In S.F., arena builders show some class

Let us now praise the owners of the Golden State Warriors. They are planning to build a $1 billion arena at their own expense. Imagine that – businessmen who are willing to assume the financial risk for their own ambitious enterprise instead of twisting arms for a public handout.

The owners have also given up their grandiose plan to build an arena on prime waterfront property just south of the Bay Bridge in favor of a grittier waterfront site.

In developments over the weekend, the Warriors’ owners announced they had abandoned their plan to build an arena on Piers 30-32 near the Embarcadero and instead have purchased a12-acre site in Mission Bay for their 18,000-seat arena.

 “The Warriors will own the site outright, rather than leasing it from the Port of San Francisco, and the team says the arena will be entirely privately financed —a rare instance of a modern sports venue that would use no taxpayer funds or public land,” reported SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online site.

The shift in location involves fewer regulatory hurdles for the Warriors, the story said, and  eliminates any need for voter approval, which may have become necessary for the original Pier 30-32 venue.

The change has assuaged some of the project’s most vocal critics, who opposed building a 125-foot-high arena near the Embarcadero amid concerns about traffic, environmental harm during construction and blocked views of the Bay Bridge.

Neil deMause, co-author of “Field of Schemes,” a book that reveals the myriad manipulations in the arena-building game, said on his blog site today: “This may actually be the rare case of a new sports facility that’s a win-win for both the team owners and the city.”

Meanwhile in Sacramento, city officials and the risk-averse owners of the Kings are hammering out details of a $477 million arena deal  that will put the city on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, tear up downtown Sacramento for a couple of years, and create traffic nightmares on game nights.

Do these folks care about the concerns of local residents, who will bear the brunt of their ambitious, financially risky scheme? They don’t, which they proved by sidestepping a vote on subsidizing a new arena and insisting on a hemmed-in downtown site for their “world-class” arena.

It’s refreshing to see the Warriors’ owners put their money where their ambition is and show some respect for local residents. Maybe a bit of their “world-class” style will  rub off on Sacramento’s schemers and pipe dreamers. And maybe the owners of the Kings can pick up a few tips on how to get a team into the NBA playoffs. Go Warriors!


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Tough love for star athletes — are you kidding?


DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins

The headline atop the Sacramento Bee’s sport page today says: “It’s time to stop coddling Aldon Smith.” Columnist Matthew Barrows contends that the San Francisco 49ers need to take a tough position regarding their star outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Picking up his fifth-year option and rewarding him with a $9.75 million contract extension is no way to respond to Smith’s repeated run-ins with the law. A tough-love approach is needed, Barrows says.

“What Smith needs are consequences, which to this point have been minimal for someone with so many serious issues in the past two years,” says Barrows, who calls Smith “perhaps the most talented pass rusher in franchise history.”

Although Smith missed five games last season while in an alcohol-rehab program, his on-field performance for the 49ers has been superlative. According to SB Nation’s Tom Brady, Smith has 42 sacks, five forced fumbles and 137 combined tackles across three seasons since being taken No. 7 overall in 2011. When he’s on the field, he makes a good team better.

The 49ers have until May 3 to decide whether they will reward Smith with a lucrative contract extension or tighten the screws on him in hopes of curtailing his off-field transgressions.

In an ironic bit of timing, the Sunday Bee ran a lengthy piece on the outlook for the Sacramento Kings and posed the question: “Can DeMarcus Cousins become a respected leader and teammate?”

Cousins presents an interesting contrast to Smith of the 49ers. The Kings’ 6-foot-11, 270-pound center stays out of trouble with the cops; he confines his myriad transgressions to the basketball arena. Although his personal scoring and rebounding stats have improved, Cousins has been a loose cannon on the floor and demoralizing influence on his teammates. For the second year in a row, Cousins led to the Kings to a 28-54 record. He again was a league leader in technical fouls and missed the final home game this year because of a league suspension.

The Bee’s Jason Jones, who covers the Kings, said in his Sunday article: “For all his talent, Cousins has earned the reputation of being a teammate who is not easy to play with or get along with in the locker room. Some of Cousins’ former teammates in Sacramento say privately they’re relieved to be away from him and his bullish personality.”

Being a third-rate team in a minor market, the Kings have trouble attracting and keeping talent. Cousins is the antithesis of a rising young star who attracts other talented players and helps them become better players. One would think team management would adopt a tough-love approach to get Cousins to shape up. Instead, the Kings in September gave Cousins a four-year contract extension worth $62 million.

