Mt. SAC hillside is set to be east section of new Hilmer Lodge Stadium.
Mt. SAC hillside is set to be east section of new Hilmer Lodge Stadium. Photo by Ken Stone

Updated at 12:20 a.m. April 12, 2018

Mt. San Antonio College has resumed grading on a stadium chosen to host the 2020 Olympic trials for track and field, a college attorney said Wednesday after a court hearing that boosted hopes of money continuing for the project.

But the Mt. SAC lawyer, Sean Absher, had no comment on speculation that a settlement has been reached with the City of Walnut — which nearly a month ago had won an order halting the grading.

With representatives of the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Track & Field watching in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig on Wednesday tentatively rejected a preliminary injunction that would have shut off financing for the Hilmer Lodge Stadium project.

Kendig told United Walnut Taxpayers attorney Craig Sherman of San Diego that his arguments for an immediate halt to Measure RR funding of the $87 million stadium project didn’t wash.

She gave Sherman a chance to knock down her 40-minute detailed reasoning — which she conceded was “long and convoluted.” But at the end of a 100-minute hearing at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, the judge wasn’t swayed.

However, she said she’d consider his arguments — as well as Absher’s — for a final ruling on the injunction request. Sherman said he expected her decision in the next week.

Judge Kendig, meanwhile, set Jan. 14, 2019, as the start of a potential two-week jury trial in the United Walnut Taxpayers lawsuit. That assumes the case isn’t settled beforehand or Kendig doesn’t throw out the case via summary judgment — a request expected from the Mt. SAC side.

Kendig noted that she couldn’t order a preliminary injunction unless it looked probable that the plaintiff — UWT — would prevail at trial.

She also had to take into account the “balance of irreparable harm” either side would suffer under her ruling.

Mt. SAC attorney Sean Absher, outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, uses a phone after Judge Kendig’s hearing. Photo by Ken Stone

In the end, Kendig said: “Neither party has shown it will suffer irreparable harm if the motion is granted or denied.”

The 15-year judge spent eight minutes explaining why she couldn’t take “judicial notice” of many of Sherman’s documents arguing for an injunction.

Citing evidence code, Kendig said PowerPoint slides and minutes of board meetings or citizens bond oversight meetings weren’t sufficient.

“Although I can take judicial notice that the documents exist, I can’t take judicial notice of the truth of the facts in those documents,” she said.

She said Sherman “really hasn’t identified facts” she can use to justify granting the injunction request.

(Later, Sherman told reporters that — despite the judge’s hesitance — jurors could weigh such documents at trial. Both parties agreed that the documents could be used as evidence, he said.)

More pivotal to potential jurors is the question: Did Mt. SAC, in the 2008 bond election, have to specify a stadium would be built — using nearly a quarter of the $353 million approved?

Sherman said no stadium was listed in bond language or the college’s master plan list of projects. Kendig used case law to excuse that omission, saying categories of construction sufficed.

A “list is sufficient if it identifies types of projects,” she said, noting that the stadium would have classrooms for kinesiology students and finally be brought up to federal ADA standards and made quake-safe.

She also noted testimony that the old stadium had inadequate electrical and fiber-optic connections — “kind of like this courthouse” — and the coaches’ lorckerrooms were for males only. Such improvements fell within the bond’s broad promise of repaired classrooms, she said.

What happens if Kendig rejects the injunction request?

Depending on her reasoning, Sherman said he had the option to ask the 2nd District state Court of Appeal — in the Ronald Reagan State Building less than a mile away — for a preliminary injunction.

He said he might get an expedited appeal to prevent Measure RR funds from being “spent and depleted.”

On another track, the City of Walnut’s efforts to halt earth-moving work at the site of the former stadium — built in 1948 but demolished this year — appear to be over.

Wednesday night, the Mt. SAC Board of Trustees — including Trustee Laura Santos, who watched the hearing Wednesday — was set to hear its legal counsel discuss the two lawsuits in closed session.

Craig Sherman, the San Diego-based attorney for United Walnut Taxpayers, said an appeal is possible if the Superior Court judge rejects his bid to halt bond spending on Mt. SAC’s stadium project. Photo by Ken Stone

Results of that meeting weren’t immediately available.

A spokeswoman for Mt. SAC didn’t respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Walnut lawyer suing Mt. SAC.

But the Orange County Register reported that a Mt. SAC spokesperson said Walnut’s city attorney signed a stipulation Tuesday lifting the preliminary injunction that stopped grading on the stadium project.

USATF, the governing body that chose Mt. SAC to host the Olympic Trials over bids from the University of Oregon and Sacramento State, has consistently said the college east of Los Angeles has given assurances the stadium will be ready in time for the June 2020 selection meet for the Tokyo Games.

On Wednesday, USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer said: “We have nothing to add at this time.” After the hearing, USATF deputy general counsel Donald Woodard walked down a courthouse hallway with a clutch of seven or eight other smartly dressed gentlemen but declined to comment.

But a source within USATF told Times of San Diego this week that an article in the Portland Oregonian “got it right” — that the Hayward Field upgrade in Eugene, Oregon, would be finished in time for the Olympic Trials. (It’s being readied for the 2021 IAAF world track and field championships.)

Hayward Field hosted the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Trials.

“Eugene will be ready by April 2020,” said the source, wishing anonymity. “[A] pending announcement of new stadium plans and costs is due later this week although I heard that it will be before April 14.”