Amid a circus atmosphere at City Hall, opponents of the proposed public subsidy for Sacramento's new NBA arena delivered more than 35,000 petitions today in an effort to put the subsidy question on the ballot.
Leaders of Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal hand-delivered a dozen cardboard boxes to the city clerk's office. Members of the region's construction unions gathered in the building's lobby and chanted "Shame on you" and "Trojan horse" as the boxes were being delivered at the ground floor office.
It won't be known for several weeks if the subsidy opponents have enough validated signatures - 22,000 - to qualify the issue for next June's ballot.
But it felt as if the political campaign was well underway. Mayor Kevin Johnson blasted the petitions, comparing them to the effort to move the Kings to Anaheim in 2011 and Seattle earlier this year.
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"Here we are - one more time. Outside interests are trying to attack our city," he said at a press conference shortly after the petitions were dropped off. "It's another example of outsiders trying to take something from our community."
Echoing the theme from the union protestors, Johnson called the initiative "a Trojan horse," meaning a plan by outsiders disguising their true motives. "Ninety-nine percent of the dollars...have come from outside the city of Sacramento."
STOP president Julian Camacho said he wasn't bothered by the protests, saying, "There's always two sides to everything."
Although STOP officials earlier predicted they'd have 40,000 signatures, STOP co-founder Jim Cathcart said the group had scrubbed out several thousand duplicated signatures at the last minute.
STOP and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal have argued that the proposed $258 million public subsidy is too expensive and would expose the city to financial risk.
"Most of us are for the arena, just like anybody else - we don't want Sacramento to sacrifice city services for private purpose," Cathcart said.
Later this evening, City Treasurer Russ Fehr planned to brief the City Council on the details of the arena financing. The city would raise the bulk of the subsidy by borrowing against future revenues from its downtown parking garages. That would generate $212 million.
Opponents of the plan say that by the time the city pays off the bonds, in 36 years, the principal and interest payments would total $700 million. They say the city would be harmed if parking revenues aren't strong enough to repay the bonds.
The Kings' president, Chris Granger, issued a statement applauding the mayor. "Our organization is 100 percent committed to working with the mayor and the community ensure continued progress on a new, best-in-class entertainment and sports center," he said.
Advocates for the subsidy criticized STOP and the Voters group for taking tens of thousands of dollars from non-Sacramentans, starting with the $100,000 secretly funneled by the Seattle investor who tried to buy the Kings earlier this year and move them to his city. STOP says it wasn't aware the money was coming from Seattle.
"They claim to be Sacramento people - they're not," said Sacramento labor leader Bill Camp, among those leading the protest at City Hall. "The voters are being conned."