I read with interest in the Los Angeles Times that billionaire developer Philip Anschutz has apparently begun an all-out effort to get the California legislature and Governor to provide his planned 64,000 seat downtown Los Angeles football stadium project an exemption from onerous environmental regulations. Apparently these regulations would add years to the duration of time it would take to build the project, in addition to adding major additional costs.
On the natural, I would tell Anschutz and his lobbying team that they are tilting at a windmill — with the disturbingly wackly-left environmentalists that dominate the majority Democrat party in the Capitol in control of the process.
That having been said, I never would have predicted that in 2009 this legislature would do exactly that — waiving California Environmental Quality Act regulations — for another vastly wealthy major developer, Ed Roski, Jr., who is aiming to built his own football stadium on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County.
So far, according to the Sacramento Bee, both Senate President Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez have been very negative on the idea of waiving CEQA regulations for the Anschutz stadium project, saying (on video no less) that the Roski deal happened under, "some very specific circumstances."
You might ask what those circumstances were, that were unique to the Roski deal? I’m sure that’s the question that Anschutz is wondering right about now. Roski did something right, to get his waiver — but what?
Invariably Steinberg and Perez (and his predecessor Karen Bass) will attempt to justify their CEQA exemption on public policy grounds. But that wouldn’t be telling the whole story. In fact, that may not be the story at all.
It was reported by the Los Angeles Times at the end of January in 2010, when the first campaign reports were available for the period during the time Roski got his exemptions, that Roski had donated over a half a million dollars politically — with a staggering $300,000 going into the committee formed to qualify getting a term-limits weakening measure on the ballot (that signature drive was successful, by the way) and the rest to the campaign committees of various Sacramento politicians. Why the sudden interest by Roski in being a funding "angel" to the effort to lengthen legislative terms (coincidentally a top priority for Steinberg, Bass and Schwarzenegger at the time)? We’ll let you fill in the blanks.
I guess timing works out well for Anschutz’s new efforts, because the same ballot measure to weaken term limits which qualified, in part, with major funding from Roski, will appear on the next statewide election ballot — which could be this special election that Governor Brown is pushing for June, to place tax increases before the voters.
So while Steinberg and Perez appear to be playing hardball with Anschutz on camera, I would expect that through some third parties they have already reached out to him. A few hundred thousand dollars showered down on the Democrats’ political causes looks like it would be a great business investment for Anschutz… But of course it would be the discovery of more "specific circumstances" on the policy side that would guide their ultimate decisions, right? Or maybe Roski, who is in competition with Anschultz, sees a chance to "double down" on his own investments?
In the meantime, this all begs the question — why not abolish these draconian, anti-business CEQA regulations all together, or at least suspend them? After all, they can’t be that vital if the legislature can, and will, waive them.
But wait, that gets to the core issue. Passing onerous regulations, and then making selective exemptions, is a way for public officials and bureaucrats to use government to pick winners and losers — giving them immense power.
The legislature should simply abolish or pare back CEQA regulations all together. But to grant exemptions to those that feather the nests of their campaign accounts or political causes is just wrong, while not doing the same for the thousands and thousands of others who are being subjected to these onerous regulations but don’t have a fat pocket book to play politics. You don’t have to wonder why the legislature has such low levels of approval with the public. They seem to work hard to keep those numbers low.