Mayor Kevin Johnson didn't disappoint the hundreds of Sacramento Kings fans who turned his State of the City speech Thursday evening into a pep rally. He finally confirmed Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov as the big-money "whales" who will try to buy the team and build a new downtown arena.
They submitted their bid to the NBA Friday, and will negotiate with the city on an arena deal. While Johnson added some bells and whistles announcing that Kings legend Mitch Richmond is one of the local investors and that the WNBA Monarchs could return the same big questions remain: Will league owners pick Sacramento over a strong Seattle offer? And will the arena deal pencil out for the public?
While a new arena could be a big economic boost, other initiatives that Johnson highlighted while maybe not as buzz-worthy could be just as important to Sacramento's future. He needs to bring the same tenacity and commitment to those as he has the Kings.
Now in his fifth year in office, following through on splashy announcements has not been his strength. As the mayor acknowledged in his speech, he's "all about big ideas and vision," but the city only works if "the trains run on time."
Johnson renewed his push to make Sacramento a national leader for green technology and sustainable living, with the goal of 14,000 more jobs in that sector by 2020. There has been progress. For instance, a month ago, the city and Ygrene Energy Fund launched a $100 million program for clean tech upgrades to commercial buildings, the first of its kind in the country. Local officials should also aggressively seek money from Proposition 39 for energy efficiency retrofits at schools and public buildings.
To help brand Sacramento as "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital," the mayor announced that 2013 will be the "Year of Food" with monthly events, a major food festival in September and even a reality series on Channel 6 (KVIE) about teens trying to improve access to healthy food.
Though the mayor doesn't have direct power over public schools, Johnson is continuing to use his bully pulpit and business connections. He unveiled "Vision to Learn" a partnership of a Los Angeles philanthropist and Vision Service Plan of Rancho Cordova to provide free eye exams and glasses to as many as 8,000 local students a year, worth $800,000. He said that many children labeled as "problem learners" actually have trouble seeing, so this will boost an existing initiative to help third-graders learn to read.
Johnson also pointed out that the city must do more to diversify the local economy, including development of the downtown railyard and riverfront; to reduce pension and benefit costs; fix infrastructure, including the Natomas levees; and to make streets safer, including anti-gang programs. He also announced a gun buyback program, as the City Council is starting to look at more restrictions on gun stores.
Understandably, Johnson is focused on the Kings.
But once that saga culminates in mid-April, when an arena term sheet is supposed to be done and NBA owners decide the team's fate, there is plenty of other work for the mayor and his city.