New group forms to combat Kings arena subsidy

With support from nonunion contractors who have been locked out of the project, a new Sacramento citizens’ group was formed today to fight the proposed $258 million taxpayer subsidy for the new Kings arena downtown.

The new group, Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, will gather signatures for a ballot initiative launched months ago by another group opposed to the arena subsidy. But Voters for a Fair Arena Deal took pains to separate itself from the original effort and said it will “limit communications” between itself and the first group, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork.

Voters for a Fair Arena Deal is expected to get financial support from nonunion building contractors who are angry that the Kings owners signed a deal that ensures most of the work on the $448 million project would get done with union labor.

The nonunion contractors will donate in the “initial neighborhood of five figures, in the $15,000 to $25,000 range,” said Eric Christen, a member of the new committee and head of an organization that represents nonunion builders.

Community activist Craig Powell, president of the watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, announced the formation of Voters for a Fair Arena Deal. The new committee will gather signatures for the petition drive launched months ago by STOP - Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork - but Powell said the two groups will operate independently.

Powell said he wants the new committee “to distinguish itself” from STOP.

“We are not opposed to an arena, we are not opposed to a public subsidy for an arena,” Powell said today. “What we are in favor of is an arena subsidy we can afford.” He said the current proposed subsidy, tentatively approved by the City Council at $258 million, is too expensive and will harm the city financially.

STOP has said it’s closing in on the 22,000 signatures it needs to gather by mid-December to put the issue on the June 2014 ballot. Still, the organization has encountered controversy in recent months - notably when it was revealed that much of its signature gathering was secretly financed by Chris Hansen, the hedge-fund manager who tried to buy the Kings earlier this year and move them to Seattle. STOP said it wasn’t aware the money was coming from Hansen.

Tab Berg, a Sacramento political consultant who previously worked with STOP but is helping the new group, said, “Nobody involved with this (new) group is happy” with the STOP campaign. He said people are upset with “just the whole way the debate has degenerated.”

Joshua Wood, head of the pro-arena group DowntownArena.org, said Powell’s organization is stepping into the picture because of the controversies surrounding STOP. “It’s really come to a halt,” he said, referring to the STOP effort. “They needed someone else to come in.” He said he’s confident his group can prevent the subsidy from coming to the ballot.

He added that Voters for a Fair Arena Deal is “hitching their wagon to a group that at this point is notorious for lying to voters.” He said STOP’s signature gatherers have been misleading citizens about the ballot initiative.

In a prepared statement, STOP said it was “delighted to see that other groups have come together to assist with the effort.”

Powell said his committee hasn’t decided what exactly constitutes an appropriate subsidy level. But he said the group has devised a set of 10 deal points that would make the project fairer. Among them would be the elimination of the “project labor agreement,” which favors union contractors.