Business & Real Estate

Sacramento arena foes seek injunction blocking plaza demolition

Opponents of the new Sacramento Kings arena have asked a judge for a court order halting the $477 million project, starting with the demolition of much of Downtown Plaza planned for later this summer.

A temporary injunction is being sought by a group of citizens who sued the city of Sacramento under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, one day after the City Council approved construction of the new arena last month.

The citizens asked for “a temporary injunction to halt all activity associated with demolition and construction of the corporate sports arena,” according to papers filed in Sacramento Superior Court on Tuesday. The documents became public Wednesday.

In seeking the injunction, arena foes will put themselves on a collision course with a new state law, SB 743, which streamlines CEQA challenges to the Kings arena and says construction can’t be halted unless a judge declares “an imminent threat to the public health and safety.” In their lawsuit, the citizens are trying to have SB 743 declared unconstitutional.

James Sanchez, Sacramento’s city attorney, said he believes the court will uphold the state law and the city’s environmental review required by CEQA. “We’re comfortably prepared to defend all the issues,” he said.

Kings President Chris Granger said in a prepared statement that “we fully support the city and the strong CEQA document that emerged from their extensive engagement with the public.” The team and the city have filed court papers disputing the claims made by the arena opponents’ lawsuit.

The opponents, led by retired Caltrans director Adriana Gianturco Saltonstall, contend that the construction project would plague downtown with “immediate road closures, pounding noise and flood lights.” Once the new arena opens, the group predicted that downtown could overrun with post-game rioting, and the “hideously-designed” arena would be a continuing source of traffic jams and other problems.

The citizens’ lawyer, Kelly Smith, said in court papers that an injunction is necessary to stop the city from loaning the Kings around $12 million to cover permit fees. That money otherwise could be used “to pay for many city services and facilities,” Smith said.

City officials have said the loan would be repaid by the Kings in a few months and is a way of helping the team with cash flow. Although the city plans to contribute $255 million to the project, the city won’t put in its share for several months. Meanwhile, the Kings are expected to spend as much as $90 million in the first few months of construction.

A hearing on the proposed injunction is set for July 25. Although the Kings haven’t laid out a specific timetable, they said demolition is expected to begin in late summer. The arena is scheduled to open in October 2016.

If the building doesn’t open by 2017, the NBA says it has the right to buy the Kings and move them to another city, as part of an agreement made last year when the league vetoed a proposed relocation to Seattle. Arena opponents, however, said the threat is purely speculative.

“No evidence can be shown that the NBA will yank the team,” the opponents said in court papers.

And if the team does leave, the city can’t prove “that Sacramento without a corporate basketball team is worse or better than one with a team,” they added.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee