City Councilman Bill Rosendahl joined his council colleague Paul Krekorian last month in sponsoring a resolution that opposes giving the Anschutz Entertainment Group any assistance in dodging environmental laws in its attempt to build a football stadium in downtown Los Angeles.
The councilman hosted a community meeting in Mar Vista last month where representatives from AEG addressed a large audience of Westside residents to explain their ambitious plans that they say will bring entertainment and millions of dollars in revenue to the city.
AEG is seeking council approval to renovate and expand the Civic Center in downtown Los Angeles and build Farmers Field, a football stadium adjacent to the center.
To date, AEG has not requested an exemption of the landmark California Environmental Quality Act.
AEG President and Chief Executive Officer Tim Leiweke said AEG is set to spend approximately $10 million on the environmental impact report. He also said that his company would not acquiesce to those who want to halt the development by using CEQA to enrich themselves.
“We will be trying to find protection from those who want to litigate who are not a part of this process for the purpose of stopping the process or for the purpose of getting a check,” he stated. “There are quite a few people who make a living of that.”
AEG is owned by billionaire Phillip Anschutz.
Part of Rosendahl’s reasons for the resolution dates back three years ago when another millionaire developer, Edward Roski, was able to win a slew of concessions that effectively eliminated any environmental oversight for a proposed football stadium in the City of Industry.
The one-time legislation, Assembly Bill XXX 81, introduced by Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) exempted Roski’s company, Majestic Realty, from any CEQA mandates and removes the court’s authority to hear any lawsuits against the project.
An adjacent city, Walnut, filed a lawsuit to halt the project. That city’s officials later reached a settlement that would pay the city up to $9 million if the stadium is eventually built, and as much as $500,000 a year for 30 years if it is utilized on a regular basis.
Hall later received $3,900 for his 2010 reelection campaign for Realty and another $1,000 from the company’s vice president.
Rosendahl wanted to make sure what happened in the City of Industry does not happen in Los Angeles. “(Roski’s group) tried to soften up the way by going through Sacramento,” the councilman asserted.
State Sen. Ted Lieu (D- Marina del Rey) voted for AB XXX 81 while he was in the Assembly. The senator declined to comment on Rosendahl’s resolution.
Supporters of the planned community Playa Vista can identify with Leiweke’s sentiment. The Westside commercial and residential development was challenged several times in court by whom residents of Playa Vista and the company’s officials call “professional project opponents.”
Steve Soboroff dealt with environmental regulations and organizations that are dedicated to protecting water, air and animals. As the former president of Playa Capital, Soboroff spent several years in litigation with a variety of local groups that opposed the construction of Playa Vista.
In an interview with The Argonaut after he stepped down from the day-to-day running of the development group April 29 last year, Soboroff expressed disappointment with many of the environmental organizations that opposed Playa Vista, because, he said, they have not done more with the 400 acres west of Lincoln Boulevard that Playa Capital sold them.
“Look at what we’ve done with the land that we own, and what they have done with what they were given,” he said. “It makes me think that they were in this just for the sport of it.”
David Ewing, a Venice resident who attended the Mar Vista community meeting on AEG’s plans, applauded Rosendahl for his resolution. “I think this is very important, and I think the state really screwed up with the City of Industry,” Ewing said.
Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) has a long history of backing environmental causes and she believes that a balance must be struck between allowing developers to build and protecting the environment.
“If there are areas or particular sections of CEQA that need to be updated, than I’m willing to look at them,” the assemblywoman said. “But I’m always concerned about allowing the camel’s nose under the tent with (ignoring) environmental protections.”
Butler said she is “very aware” of the City of Industry case. “I was assured by (Senate Pro Tem President) Darrell Steinberg that building that stadium would not take away from the environmental liability of the project,” said Butler, who was elected to the Assembly last year.
“I don’t want to have CEQA become an impediment to business being done but I don’t believe that (protecting) the environment is putting people out of work, either,” she added.
At the Mar Vista meeting, Leiweke also said he has heard about the City of Industry situation.
“We’re aware that there was an exception awarded to the City of Industry for their project,” he acknowledged. “But we’re more interested in cleaning CEQA up and finding some way to use this particular project that has the cooperation of the environmental community to make sure that there is a fair process to resolve any issues.”
The AEG president mentioned that his company had tried to be as environmentally conscious as possible and had installed waterless urinals in men’s restrooms at Home Depot Center, Staples Center, and Nokia Theater – all projects AEG has built.
“We are committed to this stadium being LEED certified,” Leiweke added.
After the meeting, Rosendahl pledged that there would be no environmental exemptions for the Civic Center and stadium environmental review. “There will be no shortcuts on the EIR,” he reiterated.
The councilman also submitted two motions at the July 1 council meeting regarding open meeting notice pertaining to the AEG ad hoc committee and having the developer come before the full council with its proposal.
Rosendahl was dismayed when a representative of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich told him that ad hoc committees were not bound by the Ralph M. Brown Act, a 1952 state law that governs public notice and open public meetings.
“I move that the council’s legislative analyst, in consultation with the city attorney, draft an amendment to City Council rules requiring that all council committees, standing and ad hoc, be required to abide by the public notice requirements of the Brown Act,” the motion on transparency states.
Rosendahl, who is a member of the ad hoc committee, said some of his committee colleagues wanted to keep the meetings with AEG private. “I will do everything in my power to make this as transparent as possible,” he vowed.
He referenced the Mar Vista town hall in his second motion.
“The presentation to Council District 11 was more detailed, exhaustive and current than any information that the full City Council has received,” Rosendahl wrote in his resolution. “The feedback and suggestions were smart and constructive, potentially strengthening and informing the city’s negotiating position.
“I therefore move that the City Council invite AEG to make a presentation on its proposal to the full City Council and the City Council be allowed to ask questions about the proposal in open session.”
The motions also request that the city’s chief legislative analyst and its chief administrative officer brief the council in open session on the current status of negotiations with AEG.
“If I can get a town hall meeting in my district with AEG, the least that my colleagues can do is meet with AEG in an open, transparent public process,” the councilman said.
Krekorian, who represents the Second Council District, seconded both motions. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who chairs the ad hoc committee, could not be reached for comment.