California Forum

On the lighter side: Just who should make the decision on a downtown arena?

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this arena vote controversy, mainly because I know very little about it, and also because I don’t really care what happens.

But since neither of these reasons has stopped anyone else from spouting veritable fountains of gibberish, I took several minutes to carefully analyze both sides of the issue. As a result, I am ready to come down firmly on the side of those who want to bypass the electorate and build this puppy.

Here are four reasons why:

1. Sacramento needs the Kings. If we don’t build a new arena, the Kings will leave for another city. This, I don’t have to tell the sensible reader, would be a disaster.

I was here before the Kings came to town. It was pretty grim. If you wanted to spend more than a hundred bucks to watch a professional sport played at a mediocre level, you had to drive to the Bay Area. If you wanted a cup of Starbucks coffee, you had to drive to Seattle. Movies were viewable only in 2D.

Then the Kings arrived in 1985, and look at us now. Say you want to spend $120 on Dec. 23. Why, you can get two tickets in the last row of Sleep Train Arena, a place to park, two hot dogs and two small domestic beers! And did I mention you also get to see the Sacramento Kings play the New Orleans Pelicans, at least one of which apparently is an authentic pro basketball team?

Moreover, there are now 61 Starbucks in the Sacramento area. And you can not only watch a movie in 3D, you can watch it in something called “HFR3D.” Coincidence? I think not.

If the Kings left, it’s pretty clear that all Sacramento would have left would be its climate, its proximity to numerous scenic wonders in nearly every direction, its relatively low cost of housing, its dependable water supply and stable, publicly owned utility company, and maybe just a dozen or so other positive attributes. If the Kings left, Sacramento would become just another city without an NBA team, like San Diego. With them, we can look Oklahoma City right in the eye.

2. A new arena is a great investment. As I understand it, there is no better investment a city can make than in a building that benefits a private enterprise. Sacramento taxpayers would put up around $300 million by borrowing against future parking revenues, and maybe hotel tax revenues that also haven’t been collected yet. Then we pay only interest on the loans for eight years, and then principal for another 30 years or so. That means that when the new arena is paid off, it will be ours free and clear, and we can immediately begin building a brand new one! (If we already haven’t done so.)

I’m not even taking into account the absolute certainty that the new arena will be a catalyst for dozens of new restaurants, nightclubs, sports bars and Starbucks in the downtown area. Which we can all patronize, providing we can find an affordable place to park.

3. Voting on the new arena is a needless waste of money. It’s been estimated that just counting the signatures turned in to force a public vote could cost $100,000. This money could be better used to pay the $17.9 million salary of new Kings player Rudy Gay for nearly five games.

In addition, it should be pointed out that many of those signatures were gathered with the financial backing of out-of-town interests! Outrageous! What kind of precedent are we setting if we allow special-interest money to play a role in politics? Clearly the controversy surrounding the “suspect money” should supersede any discussion of whether a vote is merited. Which brings me to my last point.

4. Voters are idiots and might reject the proposal. Sacramento’s government is based on the idea of representative democracy. The members of the City Council were elected by us because we believed they would make well-reasoned decisions, and not just because there wasn’t anyone any better running. We should have every confidence they will not be blinded by personal ambition, or desires to leave an egotistical monument to themselves while leaving taxpayers with the bill years from now.

The new arena proposal is a vastly complicated issue with potentially significant economic repercussions for us all. It requires intense scrutiny, careful consideration and well-reasoned action.

Isn’t that precisely the kind of issue whose decision we should leave to someone else?