Marcos Bretón

Judge will have the final say on public vote for arena

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

Don’t start celebrating a new arena in Sacramento just yet.

A judge will likely decide the question of whether there should be a public vote on the approval of an arena – and the will of registered voters is a powerful force that no judge will dismiss lightly.

It may not matter that the city clerk of Sacramento invalidated enough signatures to disqualify the anti-arena ballot measure campaign on Friday.

It may not matter that the anti-arena forces behind the collection of more than 22,000 signatures are – shall we say – less than impressive.

It may not matter that much of the money raised to collect anti-arena signatures came from highly dubious sources.

What should not be discounted is the capacity of a judge to side with the desire of the electorate to vote on an issue.

It’s a legitimate desire given that the city of Sacramento wants to commit a $258 million public subsidy to the $448 million arena.

It’s just too bad that the people leading the anti-arena campaign are so utterly disappointing.

On Friday, it took them more than seven hours after Sacramento City Clerk Shirley Concolino’s decision became public to issue a statement.

Seven hours?

“We are conferring with our attorneys and evaluating our legal options for overturning this action that is profoundly disrespectful of the rights of Sacramento voters,” said the press release put out by STOP – the acronym for Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork.

In this case, you wonder if “evaluating our legal options” actually means: We don’t know who is going to pay the lawyers.

Much of the money to collect anti-arena signatures came from Chris Hansen, the hedge fund billionaire who tried and failed to move the Kings to Seattle.

That funding source is now dry and it’s an open question where anti-arena foes would secure more money going forward.

Until it’s answered, STOP fell back to its default position on Friday: accusing everyone who questions them of corruption.

“The city clerk is trying to use a small number of minor and insignificant printing errors in the initiative petition to disenfranchise Sacramento voters.”

“The city of Sacramento, as the primary proponent of the arena subsidy, is doing everything in its power to deprive the voters of Sacramento of their fundamental right to vote …”

These statements suggest that Concolino is subverting her duty to follow California election law – that she is somehow part of some vast city conspiracy.

Neither Concolino nor her office has had any involvement in arena negotiations. As a city charter officer, she does not answer to City Manager John Shirey, whose office is negotiating the arena deal for the city.

She has a spotless reputation. To suggest that she is doing anything other than her job is really despicable – and it’s par for the course for this group.

They act as if they corner the market on virtue, which is laughable considering Hansen was their sugar daddy.

Their petitions had numerous flaws, and The Bee had no problem finding legal experts – with no connection to Sacramento or the arena issue – to say the anti-arena people are in trouble.

Jessica Levinson, an election-law expert at Loyola University in Los Angeles, told The Bee that the courts usually interpret petition requirements strictly.

Left off all the petitions, according to Concolino, was required language notifying all voters that the measure proposed on the petition would be enacted into law if passed by a public vote.

You read that correctly: These Einsteins asked people to sign petitions that never stated what would happen if they signed. Duhhhh.

You might say: People understood that signing the arena petition would lead to a vote whose outcome could become city law.

OK, but how you can we assume everyone knew that?

“Just because people signed (the petitions) doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow the provisions,” Levinson told The Bee.

“There is absolutely case law that says, ‘This might sound picky, but we have these provisions for a reason,’ ” she said.

The anti-arena folks circulated nine different versions of their petition, according to Concolino. Some petitions had entirely different language than others.

Some had incomplete sentences. We could go on, but you get the point.

And still, it may mean nothing at all, depending on the judge.

Jim Sanchez, Sacramento’s city attorney, is rightly arguing caution for now. He told The Bee that while he’s confident that Concolino’s decision will be upheld, it could still be a “close decision.”

The will of registered voters vs. the specifics of California election law is a dynamic legal argument.

You wonder if the anti-arena people will have the wherewithal to press the argument in court.

You wish that politically sophisticated local interests with credibility and money had led the local anti-arena movement, as opposed to what we’ve had instead: some retired state workers and a motley supporting crew.

Democracy is beautiful in theory and in spirit. But in practice – in this case – not so much.

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