Mayor’s group wants STOP to pay for counting anti-arena signatures; more than 34,000 delivered

As elections officials took custody of 34,000 signatures demanding a public vote on the proposed subsidy for Sacramento’s new NBA arena, the two sides of the arena issue got into a squabble Friday over who should bear the costs of validating the petitions.

Sacramento city officials said they turned over “more than 34,000” signatures, collected over several months by subsidy opponents, to the Sacramento County Department of Voter Registration and Elections. City Clerk Shirley Concolino told the county to review every signature, instead of conducting a sample, to see if subsidy opponents have collected the 22,027 signatures they need to qualify the issue for next June’s ballot.

The 34,000 figure is about 1,000 shy of the estimate made by officials of STOP, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, when they delivered the petitions to Concolino on Tuesday.

Earlier Friday, the pro-subsidy political committee formed by Mayor Kevin Johnson threw its first official jab, demanding that STOP pay the cost of validating the signatures. STOP’s president said his group wouldn’t pay.

The count is expected to cost the city between $90,000 and $100,000, said city spokeswoman Amy Williams.

“It’s only fair that a group that claims to be pro-taxpayers put their money where their mouth is,” Joshua Wood, executive director of The4000 coalition, said in a letter to STOP President Julian Camacho.

“Have your wealthy benefactors from Seattle and San Diego pay for the cost of counting these signatures,” Wood added.

Much of STOP’s funding was secretly donated by Chris Hansen, who tried to buy the Kings earlier this year and move them to Seattle. Hansen later paid a fine for violating campaign finance disclosure laws. More recently, the anti-subsidy movement has been bankrolled in part by a San Diego-based association of nonunion construction contractors, who are angry that the proposed downtown arena would be built largely with union labor.

STOP opposes the proposed $258 million subsidy for the downtown arena, saying it’s too costly and too risky. The total cost of the arena is pegged at $448 million.

The city is responsible for the cost of validating the signatures but can ask one of the parties involved in an election to pay. Williams said she doesn’t know whether the city would make such a request.

In any event, STOP doesn’t plan to foot the bill. If the city wants a full review of every signature, “they should pay for it,” Camacho said.

Brad Buyse, campaign services manager in the county’s Department of Voter Registration and Elections, said the validation process will be completed by Jan. 23.