February 24, 2013

Q&A: McCarty says current arena deal bad for Sacramento

Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty sits a few feet from Mayor Kevin Johnson on the council dais, but miles away when it comes to their views on financing a downtown entertainment and sports arena.

Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty sits a few feet from Mayor Kevin Johnson on the council dais, but miles away when it comes to their views on financing a downtown entertainment and sports arena.

McCarty, a three-term councilman and Elmhurst neighborhood resident, voted against the mayor's arena deal last year, and voted no again last week on Johnson's latest arena resolution.

He also sent an open letter to City Manager John Shirey and the news media, asking whether public money should be used for an arena, whether the city would get a return on its investment and who would be responsible if revenues don't meet expenses.

Shirey is expected to report to the council on some of those issues before the city enters into formal negotiations with potential arena investors.

In an interview Friday with The Bee, McCarty said that despite appearances, he isn't opposed to the city helping finance a downtown arena.

Was your "no" vote last week a statement against moving forward on another arena effort?

I didn't see that as a vote on moving forward (or not). I saw that as a vote that essentially blessed last year's arena deal, which is the blueprint for this year's arena deal, which I thought was a really bad deal for the city of Sacramento. (That deal had the city putting $255 million derived from its parking revenues into a $391 million arena, to be owned by the city.)

Your "no" votes leave the impression, though, that you are against the effort to build an arena.

That's not the case. I'm a Kings fan. I was a season ticket holder for a decade. I'd like to see a downtown arena. It's that I have a different vision of what an arena (financing) plan would look like, different than what has been put forward so far.

What's the reason for your letter to the city manager?

The purpose was just to tell them, 'Hey, I want to make sure these questions are addressed.' They are issues I have raised in the past. (Other) council members have raised these as well. I think the council and the community want to make sure we thoughtfully look into every detail.

Realistically, would you ever vote "yes" on an arena deal? Under what circumstances?

I think it would be very insincere of me to ask these questions, then pull the rug out if we ever got there. I'm saying if the city contribution were significantly lower, well below 50 percent, maybe south of Seattle's 40 percent, and we got a return on our money. And there was a backstop where if somehow the deal went sideways – construction overruns, or ticket sales didn't materialize – the city wouldn't be on the hook for that, and face tremendous risk like in Oakland and Stockton, where they were short paying the bondholders. We want to make sure we don't mortgage our future and saddle ourselves with unnecessary risk without proper upside.

Are you OK with using downtown parking revenues as the city's main contribution?

I am not averse to that. Using all of them and having the city being the majority funder in this transaction gives me pause.

You asked in your letter whether the parking revenues could be spent on a new B Street Theatre, improvements to the Community Center Theater, a new science center, or a streetcar system. Are those higher priorities for you?

Those are all projects the council is high on, and we don't have money to fund them. It warrants the question ... if we are going to utilize (parking revenues) to generate a significant chunk of change for the city, where should those monies be allocated? Should all of them go to the arena? Maybe, maybe not.

What's different in your mind about the arena financing possibilities this year compared with last year?

To the person on the street, they would hope that with billionaires in play now (instead of the financially troubled Maloofs), the city can get a far better deal than was on the table last year.

How big of a blow would it be to Sacramento to lose the Kings?

It would be a blow. It would be sad. (But) Sacramento is a great city. We have a lot of assets.

You're in your third term on the council. You've run previously for Assembly. Any plans to run for Assembly again?

I'd always look at opportunities. But I am 100 percent focused on the job at hand, which is right-sizing our city, restoring city services. That is what I view as the top priority for the city right now.

Editor's note: Interview questions and answers have been shortened and reorganized for clarity.

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