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Traffic jams will only get worse on I-5
Community Voice Opinion

Community Voice: They Break the Law, We Get the Traffic

Massive traffic jams on our freeways is what Sacramento has to look forward to thanks to City Hall’s unlawful handling of Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for the Kings arena.

EIRs are required by the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA is not just about beetles, snakes, and hawks. It’s a tool, when used properly, to help protect us humans from excessive noise, air pollution, traffic congestion, etc.

CEQA is revolutionary in the sense of requiring government agencies to actually consider consequences of major land use decisions before those decisions are made.

CEQA, through the EIR process, requires officials, and helps citizens, to learn about big problems with a proposed project and about steps to manage those problems. Crucially, officials must honestly consider reasonable alternatives that cause fewer/smaller problems than initial proposals based on politicians’ whims or cronyism.

Unfortunately, several documents and official statements indicate that before the arena EIR was even written, the process of evaluating alternatives to downtown was being skewed. The EIR itself says that outside pressures and City Hall’s definition of project parameters tilted the EIR away from non-downtown alternatives.

Significantly, ample vacant land is available at the site of the present arena in Natomas, where freeway ramps were designed to handle arena crowds.

It appears City Hall made a “substantive” decision to put the arena downtown before the EIR provided any guidance—which is illegal under CEQA. Whitewashing problems and rigging the selection of alternatives would be illegal, too.

But City Hall went through the motions of an EIR. It gathered, analyzed and (theoretically) organized findings in a draft EIR; made the draft available to the public to review and comment upon; and released a final EIR consisting of the public comments matched with official responses—along with various changes, deletions, additions or corrections to the draft.

You can download the draft and final EIRs at portal.cityofsacramento.org in the “Planning Entitlements” section. If you poke around, you’ll probably agree: this EIR was less about spotlighting problems than about making itself unreadable.

My favorite section is “Comments and Responses,” which exposes problems with the EIR and reveals bureaucrats trying to disguise those problems. Here is a taste. One public comment knocked the draft for saying vehicles exiting J Street at I-5 on game nights would be blocked for “more than 10 minutes.” The data showed 14 minutes, 39 seconds. City Hall’s response was that “more than 10 minutes” was accurate enough.

Another comment cited a footnote admitting that traffic flow projections in the EIR were wrong. Real traffic would be much worse. The computer model failed to factor in the real-life bottlenecks along I-5. Didn’t this vital information deserve more than a footnote?

City Hall’s response: “The use of footnotes such as this to explain results is standard practice…”

Caltrans commented that its analysis showed every Kings home game would back up traffic along southbound I-5 from J Street across the American River and deep into Natomas. Interstate-80 traffic entering southbound I-5 would completely back up on the connecting ramps and congest traffic on I-80. Motorists escaping gridlock on I-80 would add more than 1,300 incoming vehicles to Highway 160/12th Street.

The EIR’s final word on this mess: “The project would exacerbate some freeway segments…”

Caltrans says there is no feasible fix for the J-Street ramps. We’ll just have to live with game night Carmageddon. However, it gets much worse.

The traffic predictions falsely assume arena attendance will be no more than 17,500, despite what the Kings have decreed. They bragged they will sometimes sell one to two thousand standing room tickets and allow 10,000 people to watch games from outside. If 10,000 free spots are available, will 20,000 people try their luck getting one?

The first two public comments above were made by former Director of Caltrans Adriana Gianturco Saltonstall, who, with me and 10 other Sacramento citizens, is suing City Hall for this unlawfully prepared EIR.

In my comment, I requested that the final EIR include traffic projections (presumably hours of gridlock) for those publicized larger crowds. City Hall refused.

Our suit is intended to lead to the drafting of an honest EIR and a spurred renegotiation of the city’s subsidy to the Kings billionaires, possibly saving Sacramentans hundreds of millions of dollars over 35 years.

Our first hearing is October 10.

Disclosure: Kevin Coyle is one of 12 Sacramento citizens suing City Hall for improper environmental review of the arena project.

