Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Why people who oppose Sacramento's arena are running scared now

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

If Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen makes good on his Monday pledge to throw away signatures his money bought – signatures gathered in the hope of forcing a referendum on a proposed downtown arena in Sacramento – then we may never see a public vote at all.

Without the signatures gathered in late summer with Hansen’s $100,000, a sour-grapes donation made after losing his bid to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle, there’s not much of a local anti-arena effort left. Hansen’s cash was by far the biggest infusion of money available to pay for signature gatherers searching for Sacramento residents unhappy with the idea of a downtown arena built with a lot of public money.

If Hansen prevents those signatures from being counted, as he pledged he would do on Monday, what’s left?

Not much, beyond outrage among a segment of people angry that Sacramento approved a non-binding term sheet calling for the city to commit more than $200 million in public dollars to an arena.

This issue has a generational split, where senior citizens in particular are offended by the idea of Sacramento subsidizing billionaires who will profit from the Kings playing in a brand-new building at the old Downtown Plaza site.

Many people I’ve encountered – in person, by telephone, email and social media – are also offended that their idea of Sacramento as a “cow town” is being messed with by this arena deal.

The keep-the-Kings movement was spearheaded by Mayor Kevin Johnson, a native son but as un-Sacramento as you can possibly be as a Sacramento politician. He’s flashy, famous, and detached from the neighborhood cliques that always produced elected officials faithfully tethered to neighborhood interests. Johnson bows to no one.

He recruited billionaire titans of California businesses who bought the Kings, swooped into town and represent a level of wealth that Sacramento does not have on its own.

And when Johnson talks about a “world-class city” and a “world-class” facility right where a dying mall sits now? It drives some people crazy.

To arena opponents, the $200 million subsidy, gleaned from city parking revenues, is the last straw. It’s Sacramento selling its soul.

Those who want a public vote in Sacramento have said often they are “independent.” They distanced themselves from Hansen for good reason – he was just fined by a state watchdog group for not properly reporting the money he gave to mess with Sacramento.

Independent or no, John Hyde, a spokesman for the local anti-arena campaign, said on Monday that his side wrote Hansen a letter stating that signatures his money bought must be submitted to the anti-arena campaign. Truthfully, they really don’t. There is no law that says they do, but it’s clear why the anti-arena campaign wants them: Not much left without them.