Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's last-minute legislation to grant special treatment under the California Environmental Quality Act for a new downtown Sacramento basketball arena is just plain wrong.
Let us count the ways.
1. This trend of sports teams running to the State Capitol to get relief from what they regard as overly onerous environmental laws needs to stop. It began in 2009 when legislators bowed to Majestic Realty's demand for insulation from CEQA-related lawsuits against its proposed football stadium in the City of Industry. Lawmakers were told they had to act fast or lose an imminent opportunity to bring the NFL back to the Los Angeles area -- and to create thousands of jobs in the depths of recession. The project has yet to break ground or attract an NFL team. Asked about the trend in May, Steinberg said: "In general, one-offs are not the best way to do public policy."
2. The Sacramento Kings and the National Basketball Association are hardly the only ones worried about CEQA lawsuits delaying or even killing projects with environmental value. Steinberg had been promoting SB731 as a way to reduce the regulatory and legal obstacles for urban-infill projects. In May, he said it was merely "a happy coincidence" that the Sacramento arena would be one of the measure's beneficiaries. But business groups complained that CEQA reforms are being watered down. There can be no greater confirmation of their complaints than the fact that Steinberg sees fit to carve out a special bill to make sure his hometown arena gets sufficient relief.
3. Last year, Steinberg, among others, cried foul when advocates of an aggressive CEQA reform plan he opposed used a process known as "gut and amend" to try to jam through a measure at the end of session. "Gut and amend" involves stripping the language out of an existing bill and replacing with a measure of an entirely unrelated subject -- a tactic that effectively short-circuits the often laborious legislative process. Steinberg pledged to come back at CEQA reform in "the only way good things get done around here," with hearings, deliberation and compromise.
Perhaps it is an unhappy coincidence Steinberg is doing a similar ram job with his downtown arena bill. It was introduced just a few days ago. He insisted it did not weaken any environmental standards but assures quicker resolution of any legal challenges. It also limits construction-stopping injunctions unless there is a threat to public health and safety (or discovery of Native American remains or artifacts) and empowers the use of eminent domain to acquire property for the arena. Steinberg has argued that a separate bill for the Kings arena is justified because the challenges -- and the benefits -- of that project are known.
Now, we have nothing against the Kings, and can certainly understand why Steinberg is determined to keep them in Sacramento -- revitalizing the downtown in the process -- but there are plenty of worthy projects around the state that are threatened by litigation under a law that is being exploited by individuals and special interests with motives that have nothing to do with the environment.
If the playing field is uneven, let's level it for all. To borrow a phrase: One-offs are not the best way to make public policy.
— San Francisco Chronicle