About the author

Kevin Coyle

Kevin Coyle

  • Unpersuasive, at least from a real-world perspective*. You mean that people who drive will get stuck in traffic? Whodathunkit? Perhaps some will be encouraged to arrive early or stay late in order to miss the worst of it; I’m sure the restaurants and bars adjacent to the arena won’t mind.
    *I am not qualified to comment on the legal merits of your argument.

  • RyanS

    Yes, by all means, keep everything that attracts a lot of people out in the suburbs, where we can engineer everything to accommodate the fact that 100% of attendees are forced to drive. I’m not a huge fan of the arena deal as it all ended up, but honestly, I’m quite glad CEQA was reformed. I’m tired of every solution being made around drivers, and every road being built to accommodate people during the rare busy times during the day. Meanwhile, the 90% of time that there isn’t traffic, we have unwelcoming, dangerous streets.

    Also, honest question. If traffic is really going to turn into a carmaggedon-mcclustereff, why would the people who are trying to make money move forward with an arena in that location? If it’s such a nightmare, who is going to come to those games?

    • Justin Panson

      Downtown is the right place for the arena for a lot of reasons, but this article suggests that the traffic issue alone should determine where the arena is built. Actually, of all possible locations, downtown offers the most non-auto transport options.

      Temporary traffic jams are a consequence of having large events—most people accept that as an element of modern life. The article incorrectly elevates event-specific traffic jams to the level of being a deal breaker.

      That being said, I do agree that the development process and the financial promises have been rigged and are not honest.

      • RyanS

        I hope it was clear that my first sentence was sarcastic. I agree that downtown is the best place for something like that–not simply because it allows alternatives for car travel, but because it has the potential to add vibrancy that a suburban stadium doesn’t.

  • enemyofpoliticians

    49ers new stadium is a case example – Google it. The City of Santa Clara also fudged the EIR – the repercussions make the news every 49ers game. pffft… but no one cares, Americans are idiots.

    • RyanS

      Ahh good. I’m glad we brought back the comments sections. This one scores 2 points for first telling us to google something instead of providing links or doing original research and also calls Americans idiots.

  • NorCalGal

    Getting to shout “I told you so” out our windows while being stuck in that regularly scheduled Carmageddon so many of us forewarned about won’t help much, and perhaps people will be so relieved to get out of their vehicles that they won’t even mind the increased parking rates, but all that really matters is that our mayor won. The Sacramento Kings will be his legacy. WooHoo!
    To the downtown locals: BooHoo! Quit yer whining. You’ll soon be living in a swanky, metropolitan, downtown area. Well, you will be if you can still afford it. Might as well sell the car though.

  • Cali Curmudgeon

    Perhaps the farce of “traffic calming” in down town and midtown will get exposed for what it is. They will have to reopen E and F, G and H, and S and T streets to one way traffic, signals timed
    appropriately. I have an old city map from 1964 which shows those streets as one
    ways east-west. They will also have to reestablish 19th and 21st streets as one way all the
    way up to E and F streets, and all the way down through Land Park.

  • Rio Linda Online

    Oh, for Pete’s sake… there’s a traffic jam after EVERY Kings game. There’s a traffic jam after EVERY event in Sacramento because we haven’t added a freeway in 40 years, and the roads are in piss-poor condition.

    Besides, what makes this any different than the traffic jams we have daily on 50, 80 and 5? It’s part of living here. It’s certainly no reason to avoid building a venue that will draw events and keep some revenue in Sacramento, and not the Bay Area.

  • Curmudgeon

    “The first two public comments above were made by former Director of Caltrans Adriana Gianturco Saltonstall, who, with me and 10 other Sacramento citizens, is suing City Hall for this unlawfully prepared EIR.”
    The lady who broought about our traffic messes in the first place? Swell.

  • Jeff Bradway

    This argument completely ignores the fact that every Monday through Friday twice a day many, many times that amount of cars stream in and out of downtown for work. The freeways and off ramps handle it just fine. The games and events are almost always scheduled for evenings, hours after the commute has ended, or on weekends. And if you really can’t take the traffic, just hop the light rail and it will drop you off at the door to the arena.

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