Things are getting crazy with the Kings and the arena. They mayor and his buddies are concocting desperate schemes behind closed doors, the public has little idea what’s being given away and the purported watchdogs are cheering on the spectacle.
With the stakes for the city’s financial future so high and local irresponsibility so extreme, one can only hope that the NBA itself finds Sacramento’s resources insufficient to feed its insatiable greed.
Last week, Mayor Kevin Johnson, whose political career is riding on keeping the Kings, released this statement to the Sacramento Bee:
“We know that there is a breadth and depth of support for a public-private partnership to build a downtown-based arena that will create thousands of jobs and transform the downtown, all while putting the taxpayers first and protecting the general fund.”
Virtually everything in that statement is baseless, but it was mindlessly printed in the Sacramento Bee. Voters made it perfectly clear in 2006 that they want no part of subsidzing NBA millionaires; academic studies have demolished the idea that arenas are economic generators; and the mayor himself has concocted a parking privatization financing scheme that sidesteps taxpayer approval while jeopardizing the general fund.
City manager John Shirey, who is dancing as fast as he can to the NBA’s tune, refused to release details of his negotiations with billionaire Ron Burkle, one of the mayor’s “whales.” Shirey insisted the negotiations were private and said many details have not been nailed down.
“Details” include the location of a new arena, its cost, the amount of a public subsidy, the value of the city’s parking concession and how the general fund, which finances basic city services, would be replenished.
Nevertheless, Shirey claims he’ll have a plan ready for a public forum this Thursday and a City Council vote March 26. The rush, of course, is to meet NBA commissioner David Stern’s April 3 deadline. Stern has kindly warned Sacramento to come up with more money if it wants to be taken seriously.
The absurdity and the danger of rushing into such a major financial undertaking are clear, but don’t expect the mayor and his developer buddies, who have the most to gain, to stop the train. I doubt the council will have the gumption to stand up to the mayor.
I thought the Bee might, at long last, rise to the watchdog role it should play as the city’s only daily newspaper. I thought it might want atone for its long abdication of responsibility and its incredible burying of John Kehriotis’ alternative arena plan. Thank goodness for Jim Crandell and Fox 40 for keeping on top of the story. I even hoped the Bee might take an editorial stand saying: Enough of this craziness.
Instead, the newspaper’s editorial writers Thursday called for a forum on March 26 instead of a council meeting to “let the public have its say on arena proposal,” as the headline put it. At that stage of the process, calling for public input is nothing but an empty, cynical gesture.
And so the craziness goes. It looks as though local lawyers will have to be called upon to stop the runaway train.