The ground has been broken, but opponents of the new Sacramento Kings arena nonetheless filed a new court appeal Tuesday in what has been a fruitless effort so far to stop the $477 million project.
“This fight is not over,” said J. Bolton Phillips, one of a dozen Sacramentans attempting to halt construction by saying the city’s approval process violated the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
The group’s lawyer, Kelly Smith, said a notice of appeal was filed Tuesday in an effort to overturn an Oct. 17 decision by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley. The judge dismissed a pair of CEQA suits against the project, one by the Phillips group and another by a group calling itself the Sacramento Coalition for Shared Prosperity. The coalition doesn’t plan to appeal, its lawyer Donald Mooney said Tuesday.
Smith’s clients are fighting the arena project on two tracks. Besides seeking to overturn Frawley’s decision from last month, they had earlier appealed his ruling in July that denied them an injunction that would have prevented construction from getting underway. Demolition of the arena site at Downtown Plaza began a few days later, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held last week featuring Mayor Kevin Johnson and Kings Chairman Vivek Ranadive.
The 3rd District Court of Appeal heard 30 minutes’ worth of arguments on the injunction question Tuesday. The three associate justices declined to make an immediate ruling, but appeared skeptical of Smith’s main contention: that Senate Bill 743, the year-old state law that made it considerably harder to secure an injunction blocking construction of the Sacramento arena, is unconstitutional.
Smith told the justices that SB 743 “is treading on the integrity and the independence of the courts.” He said it turns the CEQA law “into a charade.” He also took aim at a provision of the law, authored by former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, which shortened the time available to the courts to process CEQA suits against the arena.
That argument sparked a rebuke from Associate Justice George Nicholson, who said it was “very troubling” that Smith believes the court is rushing through its deliberations. “We’re giving you short shrift?” Nicholson said, glaring at Smith. “Where’s the short shrift?”
Attorney Shaye Diveley, representing the city, called SB 743 “a valid exercise of the Legislature’s power to amend CEQA.” She argued that Frawley’s more recent decision, in which he threw out the entire case, makes the injunction issue moot. But the justices indicated they don’t believe the issue is moot and will make a ruling on the constitutionality of the new law.
Proponents of the new arena have said they need a speedy resolution of any legal challenges to the project. The arena is scheduled to open in October 2016. If that timetable slips by more than a year, and the building isn’t open by 2017, the NBA has the option to buy the Kings and move them out of town. That was a condition of the league’s decision last year to block the proposed relocation of the Kings to Seattle and approve the sale of the team to an investor group led by Ranadive.