LOS ANGELES (AP) — The developer behind a $1.2 billion plan to build a football stadium in downtown Los Angeles got a key boost Tuesday with a law that will help it avoid lengthy court fights.
Billing the measure as a job creation push, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill (SB 292) at a Los Angeles Convention Center ceremony with executives from Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is proposing to build a 72,000-seat stadium next to the convention center.
With California's unemployment rate in double digits, Brown said the stadium, to be called Farmers Field, would create 12,000 construction jobs and 11,000 permanent jobs.
"This is the way we get people working," he said.
The bill would expedite resolution of legal challenges to AEG's project, sending lawsuits over its environmental impact directly to the California Court of Appeal and bypassing the Superior Court. The appeals court would have to make a ruling within 175 days.
AEG would thus avoid a protracted and costly court battle that could hold up construction of the stadium, which could break ground as early as June if it passes environmental muster and secures an NFL team.
In return, AEG, which owns the Staples Center and L.A. Live entertainment complex next to the convention center, pledged to build a "green stadium" and make it public-transit friendly.
Brown also signed AB 900, a companion bill that would allow other large projects to apply for similar expedited court rulings while preserving environmental standards.
The AEG bill's co-author, state Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, said creating jobs while maintaining environmental protections was key in hammering out the measure.
"With unemployment over 12 percent and over 13 percent in the Los Angeles region, we do need to act with a sense of urgency," he said.
A rival group, Majestic Realty, has proposed building a stadium in the City of Industry, outside Los Angeles. It obtained its own earmarked bill in 2009 when legislators gave it an exemption from some environmental laws and protection from lawsuits over environmental issues.
The AEG bill did not go as far as that measure. "We're going to protect the environment," Brown said. "But there are too many damn regulations. I've got some power now. Let's cut the barriers and regulations and move ahead."
AEG President Tim Leiweke said the legislation shows the NFL that the stadium has statewide backing.
"We now have a bill that gives us certainty that this stadium will be built," Leiweke said. "Now we put on our best effort and get the NFL back here."
Leiweke said he has spoken with several teams about moving to Los Angeles, but declined to specify which ones. He said he plans to follow the guidance of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about which teams would be candidates.
The company hopes to unveil the stadium in time for the 2016 season, but is prepared for a 2017 launch if necessary, he said.
Some environmentalists said they supported the AEG bill after the developer agreed to submit a full environmental impact report, purchase carbon credits locally to offset emissions and take measures to lessen the impact of traffic for the life of the stadium, among other items.
Warner Chabot, chief executive of the California League of Conservation Voters, said he was pleased those measures were included in the bill since it already had the votes to pass.
"We don't like the principle of doing special legislation for a single project," Chabot said. "It sets a bad precedent, but it would have set a worst precedent for the community without these things."
Padilla said public works projects are often granted similar protections. "It's not anything new or unprecedented," he said.
The Planning and Conservation League's legislative director, Jena Price, said her group continued to oppose the bill, largely because it was ramrodded through the Legislature, bypassing committee review and going straight to a floor vote.
Still, she noted that the bill reflected a compromise that did not give AEG the same wide-ranging exemptions given to Majestic Realty.
"An eleventh hour bill is never a smart one," she said. "It's one more step in taking away the voice of local communities."
In a related development, KCAL-TV reported Tuesday that the city is awarding a $1 million federal community block development grant to the architectural firm designing the stadium so it can relocate from Santa Monica to a downtown office.
Advocates for the poor told the station that they were incensed the grant is not being used to help the needy and complained to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the money.
HUD told them the move was legal as long as the firm, Gensler & Associates, creates 29 new jobs, with more than half going to low-income workers.