City and Golden State Warriors basketball officials said a last minute legal letter given to the Santa Cruz City Council hours before its meeting Tuesday could be a game changer for the proposed $5.6 million stadium planned to open downtown Dec. 23.
The stadium, built in a tent and expected to stay up seven years, would be the first of its kind in the country. The team is the D-league, or minor league franchise for the Warriors now based in North Dakota.
The letter drafted by a San Carlos law firm and passed out by the Beach Hill Neighborhood Association says that the city violated its own codes by not building 1,140 parking spaces with the building that would hold 3,000 people for games or 4,000 for concerts. It would also violate the California Environmental Quality Act by producing greenhouse gases and noise pollution.
And, it says, the project isn't consistent with the city's earlier plan to build 95 apartments in the neighborhood.
"It is important to keep in mind that the Beach Hill Neighbors Association is not necessarily opposed to the stadium arena itself," says the letter, which was giving to the council at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, before the scheduled 7 p.m. public hearing. "Instead, it is opposed to the Project because it is deficient for the reasons set forth in this letter. Rushing to approve the Project without correcting these deficiencies, could subject the Project to legal challenge resulting in further delay."
Mayor Don Lane stopped the Tuesday night hearing in a packed council chambers, saying that the council would review the legalities in a 1 p.m. meeting Wednesday and probably return for a public hearing at 7 p.m.
The city's planning commission approved the plan unanimously
"This is one of the most selfish acts I've ever witnessed in my life," said Warriors President Jim Weyermann. "It's in total disregard for the economic benefits and well-being for Santa Cruz and it's in total disregard for the overwhelming support that exists for this project."
Weyerman was distressed that the complaint came up at the last minute and thought it was a plan by the neighbors group to get rid of the project despite the earlier public hearing.
City planners and officials had touted the sports and entertainment building as a way to boost business in restaurants and shops, to bring tourists in during the off-season and to help clean up the blighted area between downtown and the Beach Boardwalk. The 33,000-square-foot stadium would be built on a parking lot behind Wheel Works, which is now used for Boardwalk employees, who would be shuttled to the park from another lot downtown.
Because the building – a giant tent like those used for Cirque du Soleil – is a temporary structure, they said they didn't immediately need to do an environmental impact study. City planners also said that there were enough parking places around downtown to accommodate the 3,000 fans who would come to 25 home games.
The San Carlos law firm of Aaronson, Dickerson, Cohn and Lanzone argued that the building is too big, not set back far enough from the road, has no landscaping and is a noise, parking and traffic nuisance. They said the city hadn't done enough study on the impacts to the residential neighborhood around it.
Beach Hill neighborhood member Debbie Jelten, who has lived in the area above the Boardwalk for 23 years, said her concern was for parking. In the summer she often has to walk two blocks to her house because of the beach traffic and parking. She wants the city to restrict the area to permit parking only in the winter as it does already for the summer.
She said traffic in the area was restricted before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but was opened up afterwards when much of downtown was destroyed. It was supposed to be a temporary measure, but has remained open, something that she said forced the neighbor's group to take decisive action now.
Residents and planners were surprised at the speed with which the project has moved. It was brought to the city in May and approved by the Planning Commission in three months. Planning Commission Chairman William Schultz called it a model of how the city should operate.
The team has rented an office on Pacific Avenue and printed up Santa Cruz Warriors shirts. The city was planning to loan the team money for construction which would be paid back with interest.
The city has for years been viewed as anti-business and anti-growth. Last year Beach Hill residents and politician Mark Stone helped shoot down a $28 million hotel project at the dilapidated La Bahia apartments on Beach Street which proponents say would have brought in millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs. The hotel was nixed by the Coastal Commission because it was too tall by 14 feet, or 1 1/2 stories over the current limit.
Mayor Lane said the complaints could end the project. Weyerman, the Warriors executive, said that the team wouldn't be able to finish the job by its Dec. 23 opening day if it were held up by legal disputes.
But he said the Warriors have some good lawyers who can answer the complaints.
"Don't count us out," said Weyermann, a former Capitola resident. "We're have great fourth quarter players. They haven't met our legal team yet."