Stadiums Again — The “Exceptional” Environmental Free Lunch

          As is made painfully (and expensively) clear to anyone trying to build a major project in California, there has to be compliance with environmental regulations. It’s the law, folks, and it takes precedence over human needs. So what if the Central Valley farmers (and their increasingly-unemployed farm workers) have to take it in the chops for the sake of environmental benefits to some dorky little fish in the Sacramento Delta? See The Economist, October 28, 2009  http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14699639  So what if we have to tear down perfectly functional hydroelectric dams producing clean energy? It’s all a worthwhile sacrifice for the Environment, don’t you know. So say our betters. Like when you make an omelette you gotta crack eggs.

         But now it appears that all that pain that is so nobly inflicted in the cause of protection of the Environment can be forgone when a local billionaire wants to build a new NFL Stadium. As we had occasion to blog recently ( http://gideonstrumpet.info/?p=303 ) a new NFL stadium  is planned for the Los Angeles area, in City of Industry. This is such a wonderful thing, we are told by our betters, that environmental laws have to be set aside to facilitate its speedy construction. In his recent column in the Los Angeles Times, Tim  Rutten waxes orgasmic about the virtues of the project and the thousands of union jobs it will provide. See One-of-a-Kind NFL Stadium, L.A. Times, October 21, 2009. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-columnist-rutten,0,3798015.columnist

         Upon being informed of the need to get on with the program stadium-wise, the California legislature all but clicked its heels, shouted “Jawohl!” to our Governator, and passed the legislation in question, exempting that stadium from environmental laws. Mr. Rutten thinks that doing so is wonderful. He says that disregarding environmental laws in this case will advance both the letter and spirit of environmental regulation. Say what?! Your faithful servant did a double take on this one. Disregarding environmental laws complies with and advances their letter? Did Rutten really say that? Yes indeed; we didn’t make it up. It’s all there in living black-and-white in Mr. Rutten’s column. Actually, if you think about it, there is precedent for this sort of reasoning. It was revealed to us during the Vietnam war when it famously became necessary to destroy a village in order to save it. Same here. Environmental laws had to be disregarded in order to comply with them. 

          Of course, all these legislative deeds of derring do give rise to a sticky wicket. As a society, if you’ll pardon our use of that tiresome cliche, we are committed to equality of treatment. If this particular project gets an exemption from environmental laws, don’t we have to extend similar treatment to other projects laying a similarly arguable claim to being “exceptional”? Good question. The L.A. Times provides no answer to it, except for Mr. Rutten’s confident assertion that this stadium’s exceptionalism simply has to be rewarded by granting its sponsors the privilege of disregarding environmental laws. Just what makes it so exceptional remains unclear. You will just have to take it on faith — it is sufficient that it says so in the Los Angeles Times, so it must be so. 

         The legislators swear that this will be the onliest time for suspending the environmental laws, and all but shout “Never again!” We have no basis for questioning the sincerity of their intentions, but don’t they have to comply with the concept of equal protection of the laws? You know, like it says over the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court — “Equal Justice Under Law.” If California environmental laws can be suspended ad hoc for the benefit of a billionaire developer of a football stadium, then why not  for the benefit of others with a similar or even superior claim of doing good? Like competing stadiums maybe? Or the construction of a badly needed, non-profit hospital? Would the latter be able to lay claim to the same “exceptionalism,” or would those life-saving sons of Aesculapius have to knuckle down and comply with expensive and time-consuming environmental laws?

          So stay tuned and see how it all turns out. Being of a cynical bent when it comes to major public project financial projections, we entertain some doubts as to whether in the end this stadium will actually be cost-free to the taxpayers, as Mr. Rutten assured us in an earlier Los Angeles Times column. Possibly, the Easter Bunny will pay for all the infrastructure needed for that stadium. But we tend to doubt it.

Follow up. Don’t miss the two op-eds in today’s Los Angeles Times. In one, Alan Lowenthal, a memeber of the state Senate Environmental Quality Committee, laments the disregard of environmental laws in the cause of building this “unique” stadium. http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-lowenthal29-2009oct29,0,5183306.story  He points out with unassailable merit that “There was absolutely nothing unique about this project, other than the fact that it was championed by an influential developer and backed by powerful labor unions.”

         In the second one, Dave Zirin, points out that there is no team that has committed to use this stadium, so it’s a hoped-for case of if-you-build-it-they’ll-come. If There Is No Team, It’s Bonkers to Build a Stadium, L.A. Times, Oct. 29, 2009, at p. A31 —   see  http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-zirin29-2009oct29,0,5453451.story . Maybe and maybe not. Zirin’s other astute point is that if this stadium is actually built, several other football teams in other locations, will be in a position to put pressure on their local governments and demand more financial goodies from them, threatening to pick up their marbles and move to the — ta, da! — City of Industry.

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