Inside Sacramento’s luxury suite at the new arena

The city of Sacramento must not think too highly of Paul McCartney, “arguably the world’s biggest rock star,” who opened the new Golden 1 Center with two concerts in early October. Despite all the hoopla preceding the appearance of the former Beatle, single tickets for the city’s luxury suite at the downtown arena were valued at a mere $300.

By contrast, a seat in the suite for the Kings’ home opener Oct. 27 against the San Antonio Spurs was valued at $400.

Keep in mind the two McCartney concerts sold out within hours while the Kings were still scrounging for a full house at the 17,500-seat arena two days before their opener.

A month later, the city assigned a relatively modest $150 value for a ticket to watch the struggling Kings play the Los Angeles Clippers.

Those are some of the curious tidbits I discovered in checking out disclosure reports made public by the city this week regarding who got invited by whom to enjoy the luxury suite. The reports are intended to keep politicians and city officials on the up and up. The suite, under state regulations, is supposed to be used for “public purposes,” not for private gain.

Officials in Oakland and San Diego have come under investigation for how they used tickets at arenas and stadiums in those cities. Two Oakland City Council members might have to explain how they got VIP tickets worth $10,000 apiece to Game 2 of the NBA Finals last season.

Under a policy adopted by the Sacramento City Council, City Hall gets 40 percent of suite tickets and community groups 30 percent. Another 30 percent is allocated for economic-development purposes. To ensure compliance, the city has hired a ticket administrator, Erin Palmer, at a salary of $86,185. She oversees the suite and files disclosure reports on the city’s website.

A fair-minded person might ask why former Mayor Kevin Johnson and eager council members saw fit to procure a luxury suite when they were deciding how much public money to give the Kings for the arena. They could have sacrificed this indulgence and saved taxpayers about $8 million, according to Roger Noll, a Stanford economics professor.

A fair-minded person might also inquire why community groups get short shrift in the ticket-distribution process. Instead of allocating 30 percent of tickets for schmoozing sessions on economic development, how about giving freebies to poor kids for a glimpse of the arena?

How fair has the ticket-distribution process been at the arena so far? It’s hard to tell because the disclosure forms provide data for single events, not overall patterns. Sacramento Bee associate editor Foon Rhee had to tally up data on dozens of disclosure forms to get a few insights.

In a Dec. 26 story, he reported that cultural groups, nonprofits and other outside organizations received about 650 tickets with an overall face value of nearly $79,000.  Current or former city officials, public employees or volunteers at city agencies received 145 or so tickets with a combined value of $46,000. Twenty-five tickets, valued at $3,500, went for economic development.

Which politician requested the most tickets, who benefited and, most important, why? Ah, that’s a complicated story for another day.

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