Rules Football-Size Sewage Tank Construction Can Begin as Scheduled
By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – It’s generally a high bar for a court to grant a preliminary injunction in a civil suit – and maybe especially true for a citizens group up against a municipality.
And that was the case here again when a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled late this week against a citizens group request for a preliminary injunction to delay the construction of a football-sized underground sewage tank under an iconic Sacramento Park, nearly a century and a half old.
Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi, who held a very brief hearing Feb. 15, released his decision Wednesday that says, in essence, to a group of East Sacramento residents, Citizens for a Safe and Sewage-Free McKinley Park (CSSFMP), that the project can move on as scheduled – excavation to begin in July, and all construction completed by 2021.
The group, the judge ruled, “has failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits” in the lawsuit, which is necessary for the requested stay and a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo, which would have prevented the City from starting the project until the lawsuit is settled, which could take years.
The defendants, in this case the City of Sacramento and the members of the Sacramento City Council, appear to have won the first round, although the lawsuit in main continues.
The injunction was sought because the citizen group maintains that McKinley Park, which opened in 1872, will be harmed from the destruction of around 60 trees, to the destruction of its iconic baseball backstop and diamond. Not to mention the noise and air pollution in the area from construction.
The goal of the project, said the city, is to alleviate “stress” on the combined sewer and storm water system and provide offline storage during severe storm “events” and would include flow control valves, odor control, and other protections to reduce flooding in for 200,000 residents in downtown Sacramento, River Park, Land Park, Curtis Park, Oak Park, and East Sacramento.
The citizens group disagrees, and notes that McKinley Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places just days after the Sacramento City Council approved a measure to build a $36 million basin under the 33-acre park.
CSSFMP argued in its petition that the Environmental Impact Report is deficient. The judge, in his decision, didn’t it see in that way, suggesting the Plaintiffs don’t have a good chance at winning if and when the lawsuit goes before a jury.
But while the citizens group said in its filings that the EIR’s analysis of the Project’s impacts on trees was deficient, and that 60 or more would be killed and many others impacted, the City argued that only a handful of trees would be removed, and 60 new ones planted.
The judge sided with the city, ruling the “evidence does not demonstrate excavation occurring within the structural root zones of any of the subject trees.”
And residents who are part of the lawsuit said the EIR failed to “study impacts on hazards and hazardous materials, cause “millions of gallons of sewage and sewage-contaminated stormwater to be imported from the region’s combined sewer system into McKinley Park” and that the EIR fails to evaluate the short-term and long-term risks of these hazardous materials.”
The judge disagreed once again, providing fodder to the defendants’ claim that the project will reduce the environmental hazards that otherwise occur during severe storms when flooding allows untreated wastewater to remain in low-lying areas in the McKinley Park area.
Likewise, the judge rejected arguments that the EIR failed because it did not “adequately analyze impacts on historical resources,” including “baseball specific” elements (baseball has been played there for nearly a century) , horseshoe pits and light standards, noting that the City plans to have a replacement “multi-purpose” field.
Finally, the court also didn’t agree with the Plaintiffs argument that the EIR’s air quality impacts analysis is legally deficient and the EIR “fails to adequately analyze” the project’s air quality impacts.