‘Land swap’ would turn a public commons over to private developers
“Land swap” deal brilliant? Stunning? Don’t kid yourself. The latest maneuver by the folks who gave us that dwindling sideshow called “Cal Expo” has little to do with sports arenas, the public interest or even in saving their rapidly declining and deteriorating California Exposition & State Fair. Their sole fixation for the past several years has been entirely about turning the largest, and possibly last, most valuable piece of California’s urban public commons over to private developers.
This is true, despite the fact that Cal Expo is a public agency and the land it sits on is public land entrusted to them to steward on behalf of all the citizens of California. The new “land swap” deal—ostensibly to finance a downtown sports arena—is simply part of Cal Expo’s officials’ long-running, arrogant disdain for the public and the city of Sacramento.
The surprise land-swap proprosal from developer Gerry Kamilos and the NBA was made after and apart from the official announcement about possible arena locations stemming from the mayor’s “Sacramento First” task force. The deal—which would move the State Fair to the Arco Arena site, build a new arena in the rail-yard depot and leave Cal Expo open for development—appears to be about enabling a sports-arena project. But just a glance at how the matter was handled—a bombshell announcement to upstage the mayor’s orderly, fair and open processes conducted at City Hall only a few hours earlier—should inform you about how these guys work: in back rooms, in private sessions with big money and self-serving deals, and only with their own pockets in mind.
For years, the Cal Expo governing board has hidden its machinations in a subgroup which it calls the real-estate committee, having only two members and thus avoiding requirements of the Bagley-Keene Act and other California “sunshine laws” which were enacted to protect the public and keep the processes of government open and accessible to public participation. The real-estate committee isn’t required to notify the public of its actions, announce its meetings, keep regular minutes, allow public input or conduct its business in plain sight. The Cal Expo “letter of understanding” with the NBA goes even further. In it (clause 3b), Cal Expo officials are forbidden from even discussing plans or alternatives with the public that would conflict with their fixed idea of turning the land over to private development.
The CEAV Project of California Advocates for the 21st Century has made it abundantly clear to the Cal Expo board and other public officials that there are such uses—some directly related to the entity’s original mission and purpose—that not only overshadow any possible gains from private development, but which could serve as a centerpiece for the future commercial and economic infrastructure of the state. Indeed, CEAV submitted just such a proposal to Cal Expo in March 2009. However, those who run Cal Expo remain fixated on the privatization of the land. To date, neither Cal Expo officials or The Sacramento Bee have even mentioned that any alternative proposals exist.
Moreover, Cal Expo belongs to all the people of California. What do a sports arena, townhouses, shopping malls or other private development in Sacramento have to do with the rest of California and its citizens? Why should Los Angeles or Eureka care about a new home for the Kings? The arrogant contempt for the public that Cal Expo and others have shown in their agenda to put the Cal Expo land in the hands of private developers should alert the public that there is more to this deal than we are being told.
Learn why it is essential that we protect that property (though not necessarily as the type of state fair that Cal Expo has been running these past few decades) and preserve its public potentials for ourselves and future generations. Consider, for yourself, if there is another side to the story. Then take appropriate action.