Renée C. Byer /

Leaders of Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork deliver boxes of petitions demanding a public vote on the city’s arena subsidy.

Editorial: Let the public see all the petitions for arena ballot measure

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 - 12:00 am

The entire effort for a ballot measure on the proposed downtown Sacramento arena has been messy, with the public left in the dark too often.

People who want a vote on the arena subsidy accuse city officials of hiding the ball on how much taxpayers would actually fork over. But they’re not doing themselves any favors by playing games with their petitions.

They should be straight with voters and release all the various petitions they submitted last month. James Cathcart, a leader of Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board Wednesday that he doesn’t know if that will happen.

The onus is on STOP because the City Clerk’s Office says the petitions are not public records and it does not plan to release them. It won’t even confirm how many different versions there are.

There appear to be at least five; the pro-arena group calling itself The4000 says there are nine or more.

STOP says any wording variations are extremely minor and should not invalidate any petitions. The4000 says some petitions have “fatal” flaws that violate state election law and should be disqualified.

The clerk’s office will decide. Meanwhile, the Sacramento County elections office, which has until Jan. 23 to complete the count, is keeping the signatures from each version separate in case some are later ruled invalid.

The pro-arena group is also calling on STOP to disclose who funded each petition, including which were bankrolled by billionaire Chris Hansen. The NBA rejected his bid to buy the Kings and move the team to Seattle, but he secretly financed STOP’s petition drive with $100,000. He and two political operatives were fined $50,000 last September for violating state campaign finance disclosure laws.

All this is more than arcane word games or more political gamesmanship. It could very well determine whether voters get a say on the arena – and whether the project stays on schedule.

That’s because it could be nip-and-tuck to get to the 22,000 valid signatures required to put on the June ballot a measure that would require voter approval for any use of the city’s general fund for a professional sports facility. If that measure passes, there would be a second ballot measure in November on the actual city subsidy of at least $258 million toward the $448 million arena.

STOP and a second anti-subsidy group, Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, submitted 35,248 signatures. As of Wednesday afternoon, of the 8,518 signatures checked, 5,767 had been found valid.

If that rate holds, there would be nearly 23,900 valid signatures, more than enough to qualify.

But it gets more complicated.

The county elections office also counted signatures of voters who want their names removed from petitions. As the count proceeds, the 9,773 names on that list are being cross-checked to confirm they actually signed the petitions. Of the 2,751 signatures ruled invalid as of Wednesday, 329 were withdrawals. If most of the withdrawal requests are verified, that could drive down the count below the necessary 22,000.

Whatever the outcome, it is sure to be contentious. For all sides to accept the result, the process needs to be open and above board. That includes making the petitions public.

Editor’s note: This editorial was changed on Jan. 9 to correct that requests by voters to withdraw their names from petitions are being cross-checked as the overall count proceeds.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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