Mayor launches campaign against Sacramento arena ballot measure

In a scene reminiscent of other rallies throughout the three-year saga to keep the Kings in Sacramento, Mayor Kevin Johnson announced Thursday the launch of a political campaign aimed at defeating a June ballot measure that would require voter approval of subsidies to sports arenas.

Flanked by labor, business and political leaders from throughout the city and region, Johnson said the new group – called The4000 – would work to protect the planned Downtown Plaza arena project, which he called a “once-in-a-lifetime economic game-changer that has an opportunity to transform downtown forever.”

“We are going to do everything we can to protect the 4,000 jobs we are going to create in this community” through the arena project’s construction, he said on the stage of the Assembly nightclub on K Street.

Those plans – the focus of a city Planning Commission briefing Thursday evening – call for more than a sports venue.

The Kings’ owners also are asking to build a 250-room hotel, 550 units of housing, offices and retail outlets on the struggling Downtown Plaza site. The hotel and retail development would occur at the same time the arena is being built, with other phases following.

Team officials also envision a public plaza along the northern edge of the arena, where K Street runs through the Downtown Plaza. The plaza would include sidewalk cafes and “small-scale performance venues,” according to a city staff report.

“What we hope to do is have people in this plaza every day,” said Mark Friedman, a local developer and part owner of the Kings.

Along L Street, which Friedman described as the “back end” of the current mall, the Kings are proposing entrances to a team store, VIP lounges and the arena box office.

The Planning Commission will make its recommendations on the project in February.

The mayor and others are promoting the arena as a catalyst for broader development downtown. In a city staff report released Thursday, the city is now proposing that three downtown parcels be given to the Kings as part of the project.

In a change to a preliminary term sheet approved by the City Council earlier this year, officials say they no longer plan to give the Kings 60 acres of land at the Haggin Oaks property. Instead, they say they intend to give the Kings three small parcels downtown at 1401 H St., 324 K St., and 921 10th St.

The city estimates those parcels to be worth $3 million. The Haggin Oaks property was estimated to be worth $3.9 million.

City staffers said they made the switch to increase the likelihood that the downtown properties will be redeveloped. The Haggin Oaks site also included a portion of Haggin Oaks golf course, which the city would have had to redesign.

The city and Kings also have agreed that the city will own the land under the arena, as well as the building itself. The previous arrangement called for the city to own only the arena, not the land underneath it.

The term sheet governing those land transfers – along with the city’s $258 million contribution to the $448 million arena – is the focus of the simmering political campaign.

The City Clerk’s Office is continuing its count of signatures filed Tuesday by Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP), which is seeking the subsidy ballot measure. That count is expected to be completed today. The signatures will then be transferred to county elections officials for a validation process that will take weeks.

STOP said it filed 35,300 signatures. The group needs 22,000 valid signatures from registered city voters to qualify its measure for the June ballot.

The campaign’s spokesman, John Hyde, said his group is gearing up for a “tough campaign.”

“I think that what’s on STOP’s side is the history of how citizens have voted in the past,” he said, referring to a failed 2006 initiative that sought a sales-tax increase to fund an arena. “We think there are a significant number of people who simply don’t want their money spent on an arena.”

The mayor and other arena supporters have assailed STOP for accepting thousands of signatures funded by a $100,000 contribution from Chris Hansen, the hedge-fund manager who tried unsuccessfully this year to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle. Other signatures have been funded by nonunion contractors organized by a San Diego group upset with an agreement to use union labor to build the arena.

“Here we are again for a third time,” the mayor said, referring to Hansen’s attempt to buy the Kings and a 2011 attempt by the team’s prior owners, the Maloofs, to move the Kings to Anaheim. “Interests not in Sacramento are trying to do something that adversely impacts our community.”

Hyde countered that “every political campaign has special interests behind it.”

“This new political campaign that the mayor started will have special interests, too,” he said. “Ultimately, the special interests don’t affect the question before voters, which is: Do they want their taxpayer dollars spent on an arena?”

Eric Christen, who leads the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, the group opposing the agreement to use union labor on the arena, said. “This campaign is apparently about union favoritism.”

Johnson’s new group is being co-chaired by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and state Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin. In a sign of how seriously the group is taking STOP’s measure, Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who worked in the Clinton White House and has helped the mayor on previous arena efforts, has been hired to serve as the political manager.

“Is it of some great virtue to stop the creation of 4,000 jobs?” Steinberg asked. “Is it of some great virtue to stop the revitalization of the hub of our region, downtown Sacramento? What exactly do they want to stop?”

Chris Granger, the president of the Kings, also was also at Thursday’s event. The franchise is expected to play a role in the campaign, but Granger said that role has not been decided.

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