Law Review: Expedited CEQA for new Oakland A’s stadium challenged
Sports stadiums are a favored breed of cat in California. In recent years the Legislature has passed laws best tracking environmental processing and judicial review of sports stadium projects. These include the Sacramento Kings, LA Clippers, LA Rams and Oakland Athletics, the latter being our topic du jour.
BASIC CEQA LAWS
In an effort to protect the environment, California’s long-standing California Environment Quality Act (CEQA) law requires public agencies to prepare an EIR for any project that may have a significant and adverse physical effect on the environment. Lawsuits challenging development projects are generally based on claims that the project fails to comply with CEQA.
Lawsuits claiming noncompliance with CEQA have calendar preference in the courts but generally take years to wind through the legal system. Of course, this works to the advantage of plaintiffs.
If the plaintiffs prevail, e.g. Tahoe Palisades, formally known as Squaw Valley, the plaintiffs are entitled to ask for reimbursement of attorneys fees. If the property owner prevails, there is no reciprocal fee award.
EXPEDITED CEQA REVIEW FOR SPORTS STADIUMS
In 2011, the Legislature recognized there were many projects under consideration in California that would be job-creating and environmentally sound, so laws were passed to fast-track administrative processing and judicial review for “environmental leadership development projects”. These projects would have to be certified as LEED gold or better and meet certain other high benchmark criteria.
OAKLAND WANTS A NEW STADIUM FOR THE A’S
In 2018, faced with the impending loss of the Raiders to Las Vegas and Golden State Warriors to San Francisco, the Legislature adopted statutes to facilitate a new baseball park at the Howard Terminal site in Oakland. The Coliseum was 50 years old and in dire need of replacement.
All of this gave rise to Assembly Bill 734 – to expedite the processing of the baseball park and limit legal challenges if the project meets the stringent criteria. The governor may then certify the fast-tracked project.
A’S BASEBALL PROJECT CHALLENGED
A consortium of shipping and trucking associations challenged Governor Newsom’s approval of the new baseball stadium project. The sole legal issue was whether the approval by the governor had to be done by a date certain which the plaintiffs alleged. The First Appellate District Court of Appeal concluded several statutes were ambiguous and conflicting, yet the legislative intent was clear that the Legislature wanted the local project to receive fast tracking. The Court concluded Governor Newsom was empowered to certify the project on February 11, 2021. Project entitled to move ahead.
A footnote. Despite permits in hand, the A’s and the City of Oakland have been unable to date to come to terms on a contract. The $1 billion stadium is in negotiations as the A’s threaten to relocate to Las Vegas. Just as the Raiders did.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com
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