Big cases, big clients, big adversaries
From Way Downtown
That’s how Sacramento attorney Shaye Diveley helped deliver an arena for
the Kings—and just before the buzzer BY CARLOS HARRISON
It was a slam dunk.
The fight to build a new arena for the Sacramento Kings brought accusations against the
city of violating state regulations, as well as two
appellate court battles and a first-ever state-man-dated race against the clock to complete all legal
It resulted in a landmark decision on the constitutionality of a law that revamped the state’s
sweeping environmental protection statute—and
just nine days before the deadline under the new,
expedited judicial-review process.
The cases did more than test the law, says Shaye
Diveley, the environmental and land use attorney
who represented the city of Sacramento through
the proceedings. They tested assumptions.
“We’ve gotten used to things being drawn out
The league gave the city until the start of the
so long,” she says. “But things don’t need to take
forever in order to be good. They just need to be
good. An analysis doesn’t need to take three years.
A lawsuit doesn’t need to sit around forever in
order for the issues to be analyzed and litigated.”
It all started in 2013 when the Kings threatened
to move to Seattle. To keep the team where it was,
then-Mayor Kevin Johnson assembled an investor
group and promised the NBA the franchise would
get a new arena.
2017-18 season to get it done.
The clock was ticking. But the city still had to
deal with the California Environmental Quality Act,
which requires an environmental review of projects
that need approval before they can be built. The
law is popular and provides protection, but Diveley
says the process had grown cumbersome.
“We have cases that just go on for years. They
Most significantly, it allowed only 270 days to
don’t really get a chance to move forward because
of either issues with the review process or issues
where litigation just delays it. And even though,
under CEQA, cases are supposed to move fast, the
courts are just so bogged down, we can’t always
To beat the league’s deadline, the state Leg-
islature stepped in with a law that expedited the
process. It still required the full environmental
review, Diveley says, but all the findings, com-
ment letters and related information had to be
disclosed immediately to the public, speeding up
any legal challenges.
finish the review and handle those challenges.
“People said it couldn’t be done,” she says.
The lawsuits began almost immediately. One
set of arguments protested the environmental
review process on a number of issues, including
contending that the city was required to analyze
impacts of post-game crowds and potential rioting
by rowdy fans.
It was an unusual fight for Diveley to find herself
in, especially considering she grew up a baseball
fan in St. Louis, rooting for the Cardinals—and
found her way to environmental and land use law
only after studying journalism and working for a
trade association representing gold mines.
She interned for U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, then
landed a job with the Gold Institute. That meant
a lot of trips West to discuss the environmental
impact of mining.
“That’s really how my interest in environmen-
tal law started,” she says. “The more I learned
about water quality and environmental issues and
endangered species issues, I realized that I really
wanted to study that more.”
She went to law school determined to make
environmental and land use issues her practice.
She’d been at it for more than a decade, and knew
CEQA issues well, when the Kings arena case came
along. But concerns about the environmental
impact of rioting fans were new.
“It made me quite happy to be able to write a
“It demonstrated to other projects that this
brief that the California Environmental Quality
Act is not concerned about riots,” she says. “It was
completely over the top. But it kind of demonstrat-
ed just the numerous types of challenges that were
The court agreed, rejecting the group’s arguments.
The opponents weren’t done, though. Diveley says
they also brought “a direct challenge to the constitu-
tionality of the expedited provision, which they said
It put Diveley in the position of having to defend
the law and meet its deadline at the same time.
crazy schedule of 270 days is actually practical and
feasible,” she says.
With the legal hurdles cleared, the new arena,
the Golden 1 Center, opened a full year ahead of
the NBA’s deadline.
order to be
just need to