A group trying to force a public vote on the city's plan to subsidize a new downtown Kings arena has fallen short in its push for a special election this year and will instead aim for the June 2014 ballot.
Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork said Monday that efforts to collect signatures from Sacramento residents who want the public vote is going well, but that the group was unable to gather enough signatures before Monday's deadline to force a special election.
Instead, the group now has until Dec. 16 to file 22,000 valid signatures from registered city voters.
"We have a ways to go, but we also have a longer period of time," said James Cathcart, one of the group's founders. "We wouldn't be collecting if we didn't think we'd make it for next June."
The group, also known as STOP, wants the public to vote on the City Council's approval of $258 million in public subsidies to the $448 million arena planned for Downtown Plaza. Most of the public money for the arena would come from revenue bonds backed by downtown parking operations.
Cathcart and fellow activist Julian Camacho launched the campaign to force an arena vote last month. Cathcart said the group is using volunteers and paid signature gatherers.
"We've had a tremendous response, but that's no surprise," said Cathcart, adding that the group has found that even some supporters of the arena project want to vote on the matter.
In the meantime, a group has formed to try to block STOP's efforts.
Business advocates Region Builders and Crown Downtown, a Kings fans group, have started showing up near places where STOP is collecting signatures. The group – which has a website called downtownarena.org – is trying to persuade voters not to sign STOP's petitions.
"It's easy to second-guess decisions after they've been made, but we have to keep our Kings," said Josh Wood of Region Builders. "We don't want the effort of a very small group of people to stop the progress that the city has made."
The city of Sacramento is several weeks into an environmental review of the arena project. That process should be completed next year. The council would approve the final financing plan for the project after that.
So far, the Sacramento City Council has set aside $6.5 million of the eventual city contribution to pay for a team of legal, financial and design consultants, as well as construction costs.
Vivek Ranadive, leader of the group that now owns the Kings, is shooting to open the new arena in time for the 2016-17 season. NBA Commissioner David Stern has said that if the arena is not built by 2017, the league has the option of pulling the Kings out of Sacramento and arranging for the team's sale to new owners.