Groups Challenge New LA Stadium


     LOS ANGELES (CN) - California illegally gave an environmental free pass to allow construction of a downtown football stadium that will hurt poor people, the Play Fair At Farmers Field Coalition claims in court.
     Play Fair and four people sued California in Superior Court, claiming Senate Bill 292 violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the state Constitution and the Code of Civil Procedure.
     "To be known as Farmer's Field, this massive project will greatly affect the lives of people living downtown, in Pico Union, and in South Los Angeles as the likely adverse effects include increased traffic congestion, respiratory ailments, and housing displacement," the complaint states.
     Joining as plaintiffs are local residents Pete Ares, Steve Richardson, Karl Manheim, and Gary Williams.
     Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 292 on Sept. 27, 2011. The 1.7-million-square-foot stadium is proposed as the home field for one or two NFL teams and could host other sports and entertainment events, such as rodeos, pro wrestling and trade shows, according to the complaint.
     Play Fair calls itself a "coalition of community based organizations focused on protecting environmental and public health in the communities surrounding the proposed project, and individuals who will be impacted by the proposed project." Its members include Los Angeles Community Action Network and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
     Plaintiffs Pete Ares is a 61-year-old part-time phlebotomist with Kaiser Permanente, who lives with his two adult children in the South Los Angeles home where he was born.
     Steve Richardson is a community organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network and has lived in downtown Los Angeles for almost 50 years.
     Karl Manheim and Gary Williams are professors at Loyola Law School, where they have taught civil rights and constitutional law.
     All four men live and work within a 2-mile radius of the project area.
     Developed by Anschutz Entertainment Group entirely through private funding, the $1 billion stadium is to be built on 68 downtown acres, next to the Staples Center and the L.A. Live Complex. It would replace the Los Angeles Convention Center's West Hall.
     Slated to open in 2016, Farmer's Field will have 72,000 seats, including 200 luxury suites. It will have a retractable roof and should boost Los Angeles' rating from No. 15 to No. 5 among best U.S. cities for a convention, Anschutz claims on its website.
     But the plaintiffs say SB 292 is unconstitutional.
     "SB 292 does not even encompass other possible sites for the potential stadium within Los Angeles County, but rather targets one site and one developer," the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs claim the bill's amendments to the Public Resources Code restrict the public's rights to challenge the project under CEQA.
     "Nearly all challenges to EIRs [environmental impact reports] have been brought as writs of mandate in the superior courts," where they are heard by a judge with expertise in CEQA, the complaint states.
     But SB 292 requires that legal challenges to the project be filed in the Second District Court of Appeal within 30 days of the EIR's certification.
     "Through the above-mentioned provisions of SB 292, the State of California has effected an unconstitutional exclusion of original jurisdiction in courts other than the courts of appeal and has deprived CEQA litigants of their rights to pursue a writ of mandate in the superior courts in violation of Article V, § 10, of the Constitution," the complaint states.
     SB 292 also prevents the courts from stopping construction unless challengers can prove it will "present an imminent threat to public health and safety."
     This violates other codes that require courts to suspend any project that fails to comply with CEQA, the plaintiffs say, and "denies the court of the power to enjoin a project and plaintiffs of the right to seek the relief they are entitled to under the general CEQA statute."
     The plaintiffs say the stadium threatens the livelihood of residents in Pico-Union and surrounding communities, despite claims made in the project's draft EIR, that it "would not adversely affect" these neighborhoods.
     Pico-Union is one of Los Angeles's poorest East Side neighborhoods. Once a predominantly white community, most residents today are minorities, including a large Hispanic population and a growing number of Korean businesses.
     "According to the American Community survey, 38 percent of individuals within the impacted neighborhoods live below the poverty level compared to 20 percent in the City of Los Angeles as a whole," the complaint states.
     Citing a recent study by the Human Impact Partners, the complaint claims that "the high proportion of lower income residents and residents of color indicates that the impacted neighborhoods are currently home to a vulnerable population that faces a greater risk of poorer health outcomes and ... is also more vulnerable to the disruption of services and other negative impacts caused by the type of displacement likely to result from the construction of the proposed project without proper mitigation."
     "The Coalition counts among its membership many low income individuals in these impacted neighborhoods. These members, along with individual plaintiffs ... will suffer the environmental and health related ill effects," the complaint states.
     The draft EIR for Farmer's Field was released for public comment on April 5.
     On May 12, the Coalition submitted a 77-page letter condemning SB 292 as unconstitutional; commenting on its lack of mitigation measures for, among other things, traffic, air quality, and local populations; and criticizing "the inadequate discussion of alternatives."
     The Los Angeles Planning Commission is scheduled to render its decision on the project's final EIR at a Sept. 12 hearing.
     The plaintiffs fear the Commission and the City Council will approve the final EIR despite public concern about the project's impacts.
     They claim SB 292's amendments to the Public Resources Code damage "the legal rights of aggrieved citizens, such as plaintiff Fair Play at Farmer's Field Coalition, to bring a CEQA challenge to the EIR for the proposed project," and that the changes will "cause irreparable harm to plaintiffs and others for which they have no adequate remedy at law."
     The plaintiffs seek a court order voiding SB 292 as unconstitutional, and a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing the state from enforcing its amendments to the Public Resources Code.
     They are represented by Barbara Schultz with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, by Hadsell, Stormer, Richardson & Renick of Pasadena, and by Robert Newman of Los Angeles.