A simmering fight over Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's downtown arena plan heated up Tuesday when Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy released a poll she said shows that city residents want to vote on any arena proposal involving city assets.
Seventy-one percent of respondents in Sheedy's survey said they believe the council should refer any arena deal with city financing to them for a final say.
A mayor's representative on Think Big Sacramento the committee pursuing the arena plan immediately called the poll questions misleading and out of context.
Sheedy, who voted last month against a Johnson-backed decision to allocate $500,000 in city funds for arena studies, said she commissioned her poll to see where people stand in tough times with a shrinking city budget.
"What I'm hearing is they want to be heard," Sheedy said. "This transaction is so large, they need their say."
Sheedy said she paid for the $8,000-plus poll with campaign funds. She is running for a third term in her North Sacramento council district. The mayor is encouraging a candidate to run against her, one of his aides recently said.
The Sheedy poll of 600 registered voters was conducted last week by Grove Insight, a Portland, Ore., and Hawaii-based polling firm. It asks several questions about ways the city might contribute to a public-private financing deal, including selling operations of parking garages as well as some city-owned property to pay for the arena. Poll respondents opposed both of those financing concepts.
Chris Lehane, head of the mayor's Think Big Sacramento commission, pointed to a poll his group commissioned in August that found majority support for selling some city land, and for leasing city parking garages as part of a potential financing plan.
Dave Metz, a partner with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, said his company laid out a broader description of the financing plan in its August survey for Think Big, making a point of telling respondents what the city gets for its investment, something he says is lacking in the Sheedy poll. That includes, he said, making it clear the arena is for a variety of community events, not merely for the Sacramento Kings.
Sheedy's pollster, Lisa Grove, said her agency tried to word the poll as antiseptically as possible, and considers it a fair representation of key potential aspects of a deal, including noting that Johnson is not asking for any new general tax.
Sacramentans have previously displayed their unwillingness to support a general tax increase to pay for a new arena. A pair of 2006 ballot initiatives that would have bumped up the sales tax and used the money to pay for a sports and entertainment facility was soundly defeated at the polls.
This time, Johnson has stressed that he will not propose any such general tax, and will make sure the city's general fund is not tapped to pay for an arena.
Johnson political adviser David Townsend dismissed the Sheedy poll, but said regardless of how the questions were framed, residents in recent years generally say yes when asked if they want a direct vote on money matters.
"Voters have lost such confidence in government that they think they should vote on anything," Townsend said.
The City Council is expected to receive a key staff and consultant's report Dec. 13 on how to structure the lease of city parking garages to a private company in exchange for an upfront payment to help finance an arena.