Once again, the California Legislature has shown it
slavishly follows the Golden Rule: He’s who’s got the gold, makes the rules.
And there aren’t many with more gold than Phil Anschutz,
number 34 on the Forbes magazine list of the richest Americans.
Anschutz and his Anschutz Entertainment Group held lawmakers
hostage last week and they didn’t even blink. They just rolled over with a
AEG wants to build a 75,000-seat, $1.2 billion football
stadium in downtown Los Angeles, right next door to Staples Center, which AEG
also owns. Problem is, California has all these pesky environmental laws, which
let people take developers to court to guarantee they follow those rules.
And California courts being what they are, that can take
time, as anyone who’s battled local environmentalists over a 10-home
But things work differently when you’re a rich guy with a
AEG said that unless they got a special state law, right
now, that would stop them from having to follow the same drawn-out process that
every other developer in the state has to deal with, they were going to pick up
their stadium plans and go home.
"We’ve made it very clear that we will not move forward
without this (bill)," Tim Leiweke, AEG president and CEO, told a Senate panel
No problem. Los Angeles state Sen. Alex Padilla put together
legislation that provided AEG with a fast-track appeals process that would
require all challenges to the stadium’s environmental impact report to be filed
directly with the court of appeal and force all challenges to be resolved
within 175 after the impact report is released.
Now anyone who has ever had to deal with environmental suits
will tell you that this is absolutely warp speed and likely only works if the
L.A. stadium project jumps the line of almost every other appellate challenge
on the court’s calendar.
But it absolutely had to happen, Padilla said when he
introduced the bill, SB292, early this month.
"There are a number of reasons I’m authoring the bill, but
the three most important are jobs, jobs and jobs."
Of course the $5,000 AEG gave Padilla’s ballot measure
committee last year likely didn’t hurt, nor did the $338,835 AEG passed out to
California politicians and their causes between 2009 and June 2011 (tune in
next February to see how much cash flowed in the last six month of this year).
The stadium bill rolled through the Legislature with strong
bipartisan support and is now on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.
Now I don’t know whether the downtown L.A. stadium plan is a
good thing or not for the city, county or the state, although it’s worth
remembering that when a developer starts talking about what a wonderful deal
his project will be for you, it’s a good time to put a hand on your wallet. Or
that despite the "special help" the Legislature gave billionaire developer Ed
Roski two years ago, there’s still no 75,000-seat football stadium in the City
But I do know someone who can’t afford to write $50,000
checks to the state Democratic Party (and $25,000 to the California GOP) and
call out armies of lobbyists isn’t going to get the kind of all-hands-on-deck
attention from the Legislature that the Anschutz team did.
Bills written specifically to change long-held state
regulations to benefit one developer or a single project are almost always a
bad idea, especially when they’re dropped in the hopper in the final days of
the session, leaving little time for a full study.
If the rules surrounding challenges to environmental impact
reports need to be reworked, they need to be changed for everyone trying to get
a project done in the state, not just the guys with the deepest pockets or the
Of course that would mean a thoughtful, reasoned discussion
between leaders of the two parties, aimed at determining whether there’s a
problem and what’s the best way of solving it for the benefit of California and
You know, legislating.
John Wildermuth is a
longtime writer on California politics.