Arena petitioners to court: Don’t punish voters

Advocates for a public vote on a proposed downtown Sacramento arena acknowledged again Tuesday they made errors in their petition drive – saying “more care and attention to detail should have been the order of the day” – but characterized the errors as minor and said the nearly 23,000 voters who signed the petition should not be punished.

The statement, filed in Sacramento Superior Court by Bradley Hertz, the attorney for the pro-vote group, comes two days before Judge Timothy Frawley is expected to issue his preliminary ruling on whether the Sacramento city clerk was right to throw the petitions out because of wording errors, omissions and discrepancies.

The taxpayer groups, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, turned in enough signatures to have the city’s arena subsidy deal with the Sacramento Kings placed on the June ballot. The city clerk, however, determined the groups had turned in several versions of the petition, and that petition wording was legally flawed. The two groups sued the city on Jan. 29, asking that the clerk’s decision be overturned.

Should Frawley rule in the clerk’s favor, it likely would clear the way for the city and the Sacramento Kings to sign a final arena agreement, expected in early April, and allow the city to sell bonds in May to finance part of its investment in the project. The arena deal calls for the city to commit $258 million in money and property to help build the arena. Under that scenario, construction of the $448 million arena would start this fall, after a part of the Downtown Plaza is demolished.

If Frawley rules that at least 22,026 of the 22,498 petition signatures are valid, the city likely would be forced to call a June election to ask voters whether the public should vote on stadium deals that involve the city general fund.

In his filing, Hertz contended that people who signed the petition were not misled about the petition gatherers’ intent by wording omissions, as alleged by arena deal supporters. “The petition, taken in its entirety, clearly indicates to potential signers that the proponents are proposing to have a law submitted to a vote of the people,” Hertz wrote.

Joshua Wood, executive director of The4000, a labor-based group supporting the arena deal, countered Tuesday, saying STOP is trying to get the court to “excuse them from following a wide range of laws intended to protect the integrity of the initiative process. The4000 believes that the court should decline to do so, as has been done time and time again by courts throughout our state.”

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