Inglewood agreement proponents seek special CEQA break to allow the development to proceed

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Los Angeles Clippers supporters are seeking legislative to give the proposed arena project a signficant break under the state’s primary environmental law governing development, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The last-minute proposed legislation would shorten the allowed time for lawsuits filed under California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires developers to disclose and minimize a project’s impact on the environment, “to be wrapped up within nine months, a significantly shorter timeline than in typical cases,” the newspaper reported.

The actual arena plans are mysterious. There aren’t any public site plans or renderings, the Times reports. “The only specifics that have been made available are that it will be privately financed, seat 18,000 to 20,000 and will include parking, a practice facility and team offices.”

The draft legislation would also limit a court’s ability to halt the arena’s construction, even if it found the project’s environmental review didn’t adequately study traffic problems or had other flaws. These are similar provisions to 2013 legislation designed to support a new basketball arena for the Kings in Sacramento.

The Clippers proposal would also provide the same legal relief to a new transit hub that could include a street car or monorail for easier access to the new arena and the nearby under-construction NFL stadium for the Rams and Chargers. It would also allow the city to permit more billboards and other signage around the arena than otherwise allowed under the law.

Sen. Steven Bradford, representing Inglewood in the legislature, introduced the draft bill.

Arena project manager Chris Meany said in a statement that the team supports the legislative proposal.

“The L.A. Clippers will fully comply with the California Environmental Quality Act for its proposed city of Inglewood basketball arena and team facilities,” Meany said. “This compliance will include an open and transparent public hearing process.”

Inglewood mayor James T. Butts said in an email to the Times that the city supports the proposed legislation and sought the help of its representatives in Sacramento to ease development of the arena and transit hub.

The Times reports that CEQA has often been criticized for halting or substantially slowing projects including stadiums, housing developments and even bike lanes. At the same time, the act is supported by environmental and labor interests and has been credited with helping preserve the state’s natural beauty.

Scott Wetch, a labor lobbyist who represents electricians, plumbers and pipe fitters and has worked on behalf of past stadium legislation, said he expects to help support the effort, the Times says.

However, The Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the Forum arena in Inglewood, has been outspoken in opposition to the development, and has hired the powerful lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs to oppose any legislation.

A statement from the company describes the possible bill as a “blank check” to the Clippers at city residents’ expense.

“The end-run being attempted around California’s environmental regulations for a new basketball arena is back-room dealing that defies all of the city’s past pledges to conduct itself in an open and transparent manner,” the statement said.

There has been substantial debate about the planned arena. The Times reports:

Inglewood’s City Council approved a 36-month exclusive negotiating agreement in June with Murphy’s Bowl LLC, a Clippers-controlled company, to explore building an arena. Because of concerns about a possible violation of the state’s open meeting laws, the council approved the deal again in July. After community protests and at least two lawsuits filed in L.A. County Superior Court related to the project, the proposal was changed in August to shrink the four-block area under consideration for the arena site so residents and the Inglewood Southside Christian Church would not be at risk of displacement.

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