Cows come home

Is Sacramento a semi-civilized cow town, as Lakers coach Phil Jackson once famously suggested? Or do we really belong in the big leagues? Here at SN&R, we think the community’s response to the Kings arena proposal represents a resounding answer to that question, and we hope civic leaders are listening.

Throughout the campaign, proponents argued that the only way for Sacramento to remain a big-league town worthy of NBA basketball, Paul McCartney concerts and other trappings of cosmopolitan life would be to approve some $400-500 million in new sales taxes to build an arena for the Kings and their majority owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof. But the arena deal was so poorly planned, so one-sided in favor of the Maloofs, and its campaign so poorly run, that it only could have been expected to pass in the kind of unsophisticated backwater burg that Jackson—and, apparently, the Maloofs—took Sacramento to be.

As of this writing, polls indicate that the arena plan will go down to defeat by a double-digit margin—the kind of trouncing NBA players like to call a “statement.” And it’s not hard to understand the message a “no” vote conveys: Sacramentans may love their Kings, but if you want them to build a new arena, you’ll need to show a little more respect and put together a proposal that’s designed to serve the long-term best interests of the community.

We’d like to see that happen. Sacramento desperately needs a coherent redevelopment plan for the Union Pacific railroad yard sitting dormant just north of downtown, and a new sports arena could be an important part of that effort so long as it is designed to maximize public transit and funnel shoppers and diners through the area. We’ve seen how effective such a plan can be just down the road in San Francisco, as the baseball Giants’ ballpark has served as the centerpiece of a redevelopment plan that successfully has turned an abandoned rail yard into a thriving new neighborhood.

It’s significant to note that before the Giants’ ballpark was successfully built with private funds, San Francisco voters shot down previous proposals that would have used tax dollars to build the stadium in locations less advantageous for redevelopment. Sacramentans have every right to be just as picky, and to insist that any publicly funded downtown-arena proposal be firmly grounded in a plan designed to support revitalization of the urban core, and not be simply a response to the Maloofs’ threats to take the team elsewhere.

If the Kings move on—and they might—we have no doubt that Sacramento could quickly attract the interest of another franchise. They wouldn’t be the Kings, but then the Kings aren’t really the Kings anymore, are they? It remains to be seen whether the current crew led by Ron Artest and Eric Musselman can achieve even a fraction of the success—both on the court and in the community—that Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Rick Adelman enjoyed.

We’ll be watching eagerly to see how the “new” Kings perform, and watching just as eagerly to see what plans develop in the wake of the arena vote.