Backers of arena vote want disputed Sacramento petitions

Published: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 8:20 am

Leaders of the petition drive to put a downtown arena plan to a public vote said they intend to use signatures paid for by Seattle's Chris Hansen – if they can get their hands on them.

Speaking at a Sacramento Press Club debate Thursday, Jim Cathcart of Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, or STOP, said the signatures are legitimate, even though controversial.

"People signed those in good faith," he said.

STOP hopes to qualify a measure for the June ballot asking voters whether the public should have the right to vote on city subsidies for sports facilities. Passage of that measure would necessitate another ballot measure on whether to approve the city's deal with the Kings' owners to jointly finance a $448 million arena at Downtown Plaza.

In an open letter earlier Thursday, a pro-arena group called on STOP to reject signatures gathered by workers paid by Hansen, the head of the group that tried this year to buy and move the Kings to Seattle. Hansen was revealed last week as the secret donor of $100,000 to the petition drive.

STOP officials said they were not involved in that part of the campaign, which was controlled by an Orange County political action committee. Cathcart said Thursday his group had not yet been able to get possession of the signatures, but said he hoped to get them soon. He declined to offer details.

The Orange County group, Citizens for a Voice in Government, has not responded to Bee requests for comment.

The press club debate Thursday pitted petition-drive supporters Cathcart and political consultant Tab Berg against Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen and Joshua Wood, executive director of Region Builders, a building industry group that supports the arena plan.

Hansen said the council has been responsible in structuring a solid deal – "a smart, calculated risk" – that will pull in major financial investments from the Kings ownership group to help the city revitalize the troubled area around Downtown Plaza.

The councilman accused Cathcart's group of wanting to kill the deal by leapfrogging representative government.

"Every time there is something you don't like, you (get the public to) vote on it?" Hansen asked. "You don't need me then."

Cathcart and Berg countered that the arena project is too massive to be left to the City Council to decide. Berg called the arena an amenity, not a core city service.

"We have the whole power elite running the show here, not the people," Cathcart said.

Cathcart also challenged the city's stated $258 million subsidy level, saying he believes it is higher. A Sacramento Bee review of the deal in May determined the public share could arguably be viewed in the $290 million range, based on the estimated value of some underground city parking spots set aside for arena use, and the potential value of billboard signage rights the city would turn over to the team.

City officials say the deal, which makes the city the arena owner, does not involve a tax increase, unlike a 2006 arena plan that voters rejected.

The deal calls for the city to sell bonds backed by future revenue from city downtown parking facilities, and turn over a handful of city-owned land parcels to the team for development. The Kings group, which would build and manage the arena, would be responsible for construction cost overruns.

City officials say the addition of the arena would draw more parkers to spots that are now lightly used, and could produce additional revenue for the city under a profit-sharing plan.

Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Follow him on Twitter @tonybizjak.

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