Legislature Passes Arena Bill

Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill 743 (“SB 743”) on September 27, 2013.  The bill amends the Public Resources Code to streamline the environmental review for the new downtown arena in Sacramento and eliminate consideration of level of service, aesthetics, and parking impacts for certain projects, among other things.

The Legislative findings in SB 743 focus on the new downtown Sacramento arena, stating the existing arena, “is an old and outmoded facility located outside of the City of Sacramento’s downtown area”; “a new, more efficient entertainment and sports center located in downtown Sacramento is needed to meet the city’s and region’s needs”; the location of the new arena near heavy and light rail transit facilities in downtown Sacramento will maximize opportunities to encourage nonautomobile modes of travel to the event center; and it is in the interest of the state to expedite judicial review of the new downtown arena.

SB 743 will speed up the CEQA review process for the arena project, provided the new arena is: 1) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certified within one year of completion of the first NBA season, and 2) minimizes operation traffic congestion and air quality impacts through project design and/or the implementation of mitigation measures that meet specified statutory standards.  A full environmental impact report will still be required, although the bill expedites judicial review by accelerating the preparation of the administrative record and requiring Judicial Council to adopt a rule of court requiring any challenge to the arena be resolved within 270 days of certification of the administrative record.  The bill will also make it more difficult to delay the project through litigation.  SB 743 provides that a court shall not stay or enjoin the arena project unless the arena’s continued construction or operation presents an imminent threat to the public health and safety or the site “contains unforeseen important Native American artifacts” or other items of historical, archaeological, or ecological value that would be impacted by the arena.

The bill contains additional CEQA provisions unrelated to the new arena.  It fixes Assembly Bill 900, the Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 2011, to require the Judicial Council to adopt a rule of court for expedited environmental review for environmental leadership projects.  Also, the bill removes aesthetic and parking impacts on residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center projects on infill sites within transit priority areas from consideration when determining significant impacts on the environment. Finally, the bill directs the Office of Planning and Research to prepare and adopt criteria for determining the significance of transportation impacts within a transit priority area.  Thereafter, automobile delay, as described by level of service or similar measures of vehicular capacity or traffic congestion will no longer be considered a significant impact on the environment, except in locations specified in the CEQA guidelines.


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