Opponents of arena subsidy say they will turn in 40,000 signatures

After months of controversy and door-to-door politicking, opponents of the public subsidy for Sacramento’s proposed NBA arena say they will submit as many as 40,000 signatures to city elections officials today in their quest to get the issue placed before voters on June’s ballot.

It will be several more weeks, however, before Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and a spinoff group, Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, learn whether their signature-gathering campaigns were successful. The groups need only 22,000 valid signatures but realize that many of the signatures they’ve gathered, as is typical, will be proven invalid.

“It’s going to be close,” said John Hyde, a spokesman for STOP. He said the 40,000 signatures represent the combined efforts of both groups.

He said it’s possible STOP will submit only those signatures that it has been able to validate already. Today is the deadline for the petitions to be handed in to the city clerk’s office.

At issue is a $258 million subsidy tentatively approved by the City Council, representing more than half of the $448 million project cost. The bulk of the city’s contribution would be raised by borrowing against future parking garage revenues, and city Treasurer Russ Fehr plans to brief the council tonight on the financing plan.

STOP has been circulating petitions since June but ran into major controversy in August after it was revealed that its major donor was Chris Hansen, the hedge fund manager who tried to buy the Kings earlier this year and move them to Seattle. STOP’s leaders said they didn’t realize Hansen was their backer, and Hansen was fined for violating California campaign-finance disclosure laws.

A different citizens’ group founded Voters for a Fair Arena Deal in October, saying the anti-subsidy effort needed a fresh start.

The Voters group raised another $10,000 over the weekend from the Western Electrical Contractors Association, a group of nonunion contractors, and $5,000 from Sacramento-area agribusiness tycoon Chris Rufer. WECA and Rufer have donated a combined $59,500 to Voters, the lion’s share of the organization’s funds.

A pro-subsidy group, DowntownArena.org, charged in a letter Monday to city officials that the petition drive is “a sneak attack on our community by outside interests seeking to advance their own agendas at the expense of 4,000 jobs.”

The leader of DowntownArena, Joshua Wood, said STOP and Voters raised two-thirds of their money from outside the Sacramento area, much of it from Hansen. Wood included in that calculation the $39,500 donated by the electrical contractors because he said the money was “bundled” by the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, a San Diego-based association of nonunion contractors.

The nonunion contractors joined the fight against the subsidy after the Kings signed a project labor agreement, which ensures that most of the construction work on the arena would go to unionized contractors.

Rufer lives in Sacramento County, outside the city limits.

Wood added that DowntownArena has turned in 15,226 “recessions” from citizens who wanted their signatures removed from the anti-subsidy petitions. But Wood acknowledged he has no idea how many of his signatures are valid.

Besides his support for the Voters group, Rufer has given $25,000 to STOP. “I’m not for or against the arena,” he said Monday. “I’m against subsidies.”