Editorial: Council, public deserve time to vet arena deal

Published: Saturday, Mar. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A

It's not that surprising city officials missed their self-imposed deadline to unveil the terms of a deal for a new downtown Sacramento arena.

The negotiations are a moving target, especially when a new lead investor in the group trying to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento emerged Thursday – the very same day the term sheet was supposed to be made available.

What absolutely cannot happen, however, is for City Council members to be forced into a vote on a proposed pact without enough time for them and the public to study it closely. That would make a mockery of the transparent and deliberative process that is necessary for a decision of this magnitude.

The deal for an arena costing $400 million or so is expected to include a public contribution somewhere near the $255 million the council approved last year. Like that agreement, most of the taxpayer subsidy would come from borrowing against revenues from city-controlled parking downtown.

But building an arena at Downtown Plaza – not the railyard as in last year's deal – would reduce the number of parking spaces. So the new agreement is likely to include new elements, possibly the sale of city-owned land and joint real estate development. Those new proposals are the one that need the most serious vetting.

The term sheet wasn't out by Friday evening, and City Manager John Shirey wasn't any more definitive about the timetable, other than saying that negotiators "are working to get the term sheet completed as soon as possible."

If it isn't released until Sunday night or Monday, it would be unfair and unrealistic to expect council members to vote at their regular meeting Tuesday evening. They should get several days at the very least to scrutinize the terms and to hear from their constituents. It's unfortunate that three public forums – Thursday evening, Friday and today – are being held without any specifics to discuss.

To get more time, the council could schedule a special meeting later next week. Or the council could vote at its already scheduled meeting on April 2. While that may be cutting it close, it would still be before the April 3 meeting of key NBA owners, who want to see the arena deal as well as the offer to buy the Kings.

That offer may have improved with the entry of Vivek Ranadive, CEO of a $1 billion-a-year Silicon Valley software company, to lead the bid. He takes that role from Mark Mastrov, while Ron Burkle is still taking the lead on the new arena. Ranadive is a known quantity to NBA owners as vice chairman of the Golden State Warriors, and is apparently chummy with Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, a member of the owners' relocation committee. That can't hurt Sacramento's prospects.

NBA Commissioner David Stern had made clear that the old offer from Mastrov and Burkle wasn't competitive with the agreement the Maloof family already has to sell the Kings to a group that plans to move the team to Seattle.

Whether Ranadive's involvement changes the arena deal is one of many details that need to be disclosed before a vote. Council members and taxpayers deserve no less.

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