In their quest to keep the Kings, a group of Sacramentans is about to do what this town does best: pick a political fight.
Local business owners and a former Sacramento city councilman on Friday formed a political action committee with enough money to put signature gatherers on the streets of Anaheim as early as today. They'll be trying to force a public vote on Anaheim's decision Tuesday to issue $75 million in bonds to help lure the Kings.
The goal is to delay a Kings departure for Southern California long enough for city leaders here to come up with a workable plan for a new arena.
A city-backed development team is expected to finish its arena study in late May.
"It's a completely legal move and I think the voters of Anaheim wouldn't mind a better opportunity to understand what's at risk to them and have a vote on this," political strategist Rob Stutzman said Friday. "And if Sacramento has any commodity, it's political consultants who know how to do this."
The Anaheim City Council voted Tuesday to issue the bond package that will be repaid by billionaire Henry Samueli, who operates the city-owned Honda Center.
Under the deal, most of the money $50 million will be loaned to Kings ownership to help the team relocate to Southern California. The rest would pay for upgrades to the Honda Center, the Kings' presumed future home.
Anaheim city officials did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday. City officials have previously said taxpayers won't be liable for the bonds if they're not repaid. They have said the bonds won't be sold until the NBA approves a Kings move.
The Sacramento campaign dubbed the Committee to Save the Kings is being backed financially by, among others, steel company executive Steve Ayers, commercial real estate investor Ethan Conrad and former Sacramento Councilman Robbie Waters. They wouldn't say how much money they've raised so far.
"The committee believes the taxpayers of Anaheim have good reason to object to their city issuing bonds, placing Anaheim at risk, solely to facilitate a private loan between the billionaire operator of the Honda Center and the Kings' owners who may be in financial distress," said attorney Jeffrey Dorso, who is also helping to guide the effort.
Dorso and others behind the signature drive believe the Anaheim council vote is subject to referendum, meaning voters in that city should have the final say on the decision.
"It's about letting the voters decide," said Ayers. "And it gives the silent majority in Sacramento time to speak up and say, 'We want the Kings to stay.'"
In order to place a referendum on the ballot, supporters will need to collect a signature count equal to 10 percent of the number of votes cast in Anaheim in the 2010 gubernatorial election, Dorso said.
That's roughly 12,000 signatures, although the campaign is seeking to collect up to 20,000.
While supporters of the drive have 60 days to collect the signatures, there is hope enough can be gathered before April 18, the Kings' deadline to ask the National Basketball Association for permission to relocate.
"The Kings franchise is a critical piece of the regional community fabric," Dorso said. "The region should do everything within its power to preserve its opportunity to work with the NBA and the Kings to create an attractive option in the region."