A lawyer friend of mine who is usually well-informed about Sacramento political and governmental issues asked me this question the other night: What’s going on with the arena parking plan?
Evidently, he hadn’t been reading my blog religiously or Field of Schemes.com. Nor had he checked out small publications like the Sacramento News & Review or Inside The City. All of these sources have raised deeply troubling questions recently about the city’s push to privatize downtown parking in order to quickly raise $200 million to dump into a downtown Kings arena. But we are all small voices targeting niche audiences in the community.
The big voices that should be fully informing the public — the Sacramento Bee, the local television stations and Capital Public Radio – have failed to fulfill their traditional watchdog roles. They have done little more than serve as mouthpieces for Think Big Sacramento and other proponents of the arena. They have done little or no investigative reporting on the parking problems in Chicago, the failed promises surrounding Kansas City’s Sprint Center or the dubious economic benefits touted by backers of public funding for sports arenas.
The Bee not only fails to give its readers a balanced account of the complicated issue, it also seems determined to thwart the public’s opposition to subsidizing a Kings arena, a position made clear in a 2006 vote. Last week, the Bee published an editorial headlined “Don’t let call for public vote on parking sidetrack decision.” Why? Because “council members have to get this decision right.” Evidently, that means rushing to lease out city parking facilities for 50 years and meeting an NBA order to have a financing plan in place by March 1.
The editorial also pompously declared that: “If residents want their voices heard on a parking deal, they can speak to council members. That’s how representative democracy works.” Ouch! Yet less than a week before, this same editorial board had insisted a public vote on Mayor Kevin Johnson’s demand for enhanced power was a democratic necessity.
In the hope this blog will go viral and save the city, I will restate some key questions about the arena financing plan, questions that sure won’t be answered in the headlong rush to beat the March 1 deadline:
• Leasing out parking would deprive the cash-strapped city of $9 million a year in revenue, money that goes into the general fund used for police, fire and other essential services. How would the city make up for that loss? How many jobs would be lost?
• Would downtown parking rates skyrocket, as they have in Chicago, hurting both commuters and local businesses?
• Would a non-competition clause, standard in privatized parking deals, prohibit the city from building new facilities for 50 years?
• How much would the Maloof family, the NBA and the arena operator contribute to the estimated $406 million arena cost?
• Would the city get paid the $77 million it is currently owed by the Kings?
• How much would off-site infrastructure improvements cost and who would pay?
• Will the shutdown of redevelopment agencies take away economic incentives for private development near the arena site?
• How many parks, libraries and community centers, like the Clunie Center in McKinley Park, would close if the city poured hundreds of millions of dollars into an arena?