“When the new ownership and front office touted Cousins as the cornerstone of the franchise and team leader entering this season, teammates knew that empowering the emotional 23-year-old with such clout would only make the situation more difficult,” Jones observed.

We can see how well that worked out for the team and fans last season, and what it bodes for the Kings in coming years. Too bad tough love isn’t Sacramento’s style. Fans will suffer the consequences.

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Owners of Kings aren’t the only ones who could use a city handout

If I were starting a small business in Sacramento, I sure would welcome a gift of $200,000 a year to help me with advertising. That could cover the cost of renting land alongside a busy freeway so I could put up a flashy billboard. Imagine all the customers that would bring into my little shop of pleasures.

 Buy hey, who’s going to donate $200,000 to my little new business? Everyone knows you have to be a multimillionaire before folks rush to give you money. That’s why the rich get richer, and the rest of us struggle along.

Sacramento city officials, not content with giving the wealthy owners of the Kings a $258 million subsidy, plan to throw in all the chump change they can to feed the insatiable appetite of these downtown arena builders. The city intends to turn over six prime sites basically rent-free to these folks so they can build flashy digital billboards.

Kings officials say the colorfully lit billboards in visible locations will be used to promote the team, the arena and downtown, a Bee story Tuesday said. Tens of thousands of drivers will see electronic ads from team sponsors.

This is not necessarily a good thing for public safety. Digital boards continue to create debate about safety and light pollution, the story noted. Some drivers say they create a distraction and that their bright displays can produce a problematic glare at night.

Rest assured that the City Council won’t spend much time in coming weeks assessing the safety of these billboards. They need to turn over public assets to the arena crowd quickly so construction work can start soon. Let us not forget the NBA has given the city a deadline for arena completion.

What kind of chump change are we talking about with the billboards? Why, it’s so small that it escapes the notice of Assistant City Manager John Dangberg. “There is no cost to the city,” Dangberg told the Bee, a disingenuous statement at best. He did acknowledge this week that such billboard sites rent for about $200,000 a year on the open market.

In the shell game that is arena financing, Dangberg conveniently overlooks how much rental money these six parcels could produce for the city. In a 2010 contract between the city and Clear Channel Outdoor, Clear Channel agreed to pay an upfront fee of $330,000 and annual payments of $720,000 for four city-owned billboard sites, according to Eye on Sacramento, a taxpayer watchdog group.  

EOS has computed that the city would forgo annual rent of approximately $1,050,000 per year (plus a $500,000 upfront fee) on the six digital billboard sites for the 35-year term of the arena lease.

Clear Channel was hoping to get at least three of the sites being turned over the Kings owners and isn’t too happy with the city’s actions, as the Bee pointed out in a story last year.

City Council members haven’t signed on the dotted line yet. There’s time to attend an April 22 briefing to the council to protest this gift to the one-percenters or – if you own a small business – to argue that you want a handout, too. 

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Life and death decisions in the garden


The sunflowers, left, are already as tall as the young persimmon tree.

The sunflowers, left, are already as tall as the young persimmon tree.

I spared the volunteer sunflowers yesterday and gave them a deep drink of water. I had been thinking of getting rid of them. My wife, who usually requisitions a patch of the “back forty” for her flower garden, announced that she had other commitments and wouldn’t be planting annuals this year. “It will save water, too,” she said.

Saving water – how many times will we be hearing that phrase this drought year? The newspaper is filled with water-saving tips; neighbors are tattling on neighbors over misuse of sprinklers; politicians are flexing their muscles in behalf of corporate farmers; salmon and steelhead are getting screwed.

Sure, my wife and I are doing our civic duty. We’ve put in low-flush toilets, replaced an old washing machine with a more efficient front-loading one; put a bucket in the bathroom to conserve cold-water runoff. Of course, we don’t know how much water we’re saving because, like most Sacramento city residents, we don’t have a water meter. It will take another 10 years before city residents succumb fully to state pressure on that issue.

As a California resident for more than 40 years, I’ve been through enough drought cycles to know the drill. I also know that our diligence at home will do more to ease our conscience than contribute much to the communal water supply. As the Sacramento Bee noted in January when Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency, agriculture drains off 75 percent of the state’s fresh water. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the combined water use of four major agricultural counties — Fresno, Kern, Tulare and Imperial – is five times higher than that of Los Angeles County and its 9.8 million residents.

