A state appeals court will hear arguments on the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 suit to invalidate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to build a new Sonics arena in Sodo:
“There is no ‘Bring Back the Sonics’ exception to SEPA,” said Peter Goldman, attorney for the longshore workers, refering to the State Environmental Policy Act. Goldman argues that the agreement with Hansen triggered a series of steps, including acquiring an NBA team, designing a new arena and seeking building permits at the Sodo location that foreclose meaningful consideration of alternate locations that might have fewer environmental impacts.
“The question is how much can government agree to with a private developer before doing SEPA,” Goldman said. “The whole deal was designed to build momentum for an arena in Sodo.”
The longshore workers lost at the trial court in February when Superior Court Judge Douglass North ruled that the agreement with Hansen specified that it could not be finalized until a complete environmental assessment had been completed.
I've had this conversation with Peter Goldman a couple of times, and I still don't entirely get it. So I'll presume it's a technically legal one, rather than a logical one.
A SEPA review is being conducted, after which the city and/or council may back out of or modify the MOU if serious environmental concerns are raised. But whether or not the review finds that an alternative site would be preferable from an environmental perspective, alternative sites are moot, as they all lack the one thing the Sodo site has: an investor willing to develop the site. So in that sense, these other sites aren't really alternatives.
That's what seems to have Goldman so flustered—that in this deal SEPA's alternative site evaluation requirement amounts to nothing more than a formality. But that is the nature of this deal. This isn't a choice between building an arena in Sodo or Seattle Center or Bellevue. Unless some other developer comes along with a viable proposal, this is a choice between building an arena in Sodo, or not at all. We can't force Hansen to build an arena where he doesn't want to build an arena, and we're certainly not going to build it ourselves.
So yeah, Goldman's right that "the whole deal was designed to build momentum for an arena in Sodo." But while SEPA requires alternative site review, it doesn't require picking the environmentally best alternative. In fact, the council has already evaluated alternative sites, and I'm betting if they took a vote today, the KeyArena location would beat out Sodo easily. You know, given the choice. A choice they don't have.
So maybe Goldman has a legal case to make that the timing is off—that it should be SEPA then MOU, not the other way around. I dunno. I'm not an attorney. But apart from throwing a temporary monkey wrench into the proceedings, either way it won't make a difference.