Judge issues split decision in suit challenging Sacramento arena contribution

A group of Sacramentans suing to block the city’s subsidy for the new Kings arena got a split decision from a judge Thursday.

In a tentative ruling, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley said much of the lawsuit will remain intact. But he said portions of the lawsuit aren’t legally sufficient.

Frawley will hold a hearing on the case Friday.

Frawley said the citizens – Isaac Gonzalez, James Cathcart and Julian Camacho – should be allowed to proceed with claims that the city’s arena subsidy is “illegal and wasteful” and the City Council was guilty of an “abuse of discretion” when it approved the deal in May. He also will allow the citizens to pursue their claim challenging the validity of the bonds the city plans to issue to finance its share of the construction project.

But the judge agreed with the city and found insufficient the citizens’ claim that the city has given the Kings a “secret subsidy,” worth tens of millions of dollars, that goes well beyond the contribution approved in May by the City Council. The suit claims city officials deliberately undercounted the value of the non-cash contribution, including land.

The City Council agreed in May to contribute $255 million toward the project; the Kings are providing the remaining $222 million.

Jeffrey Anderson, one of the lawyers for the citizens challenging the subsidy, said he is analyzing Frawley’s tentative ruling. City Attorney James Sanchez called the ruling “a mixed bag” but said it’s hard to get an entire claim tossed out relatively early in the proceedings.

Meanwhile, a second group trying to block construction under the California Environmental Quality Act announced Thursday it will provide evidence in a new court filing Friday that city officials, in preparing the project’s required environmental impact report, ignored police concerns about public safety at the downtown arena. The evidence consists of a February email from a deputy police chief, Dana Matthes, saying it wasn’t clear who would be in charge of crowd control.

The lawsuit, filed by a group led by former Caltrans director Adriana Saltonstall, said postgame crowds could cause riots in the street.

Sanchez said while the city is still figuring out details of how the arena would operate, that doesn’t mean public safety concerns have been ignored.

The arena project at Downtown Plaza got under way several weeks ago. The arena is scheduled to open in October 2016.

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