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Farmers Field Bill Passed By California Senate, On Its Way To Gov. Brown

Farmers Bill Passed

DON THOMPSON   09/10/11 12:42 AM ET   AP

SACRAMENTO, California — California's state Senate on Friday sent Gov. Jerry Brown bipartisan legislation intended to speed up construction of a possible NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles, shrugging off concerns that it could draw a team from elsewhere in California.

The bill, SB292, fast-tracks the environmental appeals process so Anschutz Entertainment Group can build its proposed $1.2 billion stadium near Staples Center more quickly. Supporters say the project will not start unless the city can lure a professional football team.

Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, said his bill would help create 23,000 construction and full-time jobs, in part because the stadium project would be accompanied by renovation of the city's convention center.

"The sheer scale and magnitude of this project will be felt statewide," Padilla said.

Lawmakers of both political parties took turns lauding the potential for creating jobs in a state with a 12 percent unemployment rate, second-highest in the nation behind Nevada. The bill passed on a 32-7 vote. The Assembly had passed the bill earlier in the week.

"We're in a crisis situation when we're talking about jobs," said Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks. "To me, this is a no-brainer."

Padilla said the developers have promised to build "the most environmentally friendly sports stadium in the country." That includes compensating for greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles traveling to the stadium.

In exchange, the proposed stadium would get an expedited environmental review process that supporters say would prevent the project from getting tied up by lawsuits. Challenges would have to be filed in the court of appeal and resolved within 175 days after the environmental impact report is released.

"It is pro-business without harming environmental regulations," said Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance.

Two Democrats who represent the home cities of the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders spoke against a bill they fear could lure their teams to Los Angeles.

"That would be a job shift, not a creation of jobs," said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who represents nearby Oakland.

Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, also objected that the bill benefits just one developer and one project.

Padilla threw up his hands in an NFL referee's touchdown signal as the bill cleared the Senate. He exchanged hugs with Assembly Speaker John Perez of Los Angeles and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, Democratic leaders who had strongly supported the measure.

The Los Angeles area, the nation's second largest television market, has been without an NFL team since the Raiders returned to Oakland and the Rams left Anaheim for St. Louis in 1995.

"After eight months of conversations, negotiations and compromise with elected officials, today we reach another milestone for the development of Farmers Field," Timothy J. Leiweke, AEG's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. The vote, he said, "sends a very, very strong message to the NFL that Farmers Field will happen."

He said the development will let his company focus its efforts on bringing a team to Los Angeles. The company hopes to break ground on the project in June.

"This will be an economic and environmental showpiece, not just for Southern California but for our state and our nation," he said.

Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said the governor had not taken a position on the bill.

The Senate and Assembly also approved and sent the governor a second, broader bill backed by Steinberg that could aid construction of arenas, stadiums or other large projects in other areas of the state.

AB900 would allow a similar accelerated review of other major construction projects that meet higher standards than required in state environmental law. The governor would have to approve such $100 million-plus "environmental leadership development projects" for expedited handling, which Steinberg said could cut as much as three years off the construction timetable of projects that create thousands of jobs.

As with the stadium bill, backers argued that it keeps strong state environmental protections in place and encourages developers to exceed the minimum standards while jump-starting hiring.

"We all agree that we have an obligation to do everything in our power to try to put Californians back to work," Steinberg said on the Senate floor.

Some environmental groups questioned whether expedited review would create problems and high costs for Californians who lack the resources of big developers to quickly mount a court challenge. Several joined in the criticism of the last-minute bill with little time for analysis.

Jena Price, legislative director for the Planning and Conservation League, also objected to letting the governor decide which projects should qualify for speedy review under AB900.

"The governor is basically playing God," she said.

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Associated Press writer Adam Weintraub contributed to this story.

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Filed by Anna Almendrala  |