of what it calls a jobs bill. Labor has a great deal of influence over the Legislature's Democratic majority.
There is opposition. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the American Planning Association California Chapter are trying to defeat the legislation. In an editorial apparently written before Wednesday evening's committee hearings, the L.A. Times called the bill "poisonous."
If the bill does pass the Legislature, the focus will then turn to Gov. Schwarzenegger, who appears open to signing anything that might aid – or even appear to aid – the economy.
– Paul Shigley