Don’t forget transit

Can the downtown site accommodate both an arena and the long-planned “transit village”? An arena with a Regional Transit station attached will not be good enough.

A month and a half has passed since the big news.

Somehow, the tortured-over debate about whether the Sacramento Kings would relocate to Anaheim transformed into a genuine outpouring of love from a community to its team. When NBA Commissioner David Stern got onboard a plan to keep the Kings in Sacramento for another season, Maloof Sports & Entertainment made a big splash with its dramatic decision—just a few hours before a league relocation deadline—to do just that.

We get it.

We love what the spontaneous nature of events leading up to that decision says about the enthusiasm, loyalty and never-give-up spirit of our region. We’re as hopeful as anyone that a path can be forged to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

But since an arena is required for this to take place—and after all the failed attempts at getting a plan together—is an arena actually possible? At this stage, there are issues we’ll be following.

Firstly, of course, we’ll be very interested in how any proposed arena will be financed. Some public financing, in one form or another, will no doubt emerge as part of the patchwork of options. We’ll be watching this very closely, since it’s tough to justify taxpayer dollars helping fund an arena in a climate of deficit, with Sacramento laying off teachers and city employees; cutting services for the elderly; closing swimming pools, parks and libraries.

There’s another matter of huge importance to us, too. As many have noticed by now, the recently unveiled Icon Venue Group-David Taylor feasibility study for building a $387 million, 18,000-seat arena in the downtown rail-yard site included barely a mention of the “transit village” that the city has dreamed of building on that exact site for more than a decade.

An intermodal transit center was envisioned as a regional hub for all modes of transportation—light rail, bicycles, buses, taxis and trains, hopefully one day of the high-speed variety. Remember packed crowds of locals in 2001 attending “intermodal transit” community forums? Remember all those panel discussions? And the piles of studies and reports that found a user-friendly transit connector to be the perfect fit for that spot? For that matter, hasn’t the city already begun a project to move separate passenger and freight traffic at the site so as to accommodate more people using the facility and taking public transit? (Hint: It has.)

So lack of focus on transit in the Taylor feasibility study was discouraging. It simply won’t be OK if Sacramento’s longtime dream of a “transit village” downtown suddenly winds up looking like an arena with a Regional Transit station attached.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and his 60-member Here We Build regional coalition have the summer months to look into these matters and develop a workable plan. We wish the coalition good luck in figuring it all out. Along with the rest of Sacramento, we’ll be awaiting the details.