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Citizens for More Important Things v. King County

March 6, 1997

CITIZENS FOR MORE IMPORTANT THINGS, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION; AND CHRIS VAN DYK, APPELLANTS,
v.
KING COUNTY; AND PHIL SANDERS, ITS TREASURER, RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 96-2-13384-1. Date filed: 08/26/96. Judge signing: Hon. Deborah D. Fleck.

As Corrected March 10, 1997.

Authored by Charles W. Johnson. Concurring: Barbara Durham, James M. Dolliver, Charles Z. Smith, Richard P. Guy, Barbara A. Madsen, Gerry L. Alexander. Dissenting: Richard B. Sanders.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Johnson

En Banc

JOHNSON, J. -- This case involves an action under article VII, section 1 of the Washington Constitution challenging certain ordinances passed by King County (County) which implement various funding provisions of Engrossed House Bill 2115 (the Stadium Act). Laws of 1995, 3d Spec. Sess., ch. 1. Appellants, Citizens for More Important Things and Chris Van Dyk (Citizens), assert the expenditure of public funds by the County for preconstruction costs of a major league baseball stadium prior to the County obtaining a binding commitment from a major league baseball team to play in the stadium is not for a valid public purpose. On cross motions for summary judgment, the Superior Court dismissed Citizens' complaint and granted the County's motion for summary judgment and declaratory relief. We affirm.

FACTS

We are familiar with the facts giving rise to this case having recently considered and filed an opinion in CLEAN v. State, 130 Wash. 2d 782, 928 P.2d 1054 (1996) (addressing the constitutionality of the Stadium Act which authorizes various measures for the construction of a major league baseball stadium in King County). Following the Legislature's passage of the Stadium Act in an October 1995 special session, the County passed several ordinances implementing that legislation in order to begin the process of building a baseball stadium, including King County Ordinance 12000 (Oct. 25, 1995), Ordinance 12176 (Mar. 29, 1996), and Ordinance 12213 (Apr. 19, 1996).

Through Ordinance 12000, the County implemented the various taxes authorized by the Stadium Act, created the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Facilities District (SFD) and an independent financial review committee, and authorized the assembly and conveyance to the SFD of real property necessary for the baseball stadium. Next, the County passed Ordinance 12176, appropriating $24,240,477 to the stadium project and authorizing moneys received from the State to be passed through to the SFD, in order to pay for preconstruction costs of the baseball stadium.

Shortly thereafter, the County realized the Stadium Act did not authorize State funds to be directly passed through to the SFD. The Stadium Act authorizes the funds generated by license plate and scratch ticket sales "for the purpose of paying the principal and interest payments on bonds issued by the county to construct a baseball stadium, . . ., including reasonably necessary preconstruction costs." Laws of 1995, 3d Spec. Sess., ch. 1, sec.sec. 103(3), 105. Therefore, the County enacted Ordinance 12213 authorizing the issuance of $5 million in bond anticipation notes, guaranteed by the State lottery and license plate revenues, to provide financing to the SFD for preconstruction costs.

On May 20, 1996 (approximately one month after Ordinance 12213 was enacted), Citizens filed its complaint in King County Superior Court. Citizens' complaint alleged:

9. The collection and disbursement of taxes for construction of a new stadium which may never be built and which is to be designed and built for a single tenant who has not yet committed to use the stadium if and when built is an improper and unjustified gamble with taxpayer funds. Such gamble with tax collections is not a proper public purpose and is contrary to Article 7, sec. 1, of the Washington State Constitution. Clerk's Papers at 4-5. The complaint also alleged the financing provision of Ordinance 12213 was an "illegal sham."

Following cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court entered its order on August 26, 1996, granting the County's motion for summary judgment, declaring Ordinances 12000, 12176, and 12213 valid, and dismissing Citizens' complaint with prejudice. Citizens filed a direct appeal to this court, which we accepted. We find the issues presented in this case are controlled by our recent opinion in CLEAN, 130 Wash. 2d 782, 928 P.2d 1054, and affirm the trial court.

ANALYSIS

The issues properly before this court are narrowly limited to: (1) whether preconstruction costs for a baseball stadium are for a proper article VII, section 1 public purpose when there is no binding commitment by the prospective tenant to lease the stadium; and (2) if the answer to the first issue is yes, whether the financing mechanism embodied in Ordinance 12213 is an "illegal sham." Accordingly, while both parties have brought to our attention the lease agreement between the SFD and Baseball Club of Seattle, the County ordinance authorizing the sale of $336 million in construction bonds, and the declaratory judgment action ...


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