Last week’s Assembly battle over a proposed NFL stadium in the City of Industry highlighted fundamental differences between key components of the Democratic Party’s political base. With a depressed economy driving the state’s unemployment to near-record levels, tensions between environmental groups and organized labor reached a fever pitch in the final days of the legislative session.
The tensions between labor and environmental groups were also on display during a last-minute fight over pollution credits for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. And the debate on those two measures reflects a growing tension between core Democratic constituencies that often breaks down on regional, urban and often ethnic lines.
Regional concerns were clearly on display during the stadium vote. Members from the San Diego area banded together, across party lines, to oppose the project. Their fear is that the Spanos family, which owns the San Diego Chargers and is close to Majestic president Edward Roski, would use the new stadium as leverage in the Spanos’ negotiations for a new stadium in San Diego or perhaps even move the Chargers to Los Angeles.
The stadium proposal passed with 33 Democratic votes. Twenty-one Republicans also voted for the deal. But among the members who refused to vote for the plan were nine members of the Democratic caucus who represent coastal districts. Only Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who is running for attorney general and Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, voted for the bill from the coastal caucus.
Only three members of the Democrats’ Latino caucus voted against the stadium bill, and two of those members – Mary Salas, D-Chula Vista, and Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, represent the San Diego area.
Every member of the Assembly Black Caucus voted for the bill.
The stadium proposal, AB 81 3X, was pushed hard by Majestic Realty, the developer of the project, and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Most of the opposition came from environmentalists who worried about the precedent of suspending the California Environmental Quality Act to fast-track the stadium project.
Republicans expressed their own frustrations at Democrats who had suddenly seen the light on suspending CEQA. For years, Republicans have viewed the law as a barrier to job creation and have pushed hard for suspending CEQA to facilitate new construction projects.
Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, railed against “enviro-terrorism” where opponents of various projects use CEQA to stymie new development. “They’re using it to stop growth,” he said. “They’re stopping California from moving forward.”
In expressing his opposition to the stadium project he said, “Why stop there? Why only this project? It doesn’t solve the problem of jobs for all Californians. It doesn’t include enough room on the bus for everybody. This limited scope of giving relief … is not enough.”
At times during the debate, it was hard to tell who was a Democrat and who was a Republican. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, gave an impassioned plea for the project citing economic statistics about job creation and the economic growth the stadium would bring to the region.
Hall said the project was “the poster child for CEQA reform and cited statistics provided from the sponsors that the project would bring 18,000 jobs, including 6,700 permanent new jobs to the region, and result in $40 million to the state’s general fund because of the new economic activity.”
Before debate on the bill began, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, tried to codify promises made by the bill’s proponents that the Chargers would not be the target of the new stadium.
“Throughout the last few days, we’ve been told time and time again that it is only to attract a team from outside the state of California,” Fletcher said. “If this is the case — and it certainly should be, given the number of times we’ve heard it — we should adopt these amendments.”
Fletcher’s amendments were defeated on the Assembly floor. Fletcher was joined by Democrats and Republicans from the San Diego delegation in opposing the bill.
But leading the charge against the bill were environmentalists who railed against the suspension of the California Environmental Quality Act.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this,” Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael told Capitol Weekly. “In the past, when we’ve done CEQA waivers, there were compelling circumstances and they were very narrowly tailored. In this case, there was a rush to waive CEQA and they were shouting, ‘Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!’ the whole time. It was the old sad choice of jobs versus environment. Those who were trying to chip away at CEQA had a pretty good run last week.”
By 2 a.m. Saturday morning, with the Assembly still in session, Huffman was so outraged by the stadium vote and the vote on the air emissions credits bill that he moved the Assembly adjourn “in memory of CEQA.”
As for the stadium proposal itself, it moved through the Assembly, but was held in the Senate by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Proponents of the project noted the City of Walnut has held the project up by filing a lawsuit against Majestic, and “refusing to negotiate.”
“This was not the intended use of CEQA… to hold an entire region hostage,” Hall said.
Majestic now hopes to use the threat of the legislation’s passage to go back to the City of Walnut and force them to the bargaining table.
Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-La Puente, said Walnut was originally “asking for $800 million for this developer” to pull their lawsuit.
If negotiations between Majestic and Walnut do not proceed, the Senate is likely to take up the measure if and when the Legislature reconvenes for special session sometime this fall.
One plan is rumored to include moving the Jacksonville Jaguars from Florida to Los Angeles, and having both the Jaguars and Chargers play at the new facility, the way the New York Giants and New York Jets both play at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.