Of Sausage Making and Stadiums

Development Tool
Development Tool

Governor Brown signed two bills - AB 292 and SB 900 - well before his October 9 deadline. Philip Anschutz's empire of sports may be richer for them. The state's environmental protections will be significantly weakened after them.

And all in the name of football.

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To benefit Anschutz's downtown stadium, AB 292 grants AEG Enterprises several concessions from the state's environmental regulations that parallel to those given real estate developer Ed Roski in 2009 when his plan for an NFL stadium in Irwindale initially dazzled the state legislature.

What politician doesn't want to be connected in some way to the nation's most popular sport?

SB 900 now extends similar concessions to a range of large development projects, solely at the Governor's discretion. It's hard to imagine Governor Brown not using the discretionary power in SB 900 to leverage political benefits for himself or his party.

Amazingly, all this unseemly legislative sausage making may never lead to an NFL team coming to Los Angeles, given the reluctance of the NFL to unsettle its current structure.

With or without the NFL, the provisions of SB 900 could sunset in 2014 without ever being invoked by Governor Brown. But the Legislature's willingness to undercut state environmental protections in the form of special bills - and its even greater willingness to weaken those protections at the whim of Governor Brown - are the latest signs that a new "growth machine" in state politics is getting fully geared up.

Since the mid-1970s, neighborhood NIMBY-ists, "green" activists, and "smart growth" advocates have fettered unrestrained development by throwing the California Environmental Quality Act at projects that would - they claimed - damage the character of communities or degrade the environment.

Not all of these projects deserved being ground down by CEQA challenges. Not all objections to development projects were principled.

But they did reflect a bias in the law toward localism. That's the real target of so-called "CEQA reform." The aim of the new "growth machine" is to transfer land use authority from local governments - where politics are messy, affected by public opinion, and unpredictable - to regional planning bodies and state agencies where those influences will be muted.

Special legislation for some developers and expansion of the Governor's role in development approvals are clumsy ways that ensure greater predictability for developers to maximize profitability and minimize risks. But other legislative changes in development regulation - with more to come - will do even more to move project approvals away from local governments to higher layers well insulated from pressures from below.

And what do legislators and future governors get in return for these concessions? Because they will have greater impact on specific projects, either directly or through regional planning agencies, legislators and the Governor will be able to put their hand out to the new "growth machine" as they never could before.

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