Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Sacramento council already voted on the arena

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

On the eve of a judge’s ruling on whether a downtown arena should go to a public vote or not, it seems a good time to clear up some misunderstandings.

Some ask: “Why are you against democracy and a public vote on the arena?”

I’m not. This isn’t about opposing democracy. It’s about honestly disagreeing a vote is necessary because a nonbinding deal to build the arena was approved by seven of nine Sacramento City Council members – representatives elected to make those kinds of decisions.

But if a judge decides this week that the arena should go to a public vote, who am I to argue? If it goes to a vote, it goes to a vote.

In 2006, another arena project went to a vote, but only because it involved a proposed sales tax hike and a vote was therefore required by state law. We can argue from now until forever about these points, but no direct tax hike means no mandatory vote in this case. If a vote happens now it will be because a judge found the signatures on a petition drive circulated by supporters of a vote more compelling than the many flaws in the petitions as cited by the Sacramento city clerk.

It could go either way, and a preliminary ruling is expected Thursday from Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley. In fact, a courtroom is a natural destination for an issue rife with so many fundamental disagreements.

Chief among them is why the city is seeking to invest $258 million in a $448 million arena. Why not investigate other uses for that money? I hear this question all the time and it still boggles the mind.

The point was to keep the Kings from relocating to Seattle. Period.

To follow the logic of those who wanted the city to explore other options, there would have to be an acceptance of the consequences: The Kings would have left for Seattle and Sacramento would have been the city that lost its most high-profile business after suffering the departure of too many others.

Sleep Train Arena and land around it would have been controlled by the new Kings owners – a group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen. Hansen is the same person who contributed $100,000 to collect signatures for an arena vote in Sacramento though he opposed a vote in Seattle.

In other words, Sacramento’s aging arena and surrounding land in Natomas would have been in the hands of people with little interest in what benefits Sacramento.

Meanwhile, the city would still be searching for some way to energize the dying Downtown Plaza and adjoining, empty properties. Investigating other options would have been a choice to embrace the unknown – turning away from a Kings investment group that spent more than $500 million on the franchise and pledges to spend as much on ancillary development downtown.

How does that make sense on any level for Sacramento? It doesn’t. It’s just a tightly held position by some who want a public vote and don’t really care how they get one.

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