Who’s winning the race to open a new Kings arena?

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While Sacramento’s fight to keep their Kings could extend all the way to the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting on April 18-19, this week will prove pivotal as both Sacramento and Seattle are set to give their best pitch to the BOG’s joint committees tasked with reviewing the matter today in New York.

League insiders have bounced around on a lot of issues surrounding the Kings saga, but one of the issues that they are in agreement on is that the city that can build an arena first will have a key advantage in the eyes of the owners deciding the fate of the franchise.

In what may be a surprise development to some given Seattle’s head start on the arena building process, sources say that in Wednesday’s meeting and in the coming weeks, Chris Hansen’s group will reveal that they have “very little chance” of opening an arena before the 2017-18 season due to expected challenges under environmental law.

Seattle and Hansen are expected to agree to proceed with an arena deal as early as January 2014, after a final environmental review is conducted.  It is at that time that they are expected to face significant challenges (lawsuits) to their environmental review over traffic and arena location.  Those lawsuits have no time limit to be heard within, so a one-year lawsuit would make it a race for Seattle to open for the 2017-18 season if arena construction takes two years.

Sacramento is on track to open an arena in the 2016-17 season, and has no significant legal opposition to its arena plan as of yet.  There was practically no opposition against the last Sacramento arena plan, although that plan never got into the details of design (where opposition to large developments often form, as it has in Seattle). Also, the Downtown Plaza site for Sacramento’s arena plan is favorably zoned in the eyes of both the city and the league.

Sources with knowledge of the NBA’s view have identified two main differences that define each city’s path to an arena.

The first is a difference in environmental laws that provides Sacramento with an ‘expedited process’ to address any environmental challenges made against their arena deal once an environmental review is complete.

California recently enacted law AB900 at the urging of AEG (which has plans for a football arena in downtown Los Angeles near Staples Center). That law limits environmental challenges to a 175-day time-frame following the approval of an environmental review. Because any challenge must be heard in an appellate court, with statutory directives designed to expedite a challenge, Sacramento has a key legal advantage in the race to build an arena.  Co-Author of the law and member of Sacramento’s arena task force Darrell Steinberg is expected to attend today’s meetings with the joint committees to answer any questions about how the law works.

Should the NBA’s BOG approve the sale of the Kings to Sacramento buyers, an environmental review lasting for one year would result in a construction start date of no later than November 2014 when considering the maximum 175 day review for any environmental challenges.

Because of the certainty the expedited review process provides, Sacramento can present a firm timeline to the league whereas Seattle’s environment laws have no time limit for challenges to be heard and any legal proceedings go through superior (lower) courtrooms.  The expedited process in California takes place in appellate courts, and also gives those courts additional tools to further expedite an arena deal.

The second difference is the amount of resistance the Seattle arena deal is currently facing and will continue to face until all environmental challenges are heard. There are already challenges under Washington environmental laws that will take anywhere from one year or more to resolve according to Peter Goldman, who is currently suing the city on behalf of the local Longshoreman’s union over traffic concerns and the lack of a viable alternative site analysis required under state environmental law. The union’s main concern is union jobs at the port, which it wants to see grow as trade along the Pacific rim grows.

The main issue for opponents of the arena deal is where the arena is being placed. Opponents contend that the stadium district that houses the two existing stadia for the Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders is already congested with traffic that interferes with the Post of Seattle. They’re arguing that even with attempts to mitigate additional traffic issues, the development of an “L.A. Live-like facility” on top of the other stadiums is an issue that cannot necessarily be fixed.

Whether or not these opponents’ claims have merits, league sources expect Hansen to be forthcoming about the possibility that the challenges delay the opening of the new facility.

There has been Seattle-based talk about a pair of pro bono attorneys in Sacramento that have been pursuing a potential lawsuit demanding a voter referendum on the recently approved arena deal.  Those attorneys sent a copy of their ‘intent to commence action’ (a threat to file a lawsuit) to Seattle television stations on Tuesday.

The attorneys contend that Sacramento’s parking monetization plan is effectively a tax that needs to be voted upon by the public, but according to Sports Illustrated and NBA.com Legal Analyst Michael McCann, who has been following the Kings situation closely, he said that’s not likely to be the case.

“An administrative action like a parking monetization plan is not generally subject to referendum, but could be subject to an administrative review by a local agency such as the city treasurer or zoning board.”

Sacramento sources told PBT that they have “no concern about a referendum whatsoever.”