First District Upholds Governor’s Certification of Oakland A’s Stadium under Special Legislation

October 13th, 2021

By: Sam Bacal-Graves

In Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn. v. Newsom (2021) 67 Cal.App.5th 711, the First District Court of Appeal considered a challenge to the approval of a new baseball stadium in Oakland under special legislation modeled on AB 900. While the special legislation did incorporate the AB 900 Guidelines, the Court found that this did not in turn incorporate AB 900’s certification deadline, as this had not been the legislature’s intent.

In 2018, the legislature passed AB 734, adding Public Resources Code section 21168.6.7, providing streamlining for a potential new stadium in Oakland. Like AB 900, AB 734 included stringent requirements related to labor, wages, sustainability, and carbon neutrality in exchange for expedited judicial review. However, unlike AB 900 and its amendments, AB 734 did not expressly include a deadline for the Governor to certify the project or a sunset provision. (While AB 900 streamlining did expire in January 2021, it was essentially revived by SB 7 in May. See our coverage here.)

AB 900 had also authorized the Governor to issue guidelines regarding application and certification of AB 900 projects. Following applicable statutory deadlines, the AB 900 Guidelines required the Governor to certify projects by January 1, 2020 and required lead agency approval before January 1, 2021. Rather than requiring project-specific guidelines, AB 734 stated that the AB 900 Guidelines would apply to implementation of section 21168.6.7, “to the extent those guidelines are applicable and do not conflict with specific requirements of this section.”  

In March 2019, the Oakland Athletics submitted an application under AB 734 to the Governor for certification. However, it took CARB until August 2020 to confirm that the project would meet its GHG requirements, delaying the Governor’s ability to certify the project. Before this occurred, Petitioners filed a lawsuit in May 2020 challenging the Governor’s ability to certify the project. Petitioners argued that incorporation of the AB 900 Guidelines into AB 734 by reference also incorporated the termination of the Governor’s ability to certify projects after January 1, 2020. The trial court denied the petition, and Petitioners appealed.

Petitioners argued that the deadline in the AB 900 Guidelines did not conflict with any provision of section 21168.6.7, and therefore was applicable under the statute’s language. Respondents argued that the statute itself contained no deadlines, and that this omission was intentional, particularly in light of the legislature adopting an explicit deadline for certification in a similar bill for a stadium in Inglewood (AB 987). The Court of Appeal determined that the statutory text was ambiguous on this point and turned to the bill’s legislative history. The Court found no indication therein of an intent to import the AB 900 deadline into AB 734. On the contrary, legislative history demonstrated special legislation was sought, in part, because the project could not meet AB 900’s deadlines. The Court further confirmed this by evaluating the reasonableness of each interpretation in light of the statutory purpose. It found Petitioners’ interpretation would doom AB 734 from its inception since CARB’s certification (a prerequisite to the Governor’s certification) alone exceeded the January 1, 2020 certification deadline. Additionally, the Court recognized the author had intended to avoid AB 900’s deadlines since those would make streamlined review infeasible. As such, the Court upheld denial of the petition.