A series of changes at Oakland City Hall and the State Capitol may portend well for Oakland’s chances to get either an A’s ballpark or Raiders stadium built. Or maybe not.
First up, newly hired Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana, late of San Jose, made two key hires in poaching SJ Finance Director Scott Johnson and SF Redevelopment head Fred Blackwell to be Assistant City Administrators, each with different roles. Johnson will be tasked with the responsibilities you’d normally consider as part of a city manager/administrator role, such as finance/budget and labor relations. Meanwhile, Blackwell will be covering a redevelopment-oriented role. Scuttlebutt is that CEDA head Walter Cohen may be on his way out amidst “major changes” there. Could CEDA and ORA be headed for big time restructuring? It would make sense if they want to deal with next year’s budget deficit early. That shouldn’t mean bad things for the Victory Court EIR or the Raiders project since they’re already in the pipeline. It probably means there will be fewer resources for planning and future projects, both short and long-term.
Up in Cowtown, yet another bill (actually two) designed to bypass the CEQA process has made it through the Legislature. SB 292 (D-Padilla, San Fernando Valley) limits potential legal actions against LA Stadium/Farmers Field EIR by pushing challenges up to the State Court of Appeal, where cases could be expedited more quickly. This is important because it could save several months, maybe even a year by offering this kind of protection. The actual EIR review process will not be impacted in a major way, only the method for dealing with legal challenges. SB 292 only protects the Farmers Field project, so it isn’t helpful for either Oakland project, or others with already certified EIRs.
A companion bill, AB 900 (D-Steinberg, Los Angeles), could help Oakland. Initially meant as a companion for SB 292, AB 900 expands its coverage to large projects worth $100 million or more. Naturally, that would include any major stadium or arena project throughout the state, including either Oakland stadium, the Kings’ downtown arena in Sacramento, and others. AB 900 actually sets a time limit of 175 days for the Court of Appeal to issue a decision on any affected project after a party files a petition challenging said project. AB 900 will not become law unless SB 292 also is signed into law, so at this point everything rests with Governor Brown, on whose desk the two bills sit.
Brown may be of two minds on the bills. On one hand, he can’t be in love with the Legislature for flat out denying him on a multitude of tax extension requests, though he may be putting the blame on Republicans instead of his own party. And while he’s no proponent of stadium projects, in the case of these two bills there are no traditional public sources of funding being tapped, so he may be a little more amenable to signing these bills than he would for other deals. We’ll see shortly.