NFL Stadium Deal Shows How Money Talks

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

It looks as though there’s finally an agreement on plans to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry, which means legislators and the governor won’t have to make good on their promise to push through a bill that would enable the developer to bypass state environmental rules and local lawsuits to get the project done.

This means billionaire developer Ed Roski Jr. will have the go-ahead to erect his $800 million, 75,000-seat stadium – and adjoining shopping and entertainment complex – and that state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg won when he delayed consideration of the stadium bill in the final days of the legislative session and called for more negotiations.

This all still leaves one important question: Why in the name of John Muir was the state Legislature even involved in the regional environmental dustup?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is that money talks. And when that money flows into the pockets of politicians across the state, legislative magic can happen.

Since 2003, Roski has given more than $800,000 in contributions to politicians great and small, state and local, Democrat and Republican, along with money to wide range of groups and ballot measures.

Contributions include $100,000 last year to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, another $100,000 or so to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over the years, money for the state Democratic and Republican parties and contributions to dozens of state legislators, including both Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

While that type of money doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win your political fight, it virtually guarantees a respectful hearing from the people you’ve supported, which is an important start.

And “involved” doesn’t even begin to tell the tale of the Legislature’s role in the stadium fight. When Roski couldn’t reach an agreement with the neighboring city of Walnut, which wanted him to provide a new environmental impact statement that detailed the effect traffic from the stadium would have on local streets and freeways, the developer went nuclear and called for a bill to quash Walnut’s objections.

The bill, ABX3 81 by Assemblyman Isadore Hall III, D-Compton, was a dilly. It protected that one development from “any legal requirement concerning the context of the general plan or consistency with a general plan” and also shielded it from lawsuits, past, present and future, including, just as an example, the one Walnut had filed against the project earlier this year.

Despite the fact that the bill ran roughshod over the landmark California Environment Quality Act, the bill sped through the Democrat-controlled Assembly with indecent haste, racing through a pair of committees in a single day and getting approved 54-18 on the Assembly floor the following day.

The argument, pushed by Roski with the support of Los Angeles County labor unions, was that the stadium project would provide 18,000 high-paying jobs in tough economic times and that should be enough to trump any concerns about environmental protection.

Steinberg questioned the haste of the bill and kept it from coming to a vote in the state Senate. But he didn’t sound any less enthusiastic about the package in a letter to his Senate colleagues.

“This is an important project for the City of Industry and the state of California,” he said. “I am willing to roll up my sleeves and put in the time to make sure this project gets delivered as quickly as possible.’’

The governor also chimed in, promising to do what he could to help.

Now the jobs versus environmental rules argument is one Republicans have used for years to almost no effect. After all, if job growth was the only priority, what’s to stop an oil refinery from being built on Santa Monica Beach or a steel mill on the Marin headlands?

But the City of Industry stadium was different enough to pick up plenty of support from Democrats who pride themselves as environmentalists. Along with the promise of jobs, it had the backing of labor groups, who are a major source of both financial and grassroots support for the party, and a deep-pocketed donor. In a case like that, money doesn’t just talk, it yells.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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