Kings-arena shenanigans, sleaze on the rise as county nears completion of petition count

City councilman forced to be deposed by ‘anti-arena’ lawyer; initiative poised to have enough signatures to go to ballot, but is bound to go before a judge first

Holding a press conference at a cemetery wasn’t the best PR move for pro-arena group The4000.

Holding a press conference at a cemetery wasn’t the best PR move for pro-arena group The4000.


“It’s possibly going to get all Florida 2000 around here.”

SN&R columnist Cosmo Garvin sent this admonition via email last Friday, and oh, was he prescient: Two hours later, Joshua Wood—unofficial mayoral attack dog and head of pro-Sacramento Kings outfit The4000—announced a press conference at a very unusual location: an East Sacramento cemetery.

If you haven’t been keeping tabs, the fight over whether the Kings-arena-subsidy vote will go to the June ballot got as hot as Isaiah Thomas in the fourth quarter this past week. Lies, name-calling, sleaze—hanging chads and James Baker might enter the fray any second now.

Perhaps this is because a deadline looms: By next Thursday, January 23, the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters needs to complete its validation of “anti-arena” petitions. Voters for a Fair Arena Deal and Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, the two groups challenging the city’s $300 million-plus subsidy of the proposed new downtown Kings home, submitted nearly 35,000 signed petitions last month. If more than 22,000 are confirmed to be valid, an initiative asking voters whether public subsidies for a sports-arena should be approved by the public will be placed on the June ballot.

The county is also taking into account some 15,000 petitions submitted by; these are signature-withdrawal requests signed mostly by Kings supporters, but also by some people who mistakenly inked the “anti-arena” petition.

As of this past Wednesday, some 25,000 petitions had already been validated, with more than 16,000 given the thumbs up. If that ratio holds true through the end, the arena-subside will go to the June ballot.

That is, unless a judge shoots the initiative down for illegal variances in its ballot language (more on that later).

Sop, it’s definitely a confusing ordeal—and one replete with all sorts of shenanigans.

Just this week, a judge decided to allow lawyers to depose a councilman as part of their lawsuit against the city; pro-arena groups blasted STOP for using voter petitions with what they called illegal verbage; and city officials told the county registrar to restart its validation of said petitions. Meanwhile, writers at The Sacramento Bee inked a scathing, but inaccurate, editorial slamming the “anti-arena” camp, and Bee columnist Marcos Breton called Councilman Kevin McCarty a “weasel.” And, of course, there was that press conference at a local cemetery.

Six arena supporters—and a funeral

Wood arrived at the East Lawn Memorial Park on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento just after 4 p.m. on Friday, a time when most public-relations groups typically drop info they hope will fizzle out and die at the end of the weekly news cycle. Standing behind a podium in front of tombstones and flanked by members of the pro-arena group Crown Downtown—and even the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce—he announced that STOP had submitted petitions with dead people’s signatures.

Quickly, both pro- and anti-arena advocates blasted Wood for using a cemetery as backdrop for a PR move.

Greg Wissinger at Kings-fan website Sactown Royalty called on Wood to apologize. He wrote, “Using the dead as your backdrop for political gain… was a mistake.”

Even arena supporter and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, who has family resting at East Lawn, called it inappropriate.

The city clerk informed reporter Ryan Lillis at the Bee that “every election” includes petitions inked by dead signatories.

A day after the ignominious press event, KCRA TV reported that Mayor Kevin Johnson’s office first reached out to East Lawn, requesting a “historical location” for a press conference featuring the mayor, according to a cemetery spokesperson. The mayor never showed up, of course, and his office refuses to comment on the allegation. Critics cite the mayor’s involvement as both inappropriate and also a misappropriation of public resources.

“I apologize to those upset by the location of today’s event,” a representative of The4000 wrote on Twitter (presumably Wood). “That was in no way my intent.”

Dumb and numbers

Downtown Arena’s ill-advised funeral was merely a buzzer beater in a week of the bizarre.

Foremost, lawyer Patrick Soluri, who is suing the city on behalf of Sacramento residents, says that the city made a “secret deal” with the Kings. In his effort to prove this backroom pact, he will depose Councilman McCarty as part of this case’s discovery.

The attorney says the council member told him and his client, Sacramento resident Isaac Gonzalez, that officials orchestrated a behind-the-scenes arena-subsidy sweetener for the Kings owners, who overpaid for the team early last year.

The city denies such back-door maneuvering. McCarty, who had declined to comment on the matter until this past Wednesday, released the following statement via email: “On the City Council I have consistently asked tough questions about the public financing of the arena. I certainly have no problem answering tough questions during these legal proceedings. The City Treasurer has answered my questions: the public will pay out $22 million per year for 35 years and will get back $2.7 million per year during those same years.”

Over at the Sacramento Bee, scribe Marcos Breton blasted Soluri, Gonzalez and McCarty as a “sideshow of weasels doing weasely things.”

Days earlier, the paper also published an editorial titled “Let the public see all the petitions for arena ballot measure.” Complaining that Sacramentans have been “left in the dark,” the editorial board blasted STOP and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal for “playing games with their petitions.” Specifically, the pro-arena camp has criticized STOP for using up to nine different variations of petition language when soliciting signatures last fall.

The Bee said STOP denied to provide them with copies of the different types of ballot language. But Craig Powell, who leads the Voters for a Fair Arena Deal effort, said the Bee never actually requested to see the documents before writing the editorial.

“The next time you would like something from us, may I kindly suggest that you ask for it before editorially criticizing us for not providing it,” he wrote in an email to the Bee. The paper never retracted its editorial, but did run a small in-print correction for fudging its math on the petition count.

Speaking of numbers: Of’s approximately 15,000 signature-withdrawal petitions, fewer than 10 percent of those submitted by Wood and co. are turning out to be valid.

The county registrar spent a few weeks tallying and validating each withdrawal, at the request of Wood and the city. That’s appearing to be a waste of time.

“The registrar’s office took about three full weeks doing nothing but processing the more than 15,000 withdrawal requests submitted by Josh Woods and Downtown Arena (aka The4000),” Powell wrote. “Of the estimated $90,000 [to] $100,000 cost of validating the petitions and the withdrawals, a substantial portion of it has been wasted trying to validate massive numbers of bogus withdrawal forms.”

And, in the spirit of futile democracy, the city asked the registrar last Thursday to start its count over, separating each of the 35,000 STOP petitions by variance in language. The county has until next Thursday to validate all the petitions; they’ll will be working overtime and through the weekend.

So, it was a week of the unusual, even for Kings drama standards. But perhaps the strangest occurrence of all happened on the basketball court:

The Kings won three games in a row.