CALmatters

Only the powerful get relief from environmental law

The Los Angeles Clippers would like to build a new arena in Inglewood. Photo by David Jones for Creative Commons.

During his eight years as a state senator, Anthony Cannella rarely speechified on the Senate floor, unlike his more verbose colleagues.

But he did so last Friday, the last day of the 2016-18 biennial session and Canella’s last time on the floor.

Cannella, a Republican from Modesto, rose to talk about a bill that would fast-track an Inglewood arena for the Clippers basketball team through the regulatory thicket of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

WeeklyWalters: your Friday newsletter for all of Dan's columns.

Cannella read a list of the projects, most of them professional sports venues, that have received such favored treatment recently, to wit:

“A Rams stadium in LA that never materialized; Farmer’s Field in downtown LA that never materialized; the Golden1 Center for the Kings basketball team in Sacramento; a Chargers / Raiders football stadium in Carson that never materialized; a new Warriors arena under construction in San Francisco, and the new Chargers / Rams Hollywood Park stadium under construction in Inglewood.

“That’s not to mention,” Cannella continued, CEQA “streamlining for Facebook to expand its Menlo Park headquarters and for two skyscrapers near the Capital Records building in Los Angeles. And now this year we’re considering streamlining for a new A’s stadium in Oakland (and) a new Clippers arena in Inglewood.”

Cannella’s point is that while Capitol politicians have eagerly granted special CEQA treatment to wealthy sports team owners, such as the Clippers’ Steve Ballmer, big corporations such as Facebook and megaproject developers, they’ve been unwilling to undertake a broader CEQA reform for more vital projects.

He pointed out, for instance, that while the Legislature passed a landmark package of gas taxes and automotive fees to finance billions of dollars in transportation improvements, they must go through the torturous CEQA process.

“If it’s good enough for our wealthy athletes and team owners, it’s good enough for the rest of us,” Cannella concluded.

Cannella’s remark about the transportation package, Senate Bill 1, is especially pertinent because he broke with opposition from other Republicans and cast the 27th and decisive vote in favor in the Senate.

By day’s end on Friday, the Legislature had passed the fast-track bills for both the Clippers arena and the Oakland A’s stadium, after their backers made glowing speeches about supposed economic benefits.

“This is not just about basketball, my friends,” said Sen. Steven Bradford, a Gardena Democrat who carried the Clippers bill. “It’s about creating jobs and economic equity in a city that has been marginalized.”

There’s actually no evidence that sports venues generate any fundamental economic gains, and many academic studies prove otherwise.

Sports are entertainment – consumption, not production – and spending on them merely displaces spending on other consumer goods and services.

While there’s nothing wrong with such entertainment per se, and billionaire team owners and millionaire athletes may benefit, there’s no net gain in economic output for society as a whole.

Meanwhile, however, vital transportation projects don’t receive CEQA fast-tracking, nor do even more desperately needed housing projects.

Assembly Bill 3030, for instance, would have exempted from CEQA any residential or mixed-use project with 50 percent affordable housing, financed by a “qualified opportunity fund” and in compliance with local land use plans.

It passed the Assembly only to quietly die in the Senate Appropriations Committee, a victim of the Capitol’s footdragging on broader CEQA reform, which outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown has termed “the Lord’s work.”

Ironically, the author of AB 3030, Assemblywoman Anna Caballero of Salinas, is the Democratic candidate to succeed Cannella this year and if she wins, the Democrats will regain their 27-seat supermajority in the Senate.