Farmers Field plan awaits Senate vote

The California State Senate Environmental Quality Committee voted late Thursday night in favor of the bill to expedite legal challenges to Farmers Field, Anschutz Entertainment Group's $1.2 billion proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles.

Senate Bill 292, which received a 5-2 vote, will next be heard by the full Senate, which will vote on it before Friday's deadline for action on bills when Sacramento lawmakers will break for recess. If the bill is passed by the Senate, California Gov. Jerry Brown will have 30 days to either sign or veto the bill. If he does not sign it, the bill becomes law anyway.

Thursday night's hearing was far more contentious than anything the bill faced in the assembly, setting up an interesting vote on Friday, which will likely be split more along county lines than because of environmental concerns.

Sen. Christine Kehoe commended the bill and listed reasons why she liked it but ultimately voted against it because her district includes San Diego and she said she is fearful Farmers Field could become the future home of the Chargers, who have been unable to get a new stadium built for the past decade.

"The biggest problem I have with this bill is it acts for the betterment of L.A. but I think to detriment of other proposals, especially to my city, San Diego," Kehoe said. "In San Diego, there is a lot of concern that this project alone would possibly be a draw for the Chargers to leave San Diego. That is not a good thing for our city."

The same reasoning held true for Sen. Loni Hancock, who admitted she voted against the bill in large part because her district includes Oakland, where the Raiders have been unable to get a new stadium since moving back to the city from Los Angeles in 1995.

"I am very concerned because I represent Oakland and Oakland is one of the teams that has been explicitly mentioned in negotiations for this," Hancock said. "If that were the case we'd be talking about construction jobs, not permanent jobs."

The committee several times brought up the possibility of a companion bill being introduced Friday which would give similar expedited legal challenges to proposed stadiums and arenas in California while also holding them to the same strict environmental measures.

The current bill, which includes no exemption from environmental laws, would allow legal challenges to the stadium's environmental impact report to be heard immediately in the California Court of Appeal, which would then come to a decision within 175 days. The expedited process would bypass the Superior Court and avoid the protracted litigation AEG has been fearful of.

In exchange, AEG has pledged to build a carbon-neutral stadium with more public transit users than any other stadium in the country and has committed to making Farmers Field one of the only stadiums in the country to have a net-zero carbon footprint.

Sen. Alan Lowenthal, who saw a broad coalition of African-American clergy, civic and community leaders gather in front of his district office in Long Beach on Wednesday to demand his support for the bill, voted to support it Thursday night.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced his support for the bipartisan bill on Thursday.

"I applaud the legislature for moving this innovative solution to protect the environment, spur economic development and create jobs in Los Angeles," Newsom said in a statement. "This project is a shining example of how our legislature can put aside partisan bickering and address the critical need to create jobs in California.

"If signed by the governor, this project will bring more than 23,000 much-needed jobs, to the Los Angeles area -- including 12,000 construction and 11,000 ongoing positions. ... I strongly support this bill and the efforts by the legislature to create jobs, protect the environment and fast-track a project that will spur economic growth in Los Angeles."

Sen. Alex Padilla, who authored the bill, introduced the legislation last week and on Tuesday spoke to the California State Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, which voted 5-1 in favor of the bill, and later to the California State Assembly Committee on Appropriations, which voted 12-1 in favor of the bill. On Wednesday the full California State Assembly passed the bill with overwhelming bipartisan support.

AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke sent out an e-mail blast to Los Angeles residents on the eve of the Senate vote, asking them to reach out to the "swing votes" to support the bill. The list includes 11 senators and Gov. Brown.

"Whether you're eagerly anticipating Los Angeles' new NFL team, or cheering for your favorite musical act at a brand-new downtown outdoor venue," Leiweke wrote, "this bill will help keep Farmers Field on track to break ground next year."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com.