Housing advocates, environmentalists consider Sacramento arena lawsuit

A group of affordable housing advocates, environmentalists and homeless organizations is considering a lawsuit challenging the environmental impact report approved last month by the Sacramento City Council for a new downtown sports arena.

The Sacramento Coalition for Shared Prosperity wants the Kings to contribute $40 million toward affordable housing projects, allow arena event tickets to double as public transportation passes and create a fund to help small businesses relocate from near the arena site if they can prove the project hurts their bottom line.

A lawsuit filed under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, may be the group’s only leverage as it tries to persuade the Kings to agree to its requests, which it proposed months ago. A lawsuit could delay – or block – the arena project.

The arena EIR was approved by the City Council May 20 along with the arena development agreement and a public contribution of $255 million toward the $477 million project. Project opponents have until next Thursday to file a CEQA lawsuit.

The coalition has scheduled a fundraiser next Wednesday to raise money for a potential legal fight. Tamie Dramer, advocacy director for the Sacramento Housing Alliance, said the group has not made a final decision about whether to file a suit, but that “it’s something we’re considering.”

Along with the Housing Alliance, members of the group include the Environmental Council of Sacramento, homeless advocacy group Loaves & Fishes and the Democratic Socialists of America, Sacramento chapter.

Asked if filing a lawsuit was the group’s only leverage at this point, Dramer said, “Well, yeah, unless out of the goodness of their hearts these billionaires (the Kings owners) are going to give us $40 million for affordable housing.”

The Kings announced in May they would contribute $864,000 into a citywide trust that funds affordable housing projects. The team will be obligated to make another substantial contribution to the trust when the team finalizes its plans for a residential, hotel and retail development around the arena site at Downtown Plaza.

Sacramento Regional Transit officials have asked the Kings to allow event tickets to double as public transit passes, and those discussions are continuing.

Kings officials are exploring donating unused food from arena events to local homeless shelters and food banks, and have pledged to hire dozens of construction workers from low-income neighborhoods. The team also has said 60 percent of the workers used for the arena construction will be from the Sacramento region and that 20 percent of the work will go to small businesses.

Mayor Kevin Johnson and Kings officials have set up an advisory committee to track local hiring and sustainability goals set for the project. Kings officials declined to comment on the Coalition for Shared Prosperity’s demands Wednesday.

Some affordable housing groups have said pledges made by the team have not gone far enough. After once asking for $100 million in affordable housing, the Coalition for Shared Prosperity now wants $40 million. Most of that would pay for housing for families making around $67,000 a year, and 40 percent would build housing for those making very low and extremely low incomes, Dramer said. Advocates want the housing available for workers who build the arena and work there once it opens.

Dramer said the coalition also wants the Kings to dedicate 20 percent of the housing the team plans to build at the arena site for moderate income families. The City Council approval allows the Kings to build up to 550 residential units in a planned development bordering the arena.

The coalition also wants the Kings to fund a revolving loan for existing small businesses near the arena and to help small businesses relocate from near the site, Dramer said. Environmental groups want the ancillary development – the planned residential, hotel and retail – to meet strict environmental guidelines.

The arena’s EIR is already facing one legal challenge. A citizens group has also filed a suit charging that the arena will lead to noisy streets, traffic jams and postgame rioting.

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