No on Q and R

At first splash, the announcement that a tenable arena deal had been struck was exciting to those of us who’d seen lots of proposals come and go over the years. The Kings’ owners seemed ready to pay almost 30 percent of a new arena’s cost if Sacramento citizens would come up with the rest by voting in a new quarter-cent sales tax, raising $1.2 billion over 15 years. The sparkling new stadium would be built in the long-abandoned downtown rail yard, and many leftover millions would go to funding a load of other dearly desired local projects like levees, libraries and parks.

Who could say no to a “smart growth” infill project downtown near the river? What sentient Sacramento citizen could argue against jump-starting the massive rail-yard redevelopment project we’d always dreamed of with a new arena? Who could say no to a surefire strategy for keeping the Sacramento Kings cleaved to our city while funding other needed projects in the bargain?

As it turns out, we could. That’s because, unfortunately for us, the arena “deal” we’d welcomed at first seemed to look more lopsided with each passing day.

First, let’s go to the money. It became clear pretty quickly that the Maloof family, which owns the Kings, wouldn’t really be putting up anything like 30 percent. The truth—when you looked at the numbers properly—turned out to be about half that good. This was disappointing since it meant that, at the end of the day, the public would be on the hook for the lion’s share of the arena’s cost, perhaps 85 percent or more.

Next comes the vision problem.

Now, we are not with those who claim the Maloofs are greedy billionaires who should build the arena with their own money. That’s just not how it works in second-tier cities like Sacramento, which lack the corporate donors and television ad revenue of larger markets, such as New York or Los Angeles. This is a huge part of why such cities have to “pay to play” in the NBA, why every arena that’s been built this past decade has been largely done on taxpayer dollars.

But it soon became clear that the Maloof family wanted more than the arranged public financing. In fact, the Maloofs had a very different vision for how the arena should be developed, especially its surrounding acreage. Instead of the idealized “smart growth” urban environment we’d envisioned—with restaurants and cafes, walking paths to the river and a public-transit hub—the Maloofs required an arena and parking design that would bring loads of cars to the site and keep all the dollars inside the structure. By the time the Maloof family walked away from negotiations in September over these matters, we were ready to walk away, too. Their tentative return to the arena talks last weekend wasn’t enough to make us reconsider. It was simply too little, too late.

If Measures Q and R are defeated, will the Kings be moved to a new town? We dearly hope not. But that’s not what we’ve been asked to vote on. In the end, the measures present a lopsided proposal to the citizens of Sacramento and should be voted down.