Residents sue Sacramento over McKinley Park sewage tank plan

The same attorney who represented residents who sued the city of Sacramento for allowing the McKinley Village housing development in East Sacramento has sued the city over its plan to construct a massive tank for sewage and rain runoff under McKinley Park.

The lawsuit, filed this month in Sacramento Superior Court, says the project will harm historical aspects of the 33-acre park, which opened in 1872 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The suit also says the project will create noise, vibration and air quality issues for the surrounding East Sacramento neighborhood and nearby daycare.

City spokesman Tim Swanson declined to comment on the lawsuit because the city does not comment on pending litigation, he said.

A group of East Sacramento residents called Citizens for a Safe and Sewage-Free McKinley Park filed the lawsuit, which also names the Sacramento City Council as a defendant. Irvine-based Stephen R. Cook, a former federal prosecutor, is the attorney for the group. Cook also represented a group of citizens in the McKinley Village case, in which a state appeals court judge ordered the city to further explain its traffic study, but did not prohibit the construction of the 336-unit development.

The $30 million project will install a large basin under the park that will store rain and sewage during major rainstorms to keep the sewage from flowing into the streets.

A sign sits outside a home near McKinley Park in East Sacramento on Nov. 28, 2018, opposing a planned massive underground water tank. Theresa Clift

The report says the project would have a “less than significant” impact on the park, from a historical standpoint, because it will not change the use or nature of the park. The vault will be 2 feet under the soil, not visible to park visitors, and the above-ground structures would match the character of existing buildings, the city’s environmental report said.

After construction starts in the spring, the city plans to remove the park’s baseball field and replace it with a soccer field or multi-use field. The baseball field is currently used for multiple recreational activities, the report said. The lawsuit says the historic baseball field should not be removed because baseball has been played there since 1927, and removing it goes against federal standards for sites on the national register.

The lawsuit also alleges the city will need to remove more trees than officials are planning, based on renderings of the vault’s location. The city report said no more than six trees will be removed for the project, and the city will plant about 60 trees in their place. The lawsuit alleges 39 trees would actually need to be removed, while an additional 26 will be severely impacted.

Kevin Hocker, the city’s lead arborist, said the six trees removed are all in poor condition, and are being removed to create an area for trucks to drive to the site without damaging more valuable trees, he said.

“Those six trees would likely need to be removed with or without that project,” Hocker said. “The first step of any project is to try to design it in such a way that you don’t have to remove trees at all.”

The final report addressed some issues Cook and residents had with the draft plan, such as a change to properly consider the park a historic resource for the purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act, but many other issues were not addressed, Cook said.

The report failed to adequately analyze the impacts of noise and vibration from heavy trucks traveling near historic homes, as well as the hazards of storing millions of gallons of sewage under a public park, Cook alleged.

“There’s a whole host of issues here that we believe were not adequately addressed by the city in the final (report),” Cook said.

The city also failed to recirculate the final version of the report to recollect public comment after making changes to the draft, which violates state law, Cook alleged in the suit.

The City Council voted in October to approve the environmental impact report and solicit bids for construction. This winter, the council plans to vote to hire a construction firm that will start construction in the spring, according to a city webpage. The city plans to finish the project in late 2020.

The city will spend $1 million on park improvements tied to the project, the webpage said.

The lawsuit calls for an injunction order to be placed on the city prohibiting officials from moving forward with the project prior to resolution of the case, Cook said.

This article was updated on Nov. 28 at 2:52 p.m. An earlier version incorrectly stated a court ordered the city of Sacramento to perform a traffic study as part of a lawsuit regarding the McKinley Park development. The court did not order a traffic study, but asked the city for explanation of its traffic study.

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