Having defended well locally Friday, the Sonics probably are left with seeing whether they can be outscored by Sacramento. If they can’t, the bodacious deal to bring back the NBA to Seattle probably will be successful.
Little more than a year after the Seattle sports world first heard of a Roosevelt High School kid with a billion-dollar jones for pro hoops in his home town, Chris Hansen, the city and King County scored a legal victory when a judge dismissed Friday afternoon the suit brought by a longshore union against the arena’s location.
Saying he was being asked by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union No. 19 to decide “a political issue when I can decide only a legal issue,” King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North agreed with Hansen and the city attorney’s office that the memorandum of understanding among the defendants that launched Hansen’s pursuit of relocating the Kings to Seattle doesn’t violate state environmental law yet.
Hansen’s plan to put his $490 million basketball/hockey arena immediately south of Safeco Field has drawn the ire of the union, the Port of Seattle mostly because of its impacts on traffic and freight mobility in an already congested area. The MOU says that a review under the State Environmental Policy Act is mandatory, including a study of SoDo impacts and consideration of alternative sites, a process now underway.
But since the review has yet to produce its report, and since the city and county have taken no action, North said he had no grounds to agree to a SEPA violation.
North rejected the argument of union attorney Peter Goldman, who said that creation of the MOU with specific language that favored the SoDo site was an action that violated SEPA, and that filing a lawsuit before final approval was the one “bite of the apple” opponents had to stop the “avalanche” of momentum. SEPA should have occurred before the MOU, Goldman said: “It’s backwards.”
The judge said the agreement set out a framework for a future deal, but didn’t commit the city or county to building an arena south of downtown.
Naturally, the electeds were elated with the decision.
“This is a big win in our work to bring the Sonics home to Seattle,” said Mayor Mike McGinn in a statement. “We are continuing our efforts to follow the decision-making path laid out by the MOU. At the end of that path are decisions by the city and county councils, equipped with more information, on how to proceed with a proposed arena. Part of that new information will be the environmental impact statement which will fully examine the impacts of an arena at various locations.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine added, “We remain committed to carrying out our regulatory responsibilities and the required review . . . In that process we will thoroughly examine the issues raised by the ILWU.
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric. We have traffic issues in SoDo with or without an arena. Let’s look at what are the genuine transportation issues, and develop sensible solutions. It is well within our ability to figure out how to keep people and goods moving through this area.”
President Cameron Williams, who filed the suit on behalf of the union in October, issued a statement saying the union “will continue to oppose the arena site.” Goldman and fellow attorney David Mann said as they left the courtroom that they were disappointed, but undecided about an appeal.
A longtime Seattle land use attorney hired by Hansen, Jack McCullough, offered to North that the ILWU position suffers from “an exuberance of imagination” and that “not one iota of municipal discretion has been limited by the MOU.”
The point addresses the belief by opponents that since SEPA’s conclusions still have to be voted on by the councils, the politicians are highly unlikely to abandon their commitment to Hansen and the SoDo site, no matter what the report says about environmental consequences.
After the decision, union attorney David Mann offered a wrinkle: Since the city and county have made clear in arguments that the panels will take full responsibility for approving or disapproving SEPA results, he said the possibility of a “no” vote complicates the NBA’s decision-making regarding the Kings’ relocation.
“It will give the league pause,” Mann said, knowing that a decision to relocate the Kings for next fall is likely to come at an April 18 meeting of the NBA owners, well before the SEPA report is expected to be completed.
Nevertheless, the quick dispatch of the ILWU case created momentum for Hansen.
“We got over a hurdle in that we put this behind us, but we still have a lot of work to do,” McCullough said.
Another piece of litigation is pending against the project. Taxpayers who claimed the project is in violation of Initiative 91, a city law passed in 2006 that mandates a small profit be returned to the city for leasing KeyArena, have filed suit. But that suit is regarded by city officials as more of a long shot, since city staffers and lawyers renegotiated parts of the agreement before the MOU was signed partly to assure that the deal met or exceeded I-91 requirements. The suit has yet to reach a court calendar.
The upshot for Friday’s outcome is that Hansen’s plan is a step closer to approval in Seattle, but has little influence on the NBA vote, except perhaps to add another layer of urgency to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s attempts at a counteroffer to the Maloof family, owner of the Kings.
Johnson reiterated in an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program Thursday his belief that relocation “is not a done deal.” He said he will meet a March 1 deadline to present an offer that will include a new arena plan as well as a proposed purchase of the Kings, which were valued at $525 million in a purchase and sale agreement between Hansen and the Maloofs.
That’s now a week away, and the distance for his long shot grew a little Friday.
I’m not as confident. My guess is there’s some thrashing about the public subsidy in Sacramento, but they’ll put something together in time and if you heard David Stern during his All Star Game presser, it’s apparent that he places a lot of importance in getting a government handout in what scenario is best. I could see him stick it to Seattle one last time on his way out due mostly to I-91 and the precedent it sets to a business model that includes threats to leave town without regularly updated state of the art arenas paid mostly with taxpayer dollars. I hope I am wrong though.
I-91 is a non issue. Its so vague on how to interpret it. Its has less merits than the IWLU lawsuit. Stern wants to right a wrong. It won’t come down to who provides a better goverment handout. It comes to who provides a better overall package, ownership group, arena plan, cooperate support etc. Seattle is ahead right now with Sacramento way way behind,
You’re right about the Seattle advantages, but there is a fundamental reluctance to move a franchise by any league, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone familiar with the business of pro sports.
