Some took the high road in Sacramento’s arena-subsidy fight

To paraphrase Shakespeare, something is rotten in the city of Sacramento.

Anyone who has followed the arena subsidy issue has smelled the stink while realizing the difficulty of confirming the skulduggery at work.

So let us give thanks to Isaac Gonzalez, James Cathcart and Julian Camacho for their dogged perseverance in trying to expose how the city’s power brokers and ambitious politicians have manipulated the political system for their own enrichment and continue to do so.

Those three were the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that contended the city struck a secret side deal with the Kings’ owners last year to help them finance the purchase of the team. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley last week ruled that the plaintiffs failed to meet their legal burden of proof. The ruling, when finalized soon, will remove the last legal hurdle to a taxpayer subsidy to wealthy investors and clear the way for the city to start selling long-term bonds, backed in part by parking revenue.

As their reward for speaking truth to power, the plaintiffs could be held liable for thousands of dollars in court costs. It ain’t cheap to take on City Hall. The traditional watchdog for the public interest used to be the city’s daily newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, but my former employer has fallen on hard financial times. It’s gotten very selective on what issues it investigates, and arena skulduggery hasn’t been one of them. The Bee has beneficial tie-ins with the Kings, so it’s not surprising the newspaper has supported the subsidized downtown arena and repeatedly failed to ask hard questions regarding it.

Even today, a Bee editorial on the prospect of rising parking fees blithely notes that city officials won’t discuss the parking rate hikes in detail, although they briefed  business and downtown officials on the plans. A news story Friday said the same thing. Why are city officials refusing to disclose planning details with the newspaper and its hundreds of thousands of readers? Why are they talking only to business interests? Why doesn’t this trigger journalistic instincts to investigate?

Well, as the Sacramento News and Review discovered when it printed a lot of details about rising parking fees, a storm of criticism may erupt. The Bee may not want to stoke those fires now that the last major legal obstacle to the arena has been kicked aside. The time to have alerted the public to exploitative parking rate increases would have been years ago. I blogged about Chicago’s parking woes back in 2011.  

Adding insult to journalistic irresponsibility has been the Bee’s Marcos Breton, a practitioner of cheap shot journalism who has aligned himself with the moneyed arena crowd. He was eager in his Sunday column to malign the motives of the plaintiffs while swallowing Judge’s Frawley’s contentions without so much as a burp.

For example, the judge took a benign view of Mayor Kevin Johnson’s erasure of text messages related to the arena deal after the plaintiffs sent the city a letter notifying them to maintain all communications. While skeptics saw this as destruction of possible smoking-gun evidence, Frawley contended the deletions were caused by “carelessness, not malicious intent.” Gee whiz!

The lesson in all this is that Sacramento residents who prefer not to get screwed as arena events unfold will need to do more independent research rather than rely on a watchdog newspaper with loose teeth and politicians who put self-interest over the public good.  





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From Gen. Robert E. Lee to John McCain, hero worship carries a price

These are strange times on the moral-issues front.

 It took the killing of nine blacks in a Charleston, S.C., church before fair-minded citizens started seriously confronting the symbolism of flying the Confederate flag over government buildings and naming schools after Gen. Robert E. Lee, the military leader of Southern forces in the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers died fighting the institution of slavery represented by that flag and General Lee. However brave Lee might have been on the battlefield, he was fighting to keep 4 million Americans in chains.

Meanwhile, we have the ironic spectacle of a morally bankrupt Donald Trump suggesting Americans take a second look at the actions of Arizona Sen. John McCain during the Vietnam War. McCain, a Navy pilot whose plane was shot down on his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam, has been hailed as a hero partly for enduring more than five years of harsh imprisonment in Hanoi. He was honored by President Nixon in the White House and awarded various medals, from the Purple Heart to the Silver Star.

While there are those who see McCain as a war criminal, the mercurial Trump opened fire on McCain on a different level. 

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump declared. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Predictably, Trump was denounced across the country both for attacking an enshrined war hero and for avoiding military service himself during the Vietnam War. Trump received a student deferment during his college days and then was declared medical unfit because of bone spurs in his foot.

