CalWatchdog predicted CEQA arena exemption

April 26, 2013

By Katy Grimes

This is one of those “I told ya so” moments.


On March 30 I contacted Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and asked if he planned on authoring legislation to streamline or bypass the required environmental process for the proposed Sacramento arena.

Steinberg’s office denied any plan to do this. But the reason I wrote the story and asked about this was I knew this was the next step in scamming the public with the publicly subsidized arena. The need to bypass California’s absurdly strict environmental guidelines and restrictions prevent most large scale projects from ever taking place without legislative intervention. And Sacramento officials have shoved this latest arena deal through at breakneck speed for a reason.

But this week, after previously denying this, Steinberg announced this is exactly what he is doing.

Oh my. Did Steinberg’s office not tell me the truth?

Similar to bills AB 900 and SB 292, which were passed last year for CEQA exemptions on Los Angeles-area sports stadiums, Steinberg has authored SB 731 would  to “accelerate the pace at which a Downtown Sacramento sports and entertainment complex would proceed through the environmental planning process.”

AB 900 was a general bill and expires on Jan. 1, 2015.  But SB 292 specifically was targeted at the $1.2 billion stadium for downtown Los Angeles being sponsored by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

“It will be up to the government to decide if the project falls under the AB 900 criteria,” said Rhys Williams, Steinberg’s spokesman, when I called in March asking if Steinberg planned on similar legislation.

But in a later phone call, Williams said, “No plan was in place to fast track the stadium through CEQA, unless the project meets AB 900 criteria.” Williams also noted that Steinberg authored AB 900.

Deferring to the government to decide if the project falls under the AB 900 criteria would be laughable if Williams wasn’t serious.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento announced Thursday his legislation to make changes to California’s Environmental Quality Act, including provisions to greatly help  Sacramento’s proposed downtown arena.

SB 731 would “accelerate the pace at which a Downtown Sacramento sports and entertainment complex would proceed through the environmental planning process,” a statement from Steinberg’s office said.

But as cover from the obfuscation, the Sacramento Bee,  a cheerleader for the publicly subsidized arena project, reported:

Steinberg, a supporter of Sacramento’s proposed downtown arena project, issued a press statement indicating he has been working on statewide environmental reform for some time, but that his bill is applicable specifically to the Sacramento arena.

“I introduced these concepts in this bill before the question of the Sacramento Kings’ future returned to news headlines,” said Steinberg. “Nonetheless, the story of economic development, planning laws and the Sacramento Kings are inseparable because a Downtown Sacramento Arena meets the very definition of an ‘urban infill’ project, which California has historically been very serious about promoting. It is my intent to continue that tradition with these far-reaching reforms to California’s environmental planning laws.”

Don’t let Steinberg’s claim of pursuing CEQA reform prior to the arena deal fool you. Sacramento has spent 13 years trying to build a publicly funded sports arena. And Steinberg has been involved every step of the way.
“Many say given how Sacramento officials have already rammed through the term sheet approval in record time, they will also try to ram the development process through, without giving residents and businesses the standard allotted time to question the process and project,” I wrote March 30.  “And given the California Legislature’s recent history working around CEQA regulations for politically favored projects, could city officials already be working to ensure this project also is exempted from the state’s strict environmental guidelines?”

Arena opponents are concerned that Sacramento is opening itself up to risk it cannot afford. Eye on Sacramento, a public policy watchdog group, compared Sacramento to Stockton, which filed for bankruptcy protection after spending tens of millions of dollars on an arena and other publicly financed facilities.

Others are concerned about the increasing number of government projects which will continue to be exempted from California’s unusually strict environmental regulations — regulations which have killed many private sector projects.

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