Court denies injunction blocking Sacramento Kings arena construction

The lawsuits challenging the new Sacramento Kings arena continue to fail in court.

Ensuring that the $477 million project will stay on track, an appeals court Thursday denied arena opponents’ request for an injunction that would have halted construction.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld a lower-court ruling, issued in July, that said the project could proceed. A dozen Sacramentans, led by retired Caltrans director Adriana Saltonstall, sought an injunction blocking construction under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. The Kings broke ground on the arena, at the eastern end of Downtown Plaza, in late October.

The Saltonstall group based its appeal largely on the constitutionality of SB 743, a year-old law designed to remove roadblocks to arena construction that could arise under the powerful and sometimes cumbersome CEQA law.

SB 743, written specifically for the Kings project, makes it considerably harder for arena foes to obtain an injunction stopping construction. It also sets a target of 270 days for resolving any CEQA litigation over the arena, although that isn’t a firm deadline.

The Court of Appeal said the law, authored by former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is constitutional. The Legislature was perfectly entitled to amend CEQA, the court said. The ruling was written by Associate Justice Andrea Hoch, with concurrences from Justices George Nicholson and Louis Mauro.

The Kings declined comment on the ruling, and Saltonstall’s attorney Kelly Smith couldn’t be reached.

The Kings and city officials have said speed is important. The NBA has the right to buy the Kings and move them out of town if the arena, which will replace aging Sleep Train Arena, doesn’t open by 2017. That’s a condition of the NBA’s decision in 2013 to let an investor group led by Vivek Ranadive buy the club from the Maloofs, who had wanted to sell the team to a group from Seattle.

As it is, the new arena is scheduled to open a year before the NBA’s deadline, in October 2016.

Arena opponents have been consistently frustrated in the courts so far. Notably, a judge last February tossed out petitions demanding a public vote on the city’s subsidy for the arena project. The petitions had enough signatures but were improperly worded, the judge said.

Legal challenges remain, however. Saltonstall’s group is pressing a broader fight at the appeals court under the CEQA law, arguing that the downtown project will lead to traffic jams, air pollution and even postgame rioting by Kings fans.

Separately, three citizens are challenging in court the $255 million city subsidy for the project, saying it’s illegal. That case is due to go to trial next April. The city is paying for the subsidy mainly by borrowing against future downtown parking revenue.

The last remaining legal fight has to do with land acquisition costs. The city and Kings are fighting with the owners of the old Macy’s men’s store at Downtown Plaza, which was acquired through eminent domain and torn down. That case is set for trial next March.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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