The City of Sacramento has spent millions defending itself against lawsuits related to the downtown arena project. Earlier this week the court of appeals heard arguments in the final one, quizzing both sides about the environmental impact of the arena. What is this lawsuit about?
Last May, the day after the City certified its final Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) and approved the arena project, Adriana Saltonstall and others filed a petition in Sacramento Superior Court claiming that (1) the City’s EIR was defective and (2) the statute expediting review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) was unconstitutional, and asking for a preliminary injunction to stop construction. Judge Frawley refused to grant a preliminary injunction and rejected all of Saltonsall’s claims:
Saltonstall claimed that the City “approved” the project before the EIR when it approved a non-binding preliminary term sheet in 2012. The judge ruled that the term sheet was not “approval” of the project.
Saltonstall claimed that the City failed to evaluate the alternative of remodeling the existing arena to achieve the project’s objective. The judge ruled that the project’s objective was a long term home for the Kings, and remodeling the existing arena would not achieve that objective.
Saltonstall claimed that the City failed to analyze or mitigate the arena’s traffic impacts because it didn’t count possible “standees” at events and didn’t address impacts on I-5. The judge ruled the City’s assumption that the attendance at each event would be full seating capacity, i.e. 17,500 attendees, was reasonable, and that the EIR did adequately address freeway impacts.
Saltonstall claimed that the City failed to analyze the potential “violence” of arena crowds. The judge ruled that speculation about potential crowd violence is not a CEQA issue.
Saltonstall claimed that the City failed to address the project’s impacts on housing. The court ruled that housing affordability is a social/economic and not a CEQA issue.
Saltonstall claimed that the City failed to analyze and mitigate impacts on historic Old Sacramento. The court ruled that the EIR did analyze those impacts.
Saltonstall claimed that a state statute that modified CEQA for the arena project was unconstitutional because it made it impossible for a court to grant a preliminary injunction and to meet shortened review deadlines. The court ruled that the statute did not impinge on the power of the court and was not unconstitutional.
Saltonstall appealed Judge Frawley’s rulings to the Third District Court of Appeal. The appellate court has already ruled that the statue that modified CEQA was not unconstitutional and the denial of a preliminary injunction was proper. On Monday the court heard oral arguments on the rest of Saltonstall’s environmental claims. Stay tuned to find out what it decides, but don’t bet on the appeals court doing anything to stop construction on the arena.