When Seattle and King County officials finalized a deal with investor Chris Hansen to provide public financing for a new sports arena in Sodo, they included a provision that no construction could begin until a state environmental review was completed.
Friday, a King County judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by local Longshore workers arguing that the environmental review should have been done before a deal was reached, when the outlines of the proposal to build the sports venue were known.
Both sides of the dispute have agreed to the underlying facts and asked the judge to rule solely on whether the city and county violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The judge, Douglass North, could make a ruling from the bench Friday after the lawyers present their oral arguments starting at 1:30 p.m.
Peter Goldman, attorney for Local 19 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said the pledge to conduct an environmental review is a mere two paragraphs in a detailed, 38-page agreement to finance and develop an arena on property owned by Hansen in Sodo.
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“The question before the court is: ‘Did they make important decisions before conducting an environmental review?’ ” Goldman said.
Goldman said the agreement makes it clear that the Sodo site has been selected and that Hansen is using the deal with the city and county as a basis to purchase a team, obtain NBA approval and distinguish the Seattle proposal from Sacramento’s lack of a tangible arena plan.
“Seattle and King County committed to a Sodo site before any required environmental review or alternate site analysis had been conducted,” Goldman said.
The lawsuit asks the judge to declare the agreement between Hansen, the city and county, null and void.
Attorneys for the city, county and Hansen’s development company, WSA Properties, say the agreement makes clear that no final approval to build or finance the arena will be given until the state environmental review is completed.
And, they say, the fact that the review is covered in just two paragraphs of a complex agreement is irrelevant.
“Contract provisions are not measured by the pound,” said Roger Wynne, director of the land-use section of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. “The parties clearly recognize SEPA and respect SEPA. Nobody’s going forward until SEPA is completed.”
The Longshore workers argue that arena construction could harm key elements of the environment, including air quality, and cause traffic congestion and the loss of industrial lands and freight mobility.
All of these elements are protected under state law, their lawsuit argues, and directly affect union members whose livelihoods depend on getting cargo in and out of Port facilities located blocks from the proposed arena site.
But lawyers for Hansen and the governments have asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that there has been no actual harm and so the union has no standing to sue.
“To have standing, you have to have an injury in fact. Because no final decision on the arena has been made, any harm is speculative,” said Wynne.
The Longshore workers union filed its lawsuit in October, after the agreement with the city, county and Hansen was approved by the city and county councils.
The lawsuit has been used by Sacramento Kings fans to hold out hope that the Seattle deal might be scuttled and Sacramento given a chance to come up with a counterproposal to the NBA.
Hansen announced last month that his investment group had agreed to buy a 65 percent share of the Kings from the Maloof family for an estimated $340 million. Hansen has also petitioned the league to relocate the team to Seattle. That approval could come at the April meeting of the NBA Board of Governors, when the mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson, might make his own proposal on behalf of investors there to purchase the team.
Even if the King County Judge North rejects the Longshore workers lawsuit, the arena plan faces a second legal challenge. That suit argues that the deal with Hansen violates Seattle Initiative 91, which requires the city to make a profit on any public financing of a sports facility.
A trial date in that case is currently set for May 2014.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter:@lthompsontimes