In a victory for city officials and the Sacramento Kings, a judge Friday rejected a pair of environmental lawsuits filed by foes of the team’s new downtown arena.
The ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley clears away much of the lingering uncertainty over the $477 million arena project, which got underway in August. However, an appeal would keep the environmental issues alive at least a while longer.
Frawley’s decision is a partial reversal of his tentative ruling a week ago, which handed arena opponents a small victory.
In that earlier ruling, he dismissed the lion’s share of the opponents’ claims under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. But he pointed to a possible flaw in the city’s plan for traffic congestion. Frawley also said he was concerned the Kings had not adequately prepared for the impact of standing-room-only crowds that would surpass the arena’s 17,500-seat capacity, as well as crowds of up to 12,000 congregating on the plaza outside the building for special events.
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In his final ruling Friday, the judge said the traffic plan was fine, although he imposed a slight revision in the city’s environmental review “to remove any lingering doubt” about whether the plan can be enforced. As for the overflow crowds, he decided the city didn’t have “to analyze traffic impacts based on a ‘worst case’ scenario.”
City Attorney James Sanchez welcomed the ruling, noting that CEQA lawsuits can trip up or delay big development projects.
“These are significant challenges,” he said. “We expected them to come. With the CEQA law being what it is, there are many ways to challenge a project as complex as this.” Frawley in July denied the project foes’ request for an injunction that would have blocked construction.
Kelly Smith, attorney for one of the groups that sued, said many Sacramentans “are disappointed that, after being denied a vote ... the court has denied an analysis of the obvious (environmental) impacts.” Smith said his clients will consider appealing.
Smith’s clients include many of the same Sacramentans who lost a legal fight to force a public vote on the city’s $255 million arena subsidy, which was approved by the City Council. Those citizens gathered enough petitions to qualify an initiative for the ballot, but Frawley ruled in February that the petitions were legally defective.
In Friday’s ruling, Frawley reiterated his earlier dismissal of many of the opponents’ claims, including the charge that putting an arena downtown would expose the central city to postgame rioting.
Some legal issues remain for the arena project besides a possible appeal of the CEQA cases. Three arena foes are pressing a lawsuit that challenges the $255 million subsidy. The city must also resolve litigation over the purchase price for a now-demolished building at the southeast corner of Downtown Plaza, which was taken through eminent domain proceedings.
Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.