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.