- Associated Press - Friday, June 19, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - The Golden State Warriors were thrust into the Legislature’s debate over the California budget Friday as they celebrated their NBA championship in Oakland.

At issue was a bill accompanying the state’s $115.4 billion budget that would help develop a new Warriors arena in San Francisco by extending a 2011 law that expedites environmental review of major construction. Lawmakers have taken similar steps to speed up review of stadiums in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Republican lawmakers applaud such changes to California’s landmark law requiring new development balance out damage to wildlife and habitats, but blasted Democrats on Friday for not speeding up environmental reviews to build new reservoirs during California’s historic drought.

“It’s good enough for professional athletes and fans, but it is not good enough for average Californians who depend on water for their very lives?” said Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank.

Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, says Republicans are mischaracterizing the legislation as suspending all environmental review and study. A new Warriors stadium must still demonstrate its effects on the environment, but the legislation under consideration Friday would speed up the timeline for any legal challenges to the development.

“The level of misinformation that has just been shared with you all is stunning. Nothing of what you’ve heard is true or accurate,” said Leno, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Environmentalists also say water storage projects would create a much greater impact on the environment than sports arenas in urban areas. Building or raising dams is often controversial because it blocks passages for fish and alters the natural flow of water.

Also on Friday, the Legislature approved a separate bill that loosens environmental review for some recycling water projects, including a plant proposed for Silicon Valley. That was a weakened version of a more sweeping proposal that environmentalists opposed.

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