The tabloid New York Daily News splashed this headline over the story: “Photos show Donald Trump in military uniform, with athletic teams before dodging the Vietnam draft with ‘bull—t’ injury.”  The Washington Post ran a cheap comparison article detailing Trump’s playboy lifestyle during the years McCain was enduring torture, solitary confinement and other harsh treatment at the “Hanoi Hilton.”

What went largely unexamined was McCain’s participation in the long-running aerial bombing campaign called Operation Rolling Thunder. The combined forces of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and the South Vietnamese air force carried out heavy bombing of North Vietnam from March 1965 until November 1968. The operation was the most intense air/ground battle waged during the Cold War period and was the most difficult such campaign fought by the U.S. Air Force since the aerial bombardment of Germany during World War II, according to a lengthy Wikipedia article.

Although statistics vary, these appear in the ballpark: U.S. aircraft flew more than 300,000 sorties and dropped about 643,000 tons of bombs on North Vietnam; the North Vietnamese suffered 90,000 casualties, including 72,000 civilians, according to a CIA estimate; more than  900 U.S. aircraft were lost, and 745 crewmen was shot down.

Such devastation was inflicted on North Vietnam in a war that was increasingly seen as  immoral, illegal and misguided and today generally accepted as such. Personal moral accountability was a major issue debated across the country in those days. Many of those who signed up to fight declared their belief in the duty to serve one’s country and fight communism. Many who opposed the war quoted religious thinkers, philosophers and political activists from Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. What you did and why you did it mattered a lot.

Despite the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and a war on terror complete with deadly drone strikes from afar, the issue of personal moral responsibility is little discussed these days. Military personnel are routinely thanked for serving their country by people increasing spared from military service and the moral jungle of war.

This is no time to blindly worship those whom we call war heroes.  

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About guys who grunt in the weight room

An athletic club is a good place to study human nature. I continue to be puzzled why some of my fellow members at the upscale Capital Athletic Club in Sacramento feel it’s appropriate to discard their dirty towels on the gym floor after playing basketball. They bring the club-provided towels from the locker areas; why don’t they take them back or put them in the receptacle provided? Do they assume the club staff members are there to clean up after them?

And why do some guys think the shower is a fine place to relieve themselves of copious quantities of phlegm? I understand that the warm moisture loosens the nasal and throat passages, but publicly exercising the muscles in those areas is repulsive and unsanitary. Surely, they were taught that at home or in kindergarten.

Equally puzzling to me is one beefy fellow I will call “The Grunter.” He indulges in loud primal groans that can be heard throughout the long, zigzag weight room. The club frowns on such orgiastic excesses and advises this guy periodically to lower the decibel level. He complies briefly and then reverts to form.

Given that I’m neither a grunter nor a casual violator of club rules, I’ve wondered how this guy views the world. One recent Saturday morning, I got an insight. I was driving north on Eighth Street toward the club parking lot. At P Street, I found my route to the lot blocked by police sawhorse barriers because of some event at the state Capitol a few blocks away.

I shrugged off the inconvenience and drove around the block in a futile search for a nearby street parking spot. When I got back to the barrier on Eighth Street, I saw a guy in a Hummer approaching the sawhorse barrier. He stopped briefly and then drove up on the sidewalk to get around the barrier. He then proceeded to the parking lot.

I was so astonished at his audacity that I hung around to see if I recognized the driver. Sure enough, it was “The Grunter.” It should have come as no surprise. A person who drives around in a quasi-military truck must like to flex his muscles.

I wouldn’t dream of driving around a police traffic barrier except in extreme circumstances. My parents instilled in me both a respect for the law and a fear of police. This combination of respect and fear was extended to cover teachers and other authority figures. I did not come home with an unsatisfactory deportment grade on my report card.

My respect for traffic laws cost me $3 in meter fees. “The Grunter” got to park for free. He gets to indulge himself in the weight room; I inhibit my moans and groans. I pick up my towels in the gym and keep my congestion to myself in the shower.

I hope virtue is its own reward.

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Soccer stadium at railyard site would derail hopes for a livable downtown Sacramento

As everyone knows, downtown Sacramento is coldly unappealing and largely empty at night because it’s chock full of state and commercial office buildings. The area will never become a thriving nightspot like midtown until we have a lot of people living in the immediate area.

 The obvious solution is to transform the abandoned 240-acre railyard site just north of downtown into an urban village. This is so obvious that the city has already approved 12,000 housing units there. Last year, a Sacramento Bee article extolled the railyard’s prospects, noting the site has been called the most promising infill property nationally, future home to thousands of residents, offices, businesses, restaurants and a railroad museum.

