Judge rejects plea by opponents of new Sacramento arena to block its construction

A judge cleared the way Friday for construction to begin on the new Sacramento Kings arena.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley rejected an attempt by the arena’s opponents to block construction on the $477 million arena. His ruling, at the end of a 30-minute hearing, affirmed a tentative decision he made the day before.

The decision appears to remove the last legal obstacle to construction. Kings President Chris Granger issued a statement saying the ruling “moves us yet another step closer” to construction. The team is on the verge of completing financing for its $222 million share of the project, and demolition is expected to begin a few days later at Downtown Plaza.

A group of arena foes had sued the city, arguing the project would cause noise, traffic problems and other violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. Making a last-ditch effort to persuade the judge to issue an injunction blocking construction, their lawyer Kelly Smith said in court Friday that the likely gentrification of downtown caused by the arena would disrupt “the schlubs in the single-occupancy hotels.”

He also attacked the constitutionality of SB 743, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the law that streamlines CEQA suits against the arena project and makes it more difficult to obtain an injunction. The law, designed specifically for the arena, says a judge can only halt construction in extreme circumstances, like an “imminent threat to the public health and safety” or the discovery of American Indian artifacts.

Frawley said the law is constitutional. “It is the Legislature’s prerogative to modify judicial procedures,” he said.

City lawyers said the potential environmental impacts have already been addressed. “The city did a thorough, exhaustive environmental review ... beyond what was required under CEQA,” said a lawyer for the city, Amrit Kulkarni.

A second CEQA suit has also been filed, but the plaintiffs haven’t yet sought an injunction that would block construction.

Friday’s decision was Frawley’s second major ruling on the new Kings arena this year. In February, he dismissed a lawsuit by a group of Sacramentans demanding a public vote on sports arena subsidies. In that case, Frawley ruled there were too many legal flaws in the ballot-initiative petitions submitted by arena opponents.

As for the CEQA case, Smith declined to say whether his clients would appeal Frawley’s decision on the injunction.

One of his clients, Adriana Saltonstall, told reporters that the city’s $255 million subsidy is a waste of public money and should be used instead to support the arts.

“The point of environmental (reviews) is to look at alternatives,” she said after the hearing. “There are many alternatives to the use of $255 million.”

A former Caltrans director, she added, “The impact on I-5 will be tremendous. There will be a huge traffic jam.”

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