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2 NBA arena bills await fate
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SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Two NBA teams in Northern California will be closely watching the final days of this year's legislative session, when state lawmakers will consider measures that would aid construction of new arenas for the franchises.

One proposal would assist the Golden State Warriors in their plan to move the team from Oakland to a possible waterfront arena in San Francisco, a move that has drawn the ire of East Bay lawmakers upset at jobs moving away.

The other measure is a last-minute proposal from the state Senate's top Democrat to make good on his promise to NBA officials that the Sacramento Kings will be able to build a new downtown arena with no unnecessary hassles involving California's tough environmental laws.

In both cases, the plans would still require approval from several government agencies. While the Warriors' plan has faced mostly regional concerns, critics have blasted the Kings arena bill as the latest in a pattern of special legislation aimed at jump-starting a particular project.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, disputes that assessment, telling reporters that aspects of his legislation would apply to projects beyond an arena for the Kings.

The proposed arena, to be located at a site currently occupied by a mall, was part of the pitch that Sacramento made to the NBA in its effort to keep the team from moving to Seattle. The team's new owners want to open the facility in fall 2016.

Keeping the Kings in the state capital is "a once-in-a-generation economic development opportunity," Steinberg said. For big projects that bring jobs, particularly for urban redevelopment, Steinberg said the state should "expedite the process and avoid undue litigation that can defeat what is otherwise a great opportunity and a great idea."

His amendment to SB743 would still require the project to go through a full environmental review process, but it would speed up consideration of lawsuits and allow for mediation instead of legal battles.

The effort comes as Steinberg also aims to find consensus on broad changes to the state's landmark environmental law, which some say has been abused to halt projects for non-environmental reasons.

Steinberg said his proposal builds on changes from recent laws designed to speed construction of large projects, including a bill intended to aid a new stadium in Los Angeles for an NFL team.

Critics say such bills amount to preferential treatment for well-connected developers and favored projects, allowing the work to bypass important rules such as the California Environmental Quality Act.

"We're disappointed to see yet another CEQA streamlining bill for yet another sports arena popping up in the last days of the legislative session," said Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, in a statement. "While we appreciate the proposed bill doesn't affect the actual environmental review undertaken, the streamlining provisions included in this bill combine to take away many of CEQA's important enforcement mechanisms."

Meanwhile, a measure awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, AB1273, would help the Golden State Warriors open a proposed 18,000-seat arena at Piers 30-32 in San Francisco. Team owners hope to unveil the facility for the 2017 season, though the San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the project is behind schedule and cost estimates for repairing the pier have increased.

The legislation from Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, would authorize the State Lands Commission to give its approval that the project is consistent with public trust laws for development along the shoreline. It would not change the required reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Under the current plans, there would still be public access to the site, which would host events beyond basketball games and include open space around the facility.

When the measure cleared the Assembly in May, Ting said the piers are in need of expensive repairs and the Warriors' proposal would bring a project worth almost $1 billion into the city. That investment would benefit the entire region, he said.

Some East Bay cities and lawmakers have opposed the bill, which they say endorses shifting jobs from an economically distressed area to a region with a low unemployment rate.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, has said the legislation would give an advantage to San Francisco without any trade-offs or recognition that Oakland and the surrounding areas would be impacted by the loss of the sports team.

Ting's bill could come up for a Senate vote as soon as Friday and could then return to the Assembly for a final tally before it could reach the governor's desk. Steinberg's proposal on the Kings arena will await consideration by both chambers next week during the Legislature's final session days.