The water wars throughout California’s history are sufficient to cast a veil of cynicism over who will sacrifice for the communal good and who will divert as much water as possible to make a profit. It’s hardly encouraging that, over the past two decades, California farmers have made a major shift away from annual crops to nut trees. The Central Valley has been filling up with vast orchards that require year-round watering and long-term commitment. What environmental sense does that make? A lot of Central Valley land is already subsiding from overuse of groundwater.

Meanwhile, the sunflowers, which took root via seeds dropped from last year’s towering creatures, are already between 4- and 6-feet high. If they don’t get sufficient water, they’ll start toppling over. That wouldn’t be good for the nearby persimmon tree I planted last year. The tree, which cost me $60, is definitely going to stay through this summer of drought, as are the nearby roses and the 20-year-old orange tree. If I start feeling guilty about water use, the annual sunflowers will be the losers.

Like any farmer, I’m going to protect my long-term investments.

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On being an athletic fat kid


"A healthy, growing boy" about 10 years old.

“A healthy, growing boy” about 10 years old.

When I brought home my report card near the end of fourth grade at Our Lady of Lourdes grammar school in Queens, I gave it to my mother. She took it into the dining room to discuss it with my father. I assumed it would go over all right. My grades, except for penmanship, were all in the 90s. I had gotten an “S” for satisfactory in conduct. Dad might demand to know why it wasn’t an “A.” I was prepared to tell him Sister George Michael gave everyone a “S” unless you had talked back to her. He’d give me the once-over and warn me not to be a wise guy in class.  I went into the kitchen to get a snack.

Soon, I heard the sound of whispering in the dining room. I edged near the kitchen wall. “Why would that nun say he’s “obese’?” my mother asked in an irritated tone.  “He’s not obese.”

I didn’t know the meaning of “obese,” but it didn’t sound good. I hadn’t even noticed the word on my report card. It must have been stuck on the back with all the boiler-plate language. I didn’t hear any response from my father. I was not summoned into the dining room. The subject, evidently, was closed.

That childhood episode returned to mind recently when I was reading an opinion piece in the New York Times headlined: “What I’d Say to My Fat Son.” The writer, Joshua Max, describes an unhappy childhood in which he was mocked and abused for being fat, followed by years of dieting, purging and health-related problems.

With the help of 12-step programs, Max said he has finally brought his weight problems under control and found some peace of mind. However, he noted, “Though I’m now at an average weight, I’ll always see a chubby little dude in the mirror.”

 The summer after fourth grade, I was told that I would be spending two weeks at Camp Malloy on Long Island. I wasn’t given a reason for what would be my first trip away from home. It’s possible my mother was having an operation. Such things were not discussed with children.

On my first day at Camp Malloy, standing about 5 foot 5 and weighing close to 150 pounds, I got my first introduction into how I was seen by kids who didn’t know me: I was a fat, slow kid they didn’t want on their team. I was picked dead last for the camp softball game. A miserable two weeks could be coming up.

Fortunately, I did not suffer much from negative body images. My mother, a rather large woman herself, always described me as a healthy, growing boy and urged me to join her in having a brownie from the wonderful German bakery up on Braddock Avenue. Aunt May always delegated me to go to Leo’s candy store to buy ice cream for dessert on Sunday afternoons. My classmates and neighborhood friends knew I was a powerhouse at stickball and didn’t need to be a speedster on the bases.

When I finally lumbered up to the plate in the third inning of that game at Camp Malloy, I sent a shot sailing so far over the centerfielder’s head that a home run was assured. I was the golden athlete at camp for the duration of my stay there.

At Braddock Park, which was my hangout from age 4 until I left for college, I came in for teasing when I was a kid, especially by the teenage athletes. “Fat Paul,” Whitey would shout as soon as he saw me. I was allowed to play in one of their softball games one time and hit a line drive to left field. Whitey rolled – rolled!! – the ball to first base and got me out, much to the amusement of the crowd.

OK, I had to put up with guys like Whitey, but the teasing wasn’t mean-spirited and indicated some level of acceptance in the park’s athletic hierarchy. By the end of sixth grade, I had grown a few inches and turned some fat into muscle. When I became a high school basketball player, Whitey, a college ballplayer, served as one of my mentors.

I was fortunate that my athletic skills, and my family’s attitude, spared me the kind of taunting and abuse suffered by the writer Joshua Max. Despising the kid inside you is a hard way to go through life.

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