A recently passed law covering environmental challenges to the proposed Farmers Field stadium has the potential to change the way big transit projects proceed in California. The new law, which benefits L.A.’s vision for a National Football League stadium in downtown Los Angeles, may also allow for expedited review (within 175 days) of California Environmental Quality Act lawsuits filed against the Wilshire subway.
State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, the author of the stadium bill, has gotten the real estate and infrastructure construction industries’ attention with his statements to the media that the new law also covers the Wilshire subway.
Here’s how he put it: “The subway is a natural from a job-creation standpoint, from an investment standpoint, from an emission-reduction and air-quality standpoint.”
Of course, he should have added my favorite standpoint – mobility – in this great big freeway of a city, but maybe he forgot.
Infill developers, engineering firms and the building trades may also like Padilla’s belief that Thomas Properties Group Inc.’s ambitious office and residential development plans for the NBC Universal lot in Universal City falls within the scope of the new law. Designed to encourage construction and stimulate employment, the Farmers Field law gets to what is increasingly the heart of the problem: the lengthy delays caused by litigation challenging the environmental impact report required on any large public or private project.
It is not that CEQA is bad, it is that CEQA litigation has become a clog in the wheel of any economic development and transit expansion project in Los Angeles.
While Padilla and yours truly are perhaps just being optimistic, there is no doubt that the dysfunctional Legislature is looking for ways to unclog the economic development and jobs blockage caused by CEQA litigation. The lawsuits brought by often deep-pocketed and well-connected neighbors, who are less than excited about disruptive construction in their neighborhoods, delay and sometimes kill worthwhile public infrastructure projects.
Whether it actually applies to the subway or not, the new stadium law demonstrates a clear legislative willingness to help big job-producing construction that benefits society and the environment. And Padilla appears to understand that CEQA should be used to reduce carbon emissions rather than as part of the not-in-my-backyard forces’ legal strategy to stop a train or other large project. There. I have hesitated to say it for too long because it seemed so harsh. But that is what many of these lawyered-up litigants are, and their litigiousness serves no one but the attorneys and sometimes themselves.