Rendering of proposed downtown Sacramento sports arena, March, 2013 (Rendering courtesy of Lionakis)
The state Capitol's most powerful booster of a new Sacramento NBA arena wants to further boost the project's chances, introducing legislation to fast-track the project in the event of legal challenges.
"We've got to move," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on Friday, hours before he unveiled legislation to avoid delays brought by either environmental lawsuits or the possible use of eminent domain in building a downtown sports arena for the Sacramento Kings.
The bill's details were announced Friday, along with a bipartisan coalition of supporters. It's expected to be formally introduced in the Legislature next week, a late amended bill before lawmakers recess for the year in two weeks.
Steinberg says the bill both helps Sacramento's arena efforts and also fixes a 2011 of environmental review law that has been partially blocked by a state superior court judge.
In short, the bill seeks to put a time limit on any legal challenges to the Sacramento arena under the landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and ensures that such legal challenges won't delay an eminent domain proceeding, should city officials be unable to make a purchase deal with landowners in the arena project's path.
"We have to break ground in 2014," said Steinberg.
The arena project's speedy success was a key factor in May's vote by the NBA's Board of Governors that kept the Kings franchise in California's capital city. Steinberg was in New York City for the final sales pitch to NBA owners, and his clout on removing governmental obstacles was no doubt a large selling point.
Late amended bills to benefit sports arenas are nothing new at the state Capitol. A bill to fast-track a proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles was approved in 2011, though that project remains in limbo.
That same year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law another law designed to streamline environmental review of large urban development projects. But in April, a judge blocked a part of the law that allowed some CEQA lawsuits to bypass lower courts in hopes of a faster resolution.
Steinberg's new bill allows lower court review of those CEQA challenges, but on an accelerated timetable.
The Senate leader, who insists the bill will not shortchange environmental review of a new downtown arena, has been a leader in a long running Capitol debate to create changes in the CEQA process. His separate legislation to make limited changes was approved on Friday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
John Myers is News10's political editor. Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.