A bill to speed up construction of mega-projects in California, including four major developments in Los Angeles, pass the state Legislature in August and is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown for a signature. The bill would limit the timeframe of lawsuits under the state’s main environmental law to nine months. In order to qualify for the exemption, a project would have to cost more than $100 million, pay high wages to construction workers and meet state targets for greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy. The bill would not shield projects from the California Environmental Quality Air, but would force CEQA lawsuits against the developments to move through the courts more quickly.
Four projects in the Los Angeles area, including two skyscrapers planned for Hollywood and a 38-acre park on Highway 101 between Hollywood and Santa Monica, will likely apply for the exemption if Gov. Brown signs the legislation. Supporters of the bill say it will cut three years off the construction time of the $1-billion redevelopment of the Crossroads of the World Complex and a $200-million hotel and residential development at the corner of Yucca Street and Argyle Avenue.
A legislative analysis suggests developers of two other Los Angeles projects hope to qualify for CEQA fast-tracking: the redevelopment of Barlow Respiratory Hospital near Dodger Stadium including 400 single-family homes on the property.
The bill, SB 734, passed both houses with bipartisan supermajority votes, meaning it will take effect as soon as Gov. Brown signs it. It is still not clear how much the bill would help the new projects. An earlier version of the bill has yet to provide any legal help to the six projects that qualified for fast-track judicial review, including Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino and a new arena for the Golden State Warriors.
Another project in Los Angeles, a mixed-use development designed by Frank Gehry at 8150 Sunset Blvd., is one of six developments already granted judicial fast-tracking and is awaiting final approval by the city of Los Angeles. The existing law is not having an easy time easing the burdens of CEQA, a 1970 law that has led to many unintended consequences, such as blocking the installation of bike lanes. The Gehry project is one of many facing down the threat of a lawsuit.
Some environmental groups like the Sierra Club of California opposed the measure because they believe the restrictions are not strong enough to merit a break from the normal rules. The nonprofit group, Fix the City, has sued multiple projects in the Los Angeles area under CEQA. The state’s Judicial Council is opposed to the bill because prioritizing lawsuits against mega-development projects would slow down other cases.
The bill’s author, Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), says SB 734 will help California’s economic recovery by supporting large, job-producing projects move forward and employ hundreds of Californians in well-paying, green jobs.
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