Laugh it up

City's school closures a bummer, negotiations with secret whales a joke

The editor suggested a brief “post-mortem” on the Sacramento city school closures. Sounds depressing, but here goes:

“Run for our seats if you think you can do a better job.” That was the take away from newly appointed (not elected) Sacramento City Unified School District board member Jay Hansen last week, as he joined fellow Board of Education members Patrick Kennedy, Jeff Cuneo and Darrel Woo in voting to shut down seven neighborhood schools.

That was just one piece of a nasty little lecture Hansen gave on how folks really ought to be more respectful to the board members and should think of those area residents like himself who don’t have kids, but who graciously pay their property taxes, anyway. “I gladly do that. I know it’s good for the community. … But you have to have people like me on your side.” Yes. Nice of you to pay your taxes, Jay.

At that point, Hansen’s team had thoroughly lost the argument on school closures. The district’s school-capacity numbers were fiction, the cost-benefit analysis was a joke. It was obvious to all that the “rightsizing” process had been designed to shut the public out of decision-making.

Board members Diana Rodriguez, Gustavo Arroyo and Christina Pritchett and student board member Katrina Ye filibustered, highlighting the endless contradictions and problems with the plan. (And providing a glimpse of the civil-rights lawsuit to come.)

But Hansen and Kennedy and Cuneo and Woo, along with their boss, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond, did what they were going to do all along.

They seemed a little put out that so many people would challenge J. Ray’s dictates on what kinds of schools, and how many schools, we should have in our district. And perhaps they were embarrassed that the power grab was so obvious to everyone watching. But that sure didn’t stop them. And everyone saw it.

Yikes, that really was depressing. Sorry.

Last week, Bites reported that Sacramento County elections officials were wasting 407 perfectly good votes by not counting a bag of mail-in ballots found in a warehouse weeks after the November 6 election. The votes won’t affect the outcome of any elections. So who cares, right?

Turns out, Bites is not the only one who finds this policy lacking. Longtime Democratic political consultant and occasional troublemaker Bob Mulholland calls the policy “unacceptable” and has demanded that the county send each disenfranchised voter a letter of apology and/or count their votes.

“The U.S. taxpayers are spending $9 billion a month in Afghanistan, with one of the stated goals being to encourage full participatory elections with all ballots counted,” he said.

If the county won’t do it, Mulholland wants the names and addresses of each voter so he can send the letters himself. “And you can take their calls.”

Bites likes the way this guy thinks. Starting to feel a little better now.

Thanks to alt-weekly production technology circa 1997, most of this Thursday column is being written the Monday before the big Tuesday emergency vote by the Sacramento City Council—to approve negotiations between the city manager and some potential investor “whales.” Bites isn’t in the future yet, but expects the council will approve talks, even though the public is not allowed to know the name of said whales. They are secret whales.

“We are respecting the wishes of the investment groups to maintain confidentiality at this time,” explained city spokeswoman Wendy Klock-Johnson sometime long ago.

Presumably, it is legal in Sacramento for the government to hold negotiations with secret whales and to subsidize the private purchase of a sports team with about $380 million in public money—just to pull a number out of thin air.

But it’s not legal in Seattle, where that city’s Initiative 91 supposedly forbids subsidies to sports teams unless there’s a guaranteed return on the city’s investment.

We’re not talking the kind of return you get in the junk economic-impact reports Think Big Sacramento pulls out of their collective butt. Even the great Neil deMause, author of Field of Schemes and foe of arena boondoggles everywhere, thinks Chris Hansen’s Seattle deal might possibly, maybe be sort of reasonable, writing, “This could provide a model of how to build a sports facility without tapping the public purse—much, anyway.”

Councilman Kevin McCarty—who apparently hates the Kings and our freedom and anything that is world class—has asked about writing an Initiative 91-type guarantee into any Sacramento arena deal. Over at, some local citizens are starting to agitate for an arena deal that earns a solid return on our considerable investment.

Bites has always thought an arena subsidy was plausible if the dollar benefits really outweighed the costs. And who knows? Maybe this deal with the secret whales will be the one that pencils out.

Ah, it’s good to laugh again.