Oakland, San Diego run into ethics mess with their luxury suites

Monday’s blog focused on who will get free tickets to sit in the city of Sacramento’s suite at the new arena; today’s piece is a look at the mess caused in two California cities by such giveaways.

The problems are so glaring that you wonder why seasoned politicians and city officials didn’t flee from the temptation to procure a luxury suite at the new arena in downtown Sacramento.

First, it just doesn’t look good when you subsidize the building of a sports arena and walk away with a king-sized perk that will primarily benefit you and your buddies.

Second, residents who footed the $255 million bill will be unhappy when they discover they have little chance to get through the door of the city’s luxury suite.

Third, bigwigs regularly get into trouble for playing fast and loose with freebies bestowed on them by folks who might have something to gain.

Oakland is the latest California city to run afoul of the ethics police on this issue. In June, the city’s Public Ethics Commission opened an investigation into procedures for distributing tickets to events such as concerts and Golden State Warriors games. It will pay special attention to whether city officials violated gift-disclosure laws.

The probe followed a report by television station KPIX 5 that revealed a number of Oakland and Alameda County politicians regularly received free VIP tickets to premium suites at Oracle Area for Warriors playoff games – tickets that would sell for well over $1,000 each.

At least two Oakland City Council members received free VIP tickets to Game 2 of the NBA Finals, with a value of $10,000 apiece. The council president used free tickets 41 times over an 18-month span, the TV station reported. The tickets had a face value of $125,000.

Oakland and Alameda County officials have worked especially sweet deals at the Coliseum and Oracle Arena, the S.F. Chronicle reported. Three boards have some oversight of the Coliseum complex, and board officials have wrangled control of a total of six suites.

Taxpayers ought to be wary, said sports economist Victor Matheson, now that Oakland is negotiating with both the A’s and the Raiders to potentially build two billion-dollar sports venues.

“You can clearly see the disadvantage here,” he said. “The people who are voting on whether to give subsidies are the same people who get to go in those suites.”

The city of San Diego, which has two suites and receives 26 seats to events at Petco Park and 52 at Qualcomm Stadium, has long wrestled with the free-ticket issue. It has been the subject of two grand jury investigations.

In an April editorial calling for reform, the Union-Tribune said: “For years, top San Diego officials have faced pointed questions about conflicts of interest and ethics over whom they reward with tickets to the city’s suites at Petco Park and Qualcomm Stadium.”

Things got so bad that Mayor Kevin Faulconer attempted to make the mess disappear by selling the city’s two suites back to the Padres and Chargers. That gambit failed.

The city enacted some curbs this summer, including a centralized distribution policy. Councilman Chris Cate, who helped develop the amendments, said the purpose was “to remove all nine of us (council members) from having the ability to use these tickets for any type of personal or political gain moving forward, no matter what it is.”

Maybe the city of Sacramento should reopen negotiations with the Kings and get a cash settlement for its suite instead of stumbling into a near occasion of sin.





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3 Responses to Oakland, San Diego run into ethics mess with their luxury suites

  1. Tom Quinn says:

    “… stumbling into a near occasion of sin.” <<I haven't heard that "occasion of sin" term in decades, and I'm half-Irish, half-Catholic. You apparently had more occasions to use it.

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