But that was then. Now, we have moneyed sports interests and our mayor touting a 25,000-seat soccer stadium at the site. The Sacramento Kings organization has become a minority investor in Sacramento Republic FC, the minor league soccer team looking to join the ranks of Major League Soccer.

“All of us are building Sacramento into a city that will set the example for the way sports and culture interact with American cities in the future,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said regarding the financial involvement of the Kings.

The Bee, having led the cheerleading for a downtown Kings arena, is now going wild over soccer. A Tuesday story headlined “Bringing soccer to Sacramento”  enthusiastically noted that Legends, “a company that has been involved in some of the world’s largest stadium endeavors,” has agreed to act as project manager for a new soccer-specific stadium in downtown Sacramento.

My goodness, that’s almost as exciting as getting artist Jeff Koons, “perhaps the biggest art star in the world today,” according to booster Lial Jones of the Crocker Art Museum, to do an arena sculpture in little old Sacramento for a mere $8 million. The dollar signs must be flashing far and wide.

The idea of a soccer stadium at the railyard site seems to be going unquestioned. Who thinks this is a better idea than building an urban village? Why? Even if it were financed with private funds (joke, joke), who would pay for all the infrastructure costs and remedial measures needed at this “world-class” toxic dump site? If one sports facility downtown will create traffic messes, why double-down on the problem?

Most important, who stands to gain the most from such a project? It certainly doesn’t appear to be the residents of Sacramento who want a livable, thriving downtown day and night.

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Shady parking spot causes trouble

“Hell is other people.”

That line came to mind the other day as I was plotting get-back tactics to annoy a neighbor who seems on a mission to irritate me. At least that’s what I think. I could be in error. Years ago, a friend advised me: “Clegg, you’ve been known to be wrong.”

Here’s the situation: This neighbor has taken to parking her car in the shade of my towering valley oak tree instead of in her own driveway or in front of her house. Given that my detached garage is filled with garden equipment and my driveway faces into the midday and afternoon sun, I often have to get into a suffocatingly hot car.

I take the usurpation of my street parking spot as a personal affront. I assume it’s an outgrowth of the long-running feud I had with this neighbor. She acquired a large dog, which she rarely, if ever, walked, and left outside in her backyard when she wasn’t home. The dog would cry and bark for hours and hours. I finally sicced the city of Sacramento on her after she ignored personal appeals for a couple of years. Years! That did little good because the city does little more than send a warning letter.

Happily for me, this neighbor got married and moved to another part of Sacramento about two years ago. She chose to let her house sit vacant. About six weeks ago, she started bringing in an assortment of workers to fix up the house for sale. That’s when she started parking in my shaded curbside parking spot. She didn’t ask me if I would mind, not even when the temperature hit 107 degrees a few weeks back. I am tempted to say unpleasant things to her, but I hate to give her the satisfaction of knowing I’m irritated. I see no legal recourse and feel trapped.

I suppose that’s why “hell is other people” popped into my head. It’s a line from the play “No Exit” by the French writer Jean Paul Sartre. In my college days, I was quite taken by Sartre, Camus and other existentialists who wrestled with finding meaning amid the nothingness of the universe. In this play, three characters find themselves in a room in hell and can’t escape from each other.  They not only annoy each other, but, on a larger level, they are so caught up in how they are perceived or defined that they can’t break free to choose how they really want to live.

I know how these characters feel. At 7 in the morning, I move my car from the driveway to the favored street spot in front of my house even though the heat isn’t a factor until about noon, and I prefer the security of my driveway. My priority is to make sure this neighbor can’t grab the spot when she comes over to supervise work on her house. I suspect this will irk her. But when I have to go somewhere, I start anticipating the neighbor will take the opportunity to seize the spot as much for the f … you value as for the shade. From there, I proceed to indulge in negativity that undercuts my desire for a calm, untroubled life. I imagine this unpleasantness could continue until the house is sold.

 In Sartre’s bleak nothingness I suppose I should choose to live in the moment, minimize anticipatory and reactive negativity, and embrace my freedom.

 On a less sophisticated level, perhaps I should just start singing “Que Sera, Sera” and think of sweet Doris Day.

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