United States: Sacramento Kings Win Again; Second CEQA Challenge Rejected

Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento (2/18/2015, 3d Civil No. C077772). For prior post on a related case, see here.

The Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District of California has ruled in favor of the City of Sacramento with regard to a series of challenges brought under CEQA to certification of an EIR and approval of a project to build a new arena in downtown Sacramento. The project involves a partnership between the City and Sacramento Basketball Holdings LLC to build a downtown arena at which the Sacramento Kings will play. To facilitate the timely opening of a new downtown arena, the Legislature modified several deadlines under CEQA by adding section 21168.6.6 to the Public Resources Code. Section 21168.6.6 also allows the City to exercise limited eminent domain powers to acquire property for the project before its environmental review, but does not substantively alter other CEQA requirements. The court held that the City had not prematurely committed itself to the project; the EIR was not deficient for failing to address the remodel of the existing Sleep Train arena; the traffic analysis was not deficient; the failure to study "crowd safety" did not implicate CEQA; and trial court orders may be reviewed only by writ petition, not direct appeal.

The City Did Not Prematurely Commit Itself to the Project

The court first ruled that the City did not prematurely commit itself to approving the project before completing its environmental review. Saltonstall argued that the City had committed itself to the project before completing the EIR process because, before the EIR was certified and approved on May 20, 2014: (1) the City and Sacramento Basketball Holdings entered into, and the city council approved, a preliminary, non-binding term sheet outlining the terms of the transaction; and (2) the City exercised eminent domain to acquire a portion of a block for the site of the downtown arena.

Courts apply a two-prong test to ascertain whether a public agency has improperly committed itself prematurely under CEQA. Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood (2008) 45 Cal.4th 116, 129. First, the analysis focuses on "'whether, in taking the challenged action, the agency indicated that it would perform environmental review before it makes any further commitments to the project, and if so, whether the agency has nevertheless effectively circumscribed or limited its discretion with respect to that environmental review. Second, the analysis should consider the extent to which the record shows that the agency or its staff have committed significant resources to shaping the project. If, as a practical matter, the agency has foreclosed any meaningful options to going forward with the project, then for the purposes of CEQA the agency has 'approved' the project.'" (Save Tara at p. 139, quoting Remy et al., Guide to Cal. Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (11th ed. 2006), at p. 71).

Applying these standards, the court held that although the City took steps towards planning the proposed arena prior to completing its environmental review, the record did not establish premature commitment to the project. The court focused on the preliminary non-binding term sheet which declared that the City had "no obligation to enter into definitive transaction documents, or any transaction," and that "no project or definitive transaction documents shall be approved, until after" the downtown arena project was "reviewed in accordance with the requirements of [CEQA]." The term sheet also expressly provided that the City retained complete discretion to review the project, mitigate adverse environmental effects, and disapprove the project based on the environmental review. Therefore, the term sheet was not a binding contract between the parties, and was instead a non-binding agreement to negotiate. As such, entering into the term sheet did not constitute premature commitment to the project by the City.

The court also concluded that the City's exercise of eminent domain prior to the completion of environmental review was allowed under CEQA because CEQA provides an exception to the prohibition on commitment to a project before environmental review for purposes of land acquisition. In addition, section 21168.6.6 expressly provided that the City could prosecute an eminent domain action prior to completing the environmental review. Consequently, the City had specific statutory authorization to acquire the property through eminent domain without running afoul of CEQA. Plaintiff's remaining arguments regarding the City's pre-commitment were also determined to be meritless under a similar analysis.

 The EIR Was Not Deficient for Failing to Analyze the Remodel of Sleep Train Arena

Second, the court held that the City's environmental report was not deficient for failing to study the option of remodeling the Sleep Train Arena, an arena six miles north of downtown, as an alternative to building the new downtown arena. The City studied four alternatives to the downtown arena project, and explained that those alternatives, in addition to the Sleep Train Arena remodel alternative, all failed to satisfy many of the City's objectives for the project, noting that "a number of objectives are tied directly to locating the [new arena] in downtown." Furthermore, one of the alternatives considered was building a new arena next to the Sleep Train Arena. In analyzing this alternative, the City determined that the location of the Sleep Train Arena was determined to be infeasible due to floodplain issues. The court noted that infeasible alternatives that do not meet project objectives need not be studied even when such alternatives might be imagined to be environmentally superior. The court went on the explain that regardless of whether the Sleep Train Arena remodel alternative might have been environmentally superior to the project approved, the remodel alternative would have suffered the same problems of location and infeasibility that caused the City to reject the other alternatives, and thus, the City's environmental review was not deficient for failing to consider that alternative.

Traffic Analysis Not Deficient

Third, the court ruled that the EIR analysis properly studied the effects of the project on interstate traffic traveling on the nearby section of the I-5  because (a) the City studied the timing and extent of traffic congestion on the freeway that was likely to result due to the project, and, furthermore, the EIR; and (b) the city council's statement of overriding considerations demonstrated that the decision-makers were informed of and understood the adverse consequences on I-5 traffic resulting from the downtown arena project. The court noted that while an EIR must suffice to inform the decision-making public agency about the environmental consequences of approving a project, CEQA does not "mandate perfection, nor does it require an analysis to be exhaustive." El Morro Community Assn. v. California Dept. of Parks & Recreation (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 1342, 1249, quoting Defend the Bay v. City of Irvine (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 1261, 1265. As such, the court noted that a deferential standard of review applies, and an EIR must be upheld if there is substantial evidence in the record to support the agency's decision that the EIR is adequate and complies with CEQA. Because the City's draft EIR studied and disclosed existing problems with the section of the I-5 at peak traffic times and how the downtown arena project would worsen traffic congestion, and also set forth the basis for its methodology and the source of its factual data, the EIR analysis of traffic congestion met the requirements of CEQA.

Failure to Study "Crowd Safety" Does Not Implicate CEQA

Fourth, the court also held that the City's failure to study post-event crowd safety and potential for violence did not implicate CEQA, explaining that mere speculation about possible crowd violence and its possible effect on the environment are social issues that do not compel EIR review.  Additionally, the court found substantial evidence supported the EIR's conclusions regarding the expected crowd size and the potential for police service impacts.

Trial Court Orders May Be Reviewed Only by Writ Petition, Not Direct Appeal

Lastly, the court held that review of trial court orders on Public Records Act motions may only be made by writ petition, not by direct appeal, and thus affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiffs' motion to augment the administrative record.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
29 Nov 2017, Webinar, Los Angeles, United States

This webinar will cover issues that California employers must face when managing a remote workforce of employees who “telecommute” for work. Due to the growing number of employees that work from home, California employers must know how to manage this new remote workforce in order to offer competitive career opportunities for a new generation of employees, while also being careful not to violate the complex California employment laws that govern these work arrangements.

30 Nov 2017, Conference, Brussels, Belgium

The European Competition and Regulatory Law Review (CoRe), the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) are delighted to invite you to our joint conference discussing some of today’s most frequently asked questions: Does competition law enforcement require an update for online markets?

4 Dec 2017, Conference, Virginia, United States

The Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS) is held annually by the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) in the Washington, DC metro area. Formerly intended for those in federal sector, it has grown to provide training for professionals in both government and industry contracting.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.