LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - A coalition of community activists and four individuals filed suit Thursday against the state of California challenging a recently enacted law that insulates the developer of a proposed Los Angeles stadium from environmental lawsuits.
The Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition filed the lawsuit in Superior Court. It is aimed at Senate Bill 292, which is a law passed in 2011 that will shortcut all environmental challenges to the Farmers Field stadium project directly to the Court of Appeals. It also prevents the courts from stopping construction unless an imminent threat to public health and safety can be proven.
Members of the coalition, which include low-income housing advocates such as the Los Angeles Community Action Network, allege the stadium deserves to undergo a more thorough scrutiny than currently required. One of the plaintiffs, Pedro Ares, a resident of South Los Angeles living about a mile from the project, argued the stadium will dramatically change the neighborhood -one of the poorest in Los Angeles.
The lawsuit claims the law violates the community protections provided by the California Environmental Quality Act. It is the first major legal challenge to the stadium project, which is to be built by Anschutz Entertainment Group.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles attorneys representing the plaintiffs argue that SB 292 violates two sections of the California constitution - the section giving courts original jurisdiction, and that which prohibits special legislation where a general law is applicable.
Plaintiffs counsel Dan Stormer, an attorney at Hadsell, Stormer, Richardson & Renick, believes the law violates the California Constitution because it requires challenges be heard in the appellate court, not in the trial court.
"This bill is blatantly unconstitutional. It is an attempted end run around the constitution," he said recently.
But the legislation had the support of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Natural Resources Defense Council. It was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
AEG issued a statement Thursday in which the company said, "These measures are... intended to put people back to work during these difficult times and fully protect and expand the public's participation in the environmental process. Suspect attacks on the legality of these laws demonstrate the very need for the protections they afford against those seeking to abuse the legal system to thwart or delay projects creating beneficial economic development."
AEG anticipated the lawsuit and countered preemptively with a press conference three days before the suit was filed. A committee of community leaders and representatives met at Los Angeles City Hall Aug. 27 to announce their support of an AEG-sponsored community benefits program that is tied to the development of Farmers Field.