Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Housing advocates put their greed on display with arena suit

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

We have reached the extortion phase of our program.

Principled, albeit misguided, opposition to the downtown arena has been replaced by people with outstretched hands in search of cash – lots of it.

They want millions of dollars and are going about it in a time-tested way in our state – by using the California Environmental Quality Act as cover for a shakedown.

Affordable housing advocates filed a CEQA suit against the downtown arena on Thursday. They want $40 million for affordable housing from the Kings.

How, you might ask, can they be suing on environmental grounds if what they want is money?

They aren’t even trying to hide the mockery they are making out of CEQA to pursue what they want.

They call themselves the Sacramento Coalition for Shared Prosperity, an apt title considering how they want the Kings to share some “prosperity” with them.

It would actually be funny if Sacramento weren’t being barraged by CEQA lawsuits that purport to be about the environment but are actually about harming projects.

In the CEQA suit against the Kings, the primary groups involved are the Sacramento Housing Alliance, the Environmental Council of Sacramento and the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, along with some others.

The principal actors are: Tamie Dramer and Darryl Rutherford of the Housing Alliance and Alex Kelter from ECOS.

Some might ask what’s the big deal in sticking it to billionaire Kings owners? Power to the People!

That would indeed be a nice way to spin the story, if it were only true.

It’s the city of Sacramento that will have to pay out of its general fund to defend this CEQA suit and another that was recently filed. Eventually, the Kings will reimburse the city for these costs. But the initial outlay of legal fees – and all the city staff time diverted away from working on affordable housing projects to prepare for the case – will be borne by the city.

Sacramento is already on the hook for as much as $750,000 in general fund money to defend a different suit that alleges fraud in the Kings arena deal. Because that suit was filed before the city and the Kings formalized the arena deal, Sacramento has to spend nearly $1 million in legal fees with no Kings reimbursement. Taxpayers can direct their comments and questions to the lawyers in that case – Patrick Soluri and Jeffrey Anderson.

The housing advocates suing the city under CEQA should be ashamed for other reasons.

The downtown core of Sacramento already represents the greatest concentration of affordable housing in the entire region.

As recently as 2006, the city of Sacramento produced more affordable housing than any other jurisdiction in the state.

In what is known as the central business district of Sacramento – from the Sacramento River to 16thStreet and from H Street to L Street – there are 1,524 housing units, according to the city.

A whopping 77 percent of those units are designated affordable housing, while only 23 percent are market rate, according to city figures.

There are also many affordable projects funded by the city very near the central business district, including the Mercy Housing project at Seventh and H streets. That project consists of 150 units of single-room occupancy housing that got $21 million in assistance from the city, officials said.

There are 267 affordable housing units planned for the downtown railyard and additional affordable housing planned in the River District.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Kings have committed to contributing $863,760 to the City Housing Trust Fund, monies used to assist the financing of new affordable housing projects for working people. The Kings will pay the $863,760 once the arena is done. But that contribution will grow to $2 million once the Kings complete ancillary development around the arena.

The money in the City Housing Trust Fund is used for people with very low or low incomes. Very low is defined as 50 percent of the area median income, and low is 80 percent, city officials said.

In other words, the city already has a ton of housing that’s below market rate and available to working, low-income people and very-low-income people.

In other words, the Kings are already poised to make a substantial contribution to a long-held city policy that Sacramento is committed to providing housing for people of all incomes.

In other words, to provide true diversity in housing in Sacramento’s downtown core, what is needed is not more affordable housing. What is needed is more market-rate housing and higher-end housing.

It’s poised to happen, and when it does no one should believe the myth that Sacramento doesn’t support affordable housing. The numbers would prove such assertions to be a lie. The numbers shame the housing advocates who chose to distort the meaning of CEQA to support their ridiculous demands.

They would do well to withdraw this lawsuit right now before it’s too late – before people who otherwise might contribute to their causes begin to wonder if they are worthy of public support.

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