'Where We Are' With AEG, RDAs, EZs, CEQA

Let's stir the pot of leftover alphabet soup that various promoters and policies have cooked up for our Los Angeles to see how nutritious it might be.

AEG learns how rough the NFL plays. To the surprise of no one who reads these pages, 2013 won't be the year that NFL football returns to Los Angeles. The league's February deadline for team owners to declare their intention to relocate passed in silence. What a contrast to 2011, when AEG president Tim Leiweke lined up City Council members to recite so many acts of faith in Phil Anschutz's stadium deal that they could have taken Holy Orders. But Anschutz grew weary of the NFL's games and put AEG up for sale last September. Potential buyers of AEG seemed skeptical. And the NFL made it known that the league would rather be in Chavez Ravine and in bed with the new owners of the Dodgers than downtown. Until somebody -- Ron Burkle, Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Qatar Sovereign Fund -- meets AEG's selling price of about $8 billion, the NFL won't even consider relocating a team. That means no football for you for another year at least.

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Governor Brown doesn't like RDAs and EZs. Governor Brown and the leadership of the Legislature killed the state's 400 or so redevelopment agencies last year in order to save the state from near bankruptcy. Cities are still trying to rescue RDA construction projects in development, including below-market-rate housing projects. "Affordable housing programs across our state have in effect ground to a halt," Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, told state lawmakers at a hearing earlier this month. Municipal budgets may be in chaos, projects killed or in limbo, and 53 lawsuits against the state pending, but Governor Brown has more ambitions. California's Enterprise Zones are the new target. The EZs give businesses a state tax-break -- a cumulative $700 million a year -- for creating new jobs in economically distressed communities. The governor wanted all the EZ money in 2011. Now, he wants to reform the EZ system to his liking, predictably by suppressing the autonomy of local governments.

Brown doesn't like CEQA, either. Our newly triumphant governor isn't much like the countercultural Jerry Brown I knew in the 1970s. The boyish Brown was all philosophical then, lecturing us on the virtues of "subsidiarity" -- a principle of Catholic social teaching he took from his Jesuit education. The idea is that the smallest, closest to the problem, or least centralized authority acts best in meeting the needs of communities. I doubt that Governor Reagan had Pope Pius XI in mind when he signed the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) into law in 1970. CEQA has problems, including empowering NIMBYist lawsuits, but at the core of CEQA is a conception of local engagement in the development process. CEQA doesn't actually do much except provide individuals and community organizations some transparency when local governments make land use decisions, including the granting of development rights. That's too much subsidiarity for the older -- and more imperial -- Brown. With the support of developers, the oil industry (concerned about limits on fracking), big-box retailers, the state Chamber of Commerce, the governor and legislative leaders hope a "reformed" CEQA will put most development projects out of the reach of environmental lawsuits.

D. J. Waldie, author and historian, writes about Los Angeles twice each week at KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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