I agree that the I-91 suit is weak, but in 2006, its passage sent a signal to the NBA that Seattle citizens and govt didn’t care much about the NBA, which made the OKC move easier. Stern wouldn’t mind making up to Seattle, but if KJ comes up with a credible plan of public and private support, another move would be hard to justify. It’s a big if.
NBA team in Seattle will get a bigger TV contract than Sacramento will ever get. Plus our arena deal will be superior in terms its being designed for a NBA/NHL team. Even if they announce the whales and a deal how long will it take to get all that public fund finalized in time before the April vote.
Sacramento has a huge disadvantage being a 1 town team. And depending on how the funding is split between city and Sacramento and the whale it might be hard to pencil out especially if he has to match or offer more than 525m.
This is exactly another 11th hour for Sacramento like it was the last two years.
Sacramento is the 20th largest TV market, Seattle 13th. Bigger, but not as big a disparity as the Sonics moving from 13th to 46th. TV money is all about national revs and creation of regional sports networks. Wonder how the Sonics and Mariners will enjoy sharing an RSN?
Sacramento has a big advantage as a one-horse town. It’s all they have. Sponsorships aren’t divided among 4-5 other teams. Seattle may have eight Fortune 500 companies, but they care little to nothing about sports-sponsorship gigs. Ever see anything by Amazon, Weyerhaeuser or Paccar? Our big boys don’t play much ball, and every sports executive in town laments it.
Ballmer’s passion is purely personal, not involving the company’s business. Good to have him, but not reflective of company culture.
I’m not sure I agree that “there is a fundamental reluctance to move a franchise by any league.” The NBA has moved four teams in the past twelve years. And the Kings-to-Anaheim deal was probably blocked partly because the Maloofs were trying to invade the Lakers’ and Clippers’ market.
The only sport where relocation almost never happens anymore is baseball (only once since the early ’70s).
I didn’t say it was impossible. A big part of the reason for franchise failure was the lousy CBAs that required two lockouts to potentially cure. Every franchise relocation is an indictment on the league. For Stern to have emerged with a what he thinks was a workable CBA, then move a team, is a repudiation of his claimed success.
Note to all readers: Please remember the importance of CBAs as a major driving force in all league-wide decisions. The league believes it has a formula for all teams to break even in 2-3 years. If so, moving franchises is a sign of a poor business structure. The owners so want to be over that.
Stern said this is not up to him, but up to the BOG and the owners, so, everybody has moved past that, including Stern.
Stern was lying. He was trying to pull his polarizing self out of the spotlight on this deal. But the owners hired him to make recommendations to them, because they don’t have the time/interest to study the topic. So as always, he will be judge and jury.
Actually I think franchise value is what Stern is most concerned about. The fact that Hansen and Ballmer are willing to over pay for the Kings so greatly, to the tune of $525 mil, raises the value of all the other franchises in the league as a result. At best, SCTO may match it (barely and still could be doubtful as no whales have appeared) but I would doubt the league would insult Hansen/Ballmer by killing the deal. Besides, Stern has wanted Ballmer for an owner for years.
They have to appear open to a SCTO counteroffer for future litigation reasons.
Sacramento a year ago approved $255M of public money out of future parking revenues to go into arena construction, but the Maloofs backed out of the deal. KJ claims the contribution is still there. But whether the Sacto whales think it’s not enough, or are willing to increase the private percentage to match Hansen’s proposal in Seattle. hasn’t been disclosed.
Your apprehension is reasonable. It’s a long shot for Sactown, but the clock does not read :00 yet.
That 255m was never finalized. The bid on who gets the parking never took place. I just don’t see Sacramento getting making up that much ground. If they manage to announce whales next week and start negotiations over said arena plan with Sac city council now long will that process take before the final vote?
They can’t just announce plan, pass plan out of committee and vote on plan in 3 weeks. That is just asking for a lawsuit never mind there might be a lawsuit over that funding plan that will cost Sacramento 9m a year in general fund.
I can see them getting a plan done but not before April 18th.
I-91 was just to make sure any city investment into a sports project gets a return on its investment.
Mann offered Art loser talk. He would have recognized it if Mann were wearing a Nariners hat.
A smug snarkiness, Mr. B. I’m guessing we haven’t heard the last.
And today’s other loser, Peter Steinbrueck (get used to it, Peter).
Suck it Goldman, suck it
Looking at the visual here, I can’t help but have some apprehension at the proximity of the arena to the other stadiums. The Sounders have more than replaced the Sonics and it will take a consistent winner with marketable players for the Kings/Sonics to make a dent in the $40K+ that watch the Sounders most of the year. I wonder if ten years from now the Sonics start grousing that they’re too close to the stadiums and can’t compete with them and need help? Especially if they follow Kings tradition and get bounced in the 1st round of the playoffs their first year here and then go 9 years without? d
Feeling pretty sure (but not 100%) that the NBA will move the Kings. Having four teams in Cali and none in the largest city in the NW seems like a no brainer, even if Sacramento is a one horse town. If the Kings were in San Jose, a much larger market, it might be different. But then, moving the Sonics to OKC is a head shaker itself, Clay and Sterno’s friendship not withstanding.