President and CEO of AEG Timothy J. Leiweke
Pollsters will tell you it is one of the phrases that test extremely well with the public… both conservatives and liberals, at least in California.
The two words “environmental protection.”
Bills that contain them usually sail through the legislature.
We in the media frequently give them little scrutiny. What does attract our attention is if we hear someone trying to “get past” or “dodge” environmental protections.
So when a legislative hearing was set for today by State Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) to examine the proposed football stadium for downtown Los Angeles, some suspected it was to examine AEG’s efforts at getting a pass on the California Environmental Quality Act, commonly known as CEQA.
CEQA is the linchpin of environmental regulations in California. It is about the strongest law of its kind.
Every development must go through a rigorous environmental impact study and mitigate anything that might be considered damaging to “the environment.” The public likes it that way.
What the public doesn’t appreciate is that frequently it isn’t environmental organizations who champion CEQA when it comes to certain developments.
The ones threatening lawsuits are other businesses attempting to keep a rival from either expanding or gaining a foothold in the market.
When Rick Caruso was asked by the Glendale City Council to build The Americana at Brand shopping mall and housing development he had to file an extensive Environmental Impact Report.
The report was a sham, according to one group who challenged it in court.
Friends of the Earth? No. Natural Resources Defense Council? No.
The challenge came from General Growth, a Midwest-based mall developer and owner of the Glendale Gallaria. They were able to delay the project, which ended up on a ballot before voters. The Americana passed.
So now we come to AEG, the developer who is trying to build a stadium downtown.
Point man Tim Leiweke has said the project is currently in the middle of its environmental review.
He has asked however for protection from the California legislature against efforts to delay the project from business rivals. It isn’t environmental regulations that will stop the project but lawsuits.
“The project could easily be put on hold by famously litigious Californians," said economist John Husing at Economics & Politics Inc, which tracks Southern California's economy.
"All it takes is $178 for anybody walking down the street to file a lawsuit and that will delay a project one, two, three, four years."
AEG fears that won’t delay their stadium but will kill it, and any effort by an NFL franchise to move to Los Angeles.
That frankly wouldn’t be so bad if the lawsuit comes from groups who have an established reputation looking out for the health and welfare of a community.
But chances are they will come from other developers or folks looking for to force some settlement money out of the company.
AEG has one rival in Texas who might want to put a monkey wrench into the downtown project in order to gain leverage with the company on another issue in the Lone Star State.
And of course there is Majestic Realty, which wants to build a stadium in Industry Hills.
Should AEG get protection from the legislature against such lawsuits? That might be tough. Lawmakers caught heat for shielding the Majestic project from a lawsuit filed by eight homeowners in Walnut who refused to agree to an earlier settlement with residents of the city.
Expect today’s hearing to focus on jobs, the economy and the potential for convention growth and tax revenue in Los Angeles.
Expect also Tim Leiweke telling lawmakers that the stadium he wants to build will be the “most environmentally advanced” project in the history of stadia. And expect him also to ask for help. Not from environmentalists -- but from other developers, or as he recently put it, the “crazies.”