The tight timetable on a deal for a new downtown arena is being driven by the NBA, which is weighing competing bids to keep the Kings in Sacramento or let the team move to Seattle.
But city officials can still control how open the process is, and whether the public has enough input.
For something this important, involving so much public money, the schedule City Hall is on falls far short of the transparency that Sacramento deserves.
City Manager John Shirey is planning to bring a preliminary "term sheet" to the City Council for a vote on March 26, so that it's in place before a key April 3 meeting in New York of some NBA owners. Shirey told council members Tuesday night that the proposal will be more detailed than the 18-page one last year.
The plan is to post the agreement on the city's website a week from today, mere hours before the only scheduled public meeting, an "open house" from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. That isn't enough lead time, and Shirey warned council members even that isn't guaranteed.
A forum without a specific proposal to comment on would be an empty gesture. Why not hold at least one more public forum after plenty of time to digest the term sheet but before the council votes?
Why not let the public speak at the scheduled March 26 council meeting, and hold a special meeting a day or two later for the council's vote?
The council could even wait as late as its regular meeting on April 2. Shirey doesn't want to cut it that close, though he concedes that works against "being as open and transparent as we can."
It would be one thing if the deal were a carbon copy of the one approved last year. But there are likely to be significant differences largely because the proposed site is not city-owned land in the railyard like last time, but at privately owned Downtown Plaza.
Building an arena there would take away a chunk of the city-owned parking at the plaza as many as 1,000 of the 3,700 spaces. Most of the city's $255 million share in last year's deal would have been generated by borrowing against city-controlled parking 7,200 spaces in garages and 5,500 metered on-street spaces.
If less money can be leveraged from parking, and if the city is going to put in a similar amount, the money will have to come from elsewhere. So far, city officials have been uncomfortably vague about what those sources would be. They have mentioned sales of city-owned land, plus "ancillary real estate development opportunities," but they won't divulge any details.
The details, however, are what will determine whether the deal is a good one for taxpayers.
Those specifics are being hammered out behind closed doors by senior city officials, their paid consultants and representatives of Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov, who are competing to buy the Kings with a group that has a purchase agreement with the Maloof family and wants to take the team to Seattle.
Officials give assurances that the talks are progressing briskly.
Businessmen such as Burkle and Mastrov are used to negotiating in private. But when public money is involved, the rules are different.
The less openness there is, the less public support there will be for whatever deal comes forward. That should be the last thing the city wants.