New Sacramento arena would get Kings patrons off the road, report finds

A downtown Sacramento arena would not cause substantial traffic jams on game nights, thanks to the strength of the city core’s street and freeway system and the likelihood that 10 to 15 percent of patrons will walk or take transit to events, says an author of a draft study released Monday by the city and the Sacramento Kings.

City officials and a consultant who worked on the Environmental Impact Report for a Downtown Plaza arena said, however, that their analysis shows them that the period between 6 and 7 p.m. weeknights would be crowded on streets as late-leaving downtown workers crossed paths with early-arriving arena-goers. Police officers would need to be stationed at key intersections, directing traffic.

The $1 million study, paid for by the Kings, was conducted over the past few months by Environmental Science Associates (ESA), a San Francisco-based environmental and planning consultancy with an office in Sacramento.

City and Kings officials heralded the report, a required part of the development approval process, as a milestone moment in their efforts to plan and build a downtown arena. They say the results show the facility can be built without causing dramatically negative impacts to the surrounding community, and can be operated without causing gridlock.

“The beauty of downtown is there are lots of different doorways into (and out of) downtown,” said ESA Vice President Brian Boxer, who helped oversee the study. “As soon as you get them on the (street) grid, they just spread out.”

Of 52 city intersections analyzed in the report, only one presents a serious congestion issue, officials said: 3rd and J streets, where traffic enters the city grid from both the northbound and southbound Interstate 5 ramps.

Pregame traffic at that intersection is expected to back up on a notoriously crowded central city section of the freeway. Caltrans officials on Monday declined to comment, saying they will analyze the report over the coming weeks. Kings and city officials say they will take traffic management steps to reduce or eliminate the expected freeway queue by speeding flows off the ramp and onto J Street.

The release of the draft EIR ushers in several months of whirlwind activity for the arena project. The city plans to hold an open house Wednesday evening at City Hall to show the public its preliminary environmental findings. A Planning Commission discussion will follow on Jan. 23.

“We have been on a very fast pace and an aggressive schedule, but nothing has been compromised,” said Assistant City Manager John Dangberg.

The public has until Jan. 31 to submit questions, comments, or challenges to the environmental document. The Kings and city will respond to those comments in March. They plan to bring a final EIR report to the City Council in early April for a vote at what will be the ultimate decision-making night for the city on the arena plan.

The council is expected to be asked that night to vote to commit itself – and at least $258 million in city resources – to the arena project. The city would agree to contribute a maximum, capped amount of funds to get the arena built. The Kings are expected to pay for all other arena costs, including any measures the EIR identifies as needed.

If the council approves, the Kings plan to begin tearing down parts of the Downtown Plaza in May to start the groundwork for both the arena and another 1.5 million square feet of adjacent development, likely including a 250-room hotel, offices, 550 residential units, and entertainment venues.

Arena subsidy opponents with the group STOP said Monday they will review the draft environmental report before making any comments. Craig Powell, of the watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, said his group will pay particular attention to the section of the report detailing an arena’s impact on I-5 traffic.

Kings attorney Jeff Dorso said the study shows that a downtown arena can be an environmental positive for the region.

“We had assumptions about smart growth, (we) were hopeful, and I think that largely played out,” Dorso said.

As an infill project, officials said the mixed-use development would result in 24 percent less air pollution than it would if built in a suburban setting. Event-related greenhouse gas emissions would decrease 36 percent over current emissions at Sleep Train Arena, according to the analysis.

Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District Director Larry Greene said his agency is pleased with the preliminary numbers, but will go over the EIR in detail in the next month before offering an official comment.

“We didn’t have controversial big-ticket issues with (earlier drafts),” he said. “We’ve been very comfortable with the numbers they have been discussing. Without question, this arena will have reduced air and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The 20 percent reduction in “vehicle miles traveled” by arena users is enough to qualify the project for inclusion under State Sen. President Pro Tem Darrrell Steinberg’s SB 743, a new law that streamlines court challenges filed under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The project’s environmental consultants said they came up with the travel numbers by purchasing anonymous cellphone tracking data from a company that contracts with cell service providers, and tracking those people on game nights last November and December to see where they drove from to get to Sleep Train arena, and where they drove afterward.

They determined that many fans will drive fewer miles because the new downtown arena will be closer to the region’s population centers and to the Kings’ population base.

“People are largely coming from the south and southeast of Sleep Train arena,” ERA’s Boxer said. “You’re moving the arena closer to where people live.”

The study also found that 10 percent of attendees of events at Sleep Train travel to the facility directly from the 95814 ZIP code covering downtown, probably coming straight from work. Many of those will be expected to walk to the arena, or take light rail.

The report – based on an estimate of at least 16,700 people per Kings game, and at most 17,500 – identified several crowding issues on streets near the arena, both before and after the game, that would require traffic management steps. Sacramento police said they are developing traffic management plans for the project’s construction phase and for arena events. It is likely that police would close some blocks around the arena during and after events, including 7th Street along the mall’s eastern border and L Street between 5th and 8th streets, the report indicates.

Officers would also likely be positioned at several intersections around the facility, moving traffic through lights on major arteries such as J Street. There are also plans for a traffic management center at the arena.

“We can absolutely handle it,” said police spokeswoman Michelle Gigante. “We’re the capital city; we deal with major events all the time.”

The Kings currently pay for law enforcement at Sleep Train events. A similar arrangement is expected at the new site.

The report determined that 3,800 permanent jobs would be created by the new development at Downtown Plaza. Of those, 2,100 jobs would be created at the mixed-use project of housing, retail and offices, with another 1,700 jobs being formed in the local economy.

Those figures do not include new permanent jobs at the arena. Officials said positions at Sleep Train Arena would likely be transferred to the downtown facility.

About 1,355 people would work on the arena’s construction.

The construction period would present a number of environmental challenges, the report concludes. Construction crews would put “sound blankets” around surrounding buildings to reduce noise levels. The city would designate a “disturbance coordinator” to handle complaints. Crews would inspect for construction-caused cracks on nearby buildings.

Of particular concern, analysts said, is the potential impact to the city sewer system when hundreds of arena toilets are flushing at once. To avoid that problem, the study’s authors said the Kings could build a holding tank under the arena that will allow for flows the city system can handle.

The report indicates most of the ground under the arena site was excavated previously, but there remains the possibility that Indian remains may be found during construction. The report said project administrators would take steps to confirm whether or not there are more cultural resources or city landmarks at the site.

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