Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Sacramento ready to rumble over new Kings arena

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

The people who say they want to save Sacramento a lot of money are only going to end up costing Sacramento a lot of money.

These are groups of locals who want a public vote on a proposed downtown arena when a public vote isn’t necessary. They are close to achieving their goal because they were funneled a lot money by people whose motives had nothing to do with giving the electorate a voice.

This supposedly democratic anti-arena movement has been bankrolled by interests who had hoped to pry the Kings out of Sacramento, or who want to wage a political fight against unions with Sacramento as the platform for free publicity.

The biggest contributor was Chris Hansen, the billionaire who tried to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle. When the NBA voted him down, Hansen responded by cutting a check for $100,000 that eventually paid for anti-arena signature gatherers to roam the capital. The Hansen money wasn’t reported legally, but locals were only too happy to use it.

The anti-arena movement also was bolstered by a contribution of nearly $40,000 from an a nonunion electrical contractors group angered that the Kings have agreed to use union labor to build the arena.

Even the way in which arena opponents are putting the question to voters is suspect. If you believed in debating the arena on the merits, you would have one vote – up or down – to settle whether Sacramento should help build the arena with a $258 million subsidy.

But that’s not what’s going to happen. If the arena issue qualifies for the ballot – arena opponents turned in 34,000 signatures last week and need 22,000 valid ones to qualify – what you may see is two votes, not one.

The first one, presumably in June, would simply ask voters if they want to decide whether a subsidy for a sports arena should go to a public vote. If that passed, the actual vote on the subsidy would take place in November.

Why do it this way? Pure mischief.

Delays cost money. They buy publicity. Those who bankrolled this sham of a campaign are trying to cause the most damage possible for their investment. The local people who get photographed and quoted in stories about the arena get to extend their 15 minutes of fame.

There is no doubting that some locals genuinely oppose a taxpayer subsidy for the arena and are motivated by that. But without suspect money behind them, they wouldn’t have reached their goal.

Meanwhile, it’s going to cost Sacramento roughly $100,000 to count all the signatures that Hansen, the nonunion contractors and others bought.

If their measure qualifies for the ballot, the city of Sacramento faces a legal question that is not insignificant.

Approval of a nonbinding term sheet agreement with the Kings to move forward on the arena project was achieved with a 7-2 majority of the City Council. It was a policy and financial decision made in public. The vote was taken after city Treasurer Russ Fehr reported that Sacramento could afford the project.

Legally, the city can proceed with the arena process whether the signatures qualify for the ballot or not. Fehr said the city could finalize the arena financing in late May – before any vote takes place.

It’s simply too early to know whether the city would actually consummate the arena deal with a June vote pending.

A few days ago, I criticized Mayor Kevin Johnson on Twitter for not going after arena opponents sooner – when people still had a chance to remove their names from anti-arena petitions.

But given whom Johnson is dealing with, who knows if the mayor erred or not?

Last week, one arena opponent said his group was particularly motivated to protect the interests of “the beautiful women of Sacramento who are devoted to the long-term growth of the city."

Yes! How about a shout-out to all the ladies out there!

While there’s still a chance arena opponents will fall short of the 22,000 valid signatures they need, it appears the issue will qualify for the ballot. The beat goes on, but now the gloves come off.

Sacramento City Council members have every right to proceed with votes on land-use and finance issues as officials who were duly elected by the people of Sacramento.

People who live here have a right to push back anytime outside interests finance efforts to subvert council votes. This whole process sets a very bad precedent. How many future council decisions will be subject to outside challenges waged by people with an ax to grind over some issue or another?

It’s malice disguised as democracy.

Well, if arena opponents wanted a fight over this, it appears they are going to get one. The lawyers are going to love it, but no one else will – including the arena opponents themselves.

Careful what you wish for.