What is it about sports that makes California politicians act even more irrationally than usual?
The political panic in San Diego and Oakland over the potential losses of professional football teams is just the latest example of the phenomenon.
Politicians – and local media, to be fair – routinely elevate threats of team owners to decamp or opportunities to capture a team from another city into crises akin to a zombie apocalypse.
Although there’s no evidence that sports venues are a net economic benefit, officeholders evidently believe that losing a team is a municipal death sentence while gaining one confers legendary status. They grovel, therefore, to satisfy cynically manipulative team owners and league officials.
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When, for example, it appeared that the Kings basketball team, which had already moved twice before landing in Sacramento in 1985, would pack its bags again, Mayor Kevin Johnson spearheaded a drive to find new owners who would keep the team in the capital.
He succeeded, but at the high cost of underwriting a new downtown arena. To finance its share of the arena, the city pledged, among other things, revenue from city parking spaces, which is now resulting in a sharp parking rate increase.
Johnson is also advocating extension of a half-cent hike in the city’s sales tax that he opposed when it was on the ballot in 2012.
There’s no official connection between the arena and the $42 million-per-year sales tax, of course. As usual, it’s couched in terms of protecting popular police and fire services. But if tens of millions of dollars in parking revenue are going to the arena, it’s reasonable to assume a tax extension would help fill the void.
It should be noted, too, that when the new Kings arena was proposed, Darrell Steinberg used his position as president pro tem of the Senate to fast-track its path through environmental laws. Steinberg now hopes to succeed Johnson.
It was similar to what occurred when professional football stadiums were being proposed for Los Angeles to fill what fans and politicians saw as a soul-destroying void.
Environmental law exceptions were quickly enacted, and the Rams franchise, which had fled Los Angeles for St. Louis in 1995, announced a return to Southern California and a lavish new arena in Inglewood.
Los Angeles’ sports ambitions, however, are not satisfied with the return of the Rams. The city is also the United States’ Olympic Committee’s choice to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, but is openly skittish about a demand from the International Olympic Committee that it guarantee any financial losses from the Games.
Los Angeles’ officials have signed a document making the pledge, hoping that if L.A. wins the bid, the 2024 Olympics will emulate its 1984 Olympics, which were a roaring financial success. But officials are worried about heavy losses other venues have incurred since then.
Steinberg’s successor as Senate president pro tem, Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de León, has introduced a bill that would commit the state to cover up to $250 million of the city’s Olympics deficits.
So the beat goes on.