Late last week, a group calling themselves Sacramento Coalition for Shared Prosperity filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate asking the court to address the legal adequacy of the City’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the arena project.
The group sent out a release, “While the Coalition supports the good jobs created by the project, it has concerns about potentially negative impacts, which include the displacement of low-income residents due to higher rent and the closure of the Marshall Hotel, increased traffic, potential threats to public safety and more competition for small businesses.”
They add, “This decision to file came after numerous attempts to negotiate a comprehensive Community Benefits Agreement to ensure that the Arena’s impacts to the environment and community were fully mitigated and Sacramento residents obtained meaningful mitigation in exchange for their invested tax dollars in the project.”
“We are disappointed to have to take this matter to court, but our attempts to have discussions with the Kings ownership group and the City of Sacramento have largely been overlooked and ignored. We remain committed to monitoring the current and potential impacts of the Arena’s construction and operation that low-income Sacramentans face, and we vow to do our very best to defend their environment and quality of life by pushing for affordable homes, equitable transportation options and public safety measures,” said Sacramento Housing Alliance Executive Director Darryl Rutherford.
Don Mooney, a Davis attorney who represents the Coalition, explained what the Coalition seeks to accomplish by filing a Petition for a Writ of Mandate: “In filing this action today, we are asking the Court to direct the City to rescind approval of the EIR on the grounds that it fails to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).”
The coalition believes, “The Arena project falls short of CEQA requirements because the EIR failed to disclose, analyze or mitigate impacts to local street traffic, air quality and climate change. It also failed to address the EIR’s inconsistency with the City of Sacramento’s Housing Element. These findings have revealed that the Arena plan would disproportionately impact the health and safety of low-income residents.”
Headed by the Sacramento Housing Alliance (SHA), the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and the Capital Region Organizing Project (CROP), the Coalition has identified numerous Community Benefits Agreements achieved by developers and residents in cities throughout the state and nation.
“Without such an agreement, Sacramento would be the only major city to be without benefits tied to a development of this type,” the group argues. “The Coalition’s proposed community benefits include a $40 million contribution to the Housing Trust Fund in order to accommodate low-wage workers whose jobs will be created by the Arena and ancillary developments’ construction.”
California Reinvestment Coalition Executive Director Paulina Gonzalez commented on the need for affordable homes as part of a Community Benefits Agreement: “Cities across the country have negotiated comprehensive Community Benefits Agreements that include tens of millions of dollars in affordable housing funds to address the displacement of local low income residents by development projects. The proposed new Kings arena is paid for in part by tax payer dollars and Sacramento should settle for no less for its residents.”
However, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton argues that housing advocates are putting their greed on display. He writes, “Principled, albeit misguided, opposition to the downtown arena has been replaced by people with outstretched hands in search of cash – lots of it. They want millions of dollars and are going about it in a time-tested way in our state – by using the California Environmental Quality Act as cover for a shakedown.”
He argues, “It’s the city of Sacramento that will have to pay out of its general fund to defend this CEQA suit and another that was recently filed. Eventually, the Kings will reimburse the city for these costs. But the initial outlay of legal fees – and all the city staff time diverted away from working on affordable housing projects to prepare for the case – will be borne by the city.”
“Sacramento is already on the hook for as much as $750,000 in general fund money to defend a different suit that alleges fraud in the Kings arena deal. Because that suit was filed before the city and the Kings formalized the arena deal, Sacramento has to spend nearly $1 million in legal fees with no Kings reimbursement.”
Mr. Breton writes, “The housing advocates suing the city under CEQA should be ashamed for other reasons. The downtown core of Sacramento already represents the greatest concentration of affordable housing in the entire region.”
He continues, “As recently as 2006, the city of Sacramento produced more affordable housing than any other jurisdiction in the state. In what is known as the central business district of Sacramento – from the Sacramento River to 16thStreet and from H Street to L Street – there are 1,524 housing units, according to the city. A whopping 77 percent of those units are designated affordable housing, while only 23 percent are market rate, according to city figures.”
Mr. Breton continues, “The Kings have committed to contributing $863,760 to the City Housing Trust Fund, monies used to assist the financing of new affordable housing projects for working people. The Kings will pay the $863,760 once the arena is done. But that contribution will grow to $2 million once the Kings complete ancillary development around the arena.”
He adds, “The money in the City Housing Trust Fund is used for people with very low or low incomes. Very low is defined as 50 percent of the area median income, and low is 80 percent, city officials said.”
“In other words, the city already has a ton of housing that’s below market rate and available to working, low-income people and very-low-income people,” he writes. “In other words, the Kings are already poised to make a substantial contribution to a long-held city policy that Sacramento is committed to providing housing for people of all incomes.”
“In other words, to provide true diversity in housing in Sacramento’s downtown core, what is needed is not more affordable housing. What is needed is more market-rate housing and higher-end housing,” Mr. Breton argues, “It’s poised to happen, and when it does no one should believe the myth that Sacramento doesn’t support affordable housing.”
The Coalition’s proposed benefits encourage public transit, minimize traffic congestion and increase travel affordability. When asked why these measures were important, ECOS Board Member Alex Kelter answered, “The arena should truly be carbon neutral. The EIR does not show how this carbon neutrality will be achieved. Just because cars are getting cleaner, that by itself doesn’t make the arena carbon neutral. There have to be more incentives for transit, such as using event tickets as RT and Yolobus passes. RT and Yolobus need to expand their service, and that would be a worthwhile investment for the city and the Kings, and would help achieve carbon neutrality.”
When asked to explain the bigger picture of the impacts of the Arena, SHA Housing Advocacy and Organizing Director Tamie Dramer said, “The new Kings Arena will fundamentally change the character of Downtown Sacramento for the benefit of very few of the region’s residents. For over a year, the Sacramento Coalition for Shared Prosperity has been trying to negotiate on behalf of the current residents with the Kings ownership to ensure that any benefit of the new Arena be shared with those whose lives will be impacted the most. Rather than negotiating, they are taking a Manifest Destiny approach to the Arena development in which the concerns and development plans of the original population and local businesses do not matter. But they do matter!”
—David M. Greenwald reporting