New lawsuit could complicate possible Kings arena deal

Environmental suit challenges CEQA exemption for special ‘green’ projects

No exemptions.

No exemptions.

There’s no Kings arena deal. But if there were, an environmental lawsuit filed in Superior Court of California on Monday might have jeopardized the project’s targeted 2015 opening date.

Here’s how: Last year, Assembly Bill 900 was introduced on the second-to-last day of the legislative session. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg ushered the bill through both houses in less than 48 hours—some say under environmentalists’ noses—Gov. Jerry Brown inked it, and the new law now allows for unique exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act.

Specifically, it permits the governor each year to cherry pick a handful of certain large-scale, hundred-million-dollar job-creating projects, possibly industrial solar or urban infill—think Kings arena—to bypass superior court CEQA review and be brought directly to the court of appeals if a lawsuit is filed against it.

Proponents of A.B. 900 say this will expedite certain pro-environment developments, such as the proposed Anschutz Entertainment Group NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles, which had its own CEQA-exemption bill last year, Senate Bill 292. Or even a new downtown sports and entertainment complex, which Mayor Kevin Johnson still wants to build, even without an anchor tenant.

Steinberg recently stated that he was prepared to ensure that the Kings-arena project would qualify for expedited CEQA review. This was before the project hit the skids (see the “Back to the (arena) future, page 11), but Steinberg has denied that A.B. 900 was written specifically for the proposed Kings arena.

Anyway, there’s no longer an arena deal. But there’s still that A.B. 900 lawsuit.

Filed by the Planning and Conservation League—the 47-year-old environmental-advocacy outfit that helped draft and pass CEQA in 1970—on Monday, it argues that A.B. 900 unconstitutionally violates the separation of powers between lawmakers, the governor and the courts.

“It’s the Legislature telling the courts how to do their business,” summed up PCL executive director Bruce Reznik.

He told SN&R that while he likes some things about A.B. 900 and appreciates Capitol leadership for writing a stronger bill than previous CEQA-related legislation, it’s still unconstitutional for executive power to supersede the judicial process, despite possible best intentions and environmental protections.

Because it’s not always black-and-white when it comes to green. A project such as large-scale industrial solar in the desert might be great for renewable-energy production, Reznik pointed out, but could wipe out certain species and habitat.

“One person’s idea of a really green project,” Reznik reminded, “isn’t another person’s.”

Mark Hedlund, press secretary with Steinberg’s office, reasserted that the law maintains environmental protections and also is good for the economy. “There’s nothing in A.B. 900 that weakens environmental law or weakens environmental policy,” he told SN&R.

He also added that the Kings arena was a likely candidate. “We think that the proposed entertainment and sports complex project definitely would have qualified,” he said.