Secret state of Sacramento

Mayor Kevin Johnson, what with his penchant for pizzazz, won’t just give a State of the City speech this Thursday at the Memorial Auditorium—he’s inviting all Sacramentans to a veritable love fest. And that’s fine; Sacto needs hugs.

But while the State of the City is a free party, the mayor also has a penchant for privacy: The future of this city will be discussed this week behind closed doors, with secret partners, and on the very down low.

As this paper was going to print on Tuesday, city council was poised to green-light allowing Sacramento brass to formally begin negotiations with the “whales,” a.k.a. the private investors, allegedly including Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov, who want to buy the Sacramento Kings and build an arena downtown.

As Cosmo Garvin noted in this week’s Bites column on page 11, council members—who in fact know the identity of these very reclusive mammals—will likely approve said talks even though the “public is not allowed to know” who these whales are for certain.

That’s sticky: Sacto’s leaders are reportedly inching toward pulling the trigger on a billion-dollar Kings-arena deal with said investors, yet the public will have no oversight and little say over the 10-figure pact until the eleventh hour, if at all.

If this top-secret transaction goes down—in the unlikelihood that the Kings don’t move to Seattle—it will redefine the city.

But who cares: Let’s party! An unofficial copy of this week’s State of the City agenda floating around online reveals an Oscars-worthy romp, including host Mark S. Allen, an invocation, a dance performance, video highlights of all that was awesome about last year in the 916, handouts touting the mayor’s first-term accomplishments, a speech by K.J. himself, and then, literally, choirs singing.

It’s also rumored that the mayor will make a splash by revealing the whales at the event.

Let’s just hope they’re more into nibbling plankton than taking a great-white bite out of Sacto’s pocketbooks.

Anyway, I won’t gripe about the whale secrecy too much: There are plenty of red flags to raise based on Kings information already out there.

For instance, last Tuesday’s city council staff report. This document was unveiled just 24 hours before the weekly meeting and breaks down City Hall’s rationale for going forward with hush-hush arena-whale negotiations.

First, these talks won’t be cheap: Council purportedly will approve spending $240,000 on professional and legal services to assist with the powwow. And this quarter-million is just the first payout: The staff report hints that Sacramento could fork over more than the estimated $255 million it almost coughed up for last year’s arena “deal.”

For instance, if a new arena does in fact touch down on the existing Downtown Plaza mall, the report mentions the possibility of sweetening the pot for the new Kings owners with other business incentives.

Specifically, it cites “ancillary real estate development opportunities in addition to an arena” for these whales. You know, after they already get our land and quarter-billion dollars, too.

For the record, I’m actually fine with the city pitching in to develop a new arena. A little dirt here, a wee bit of cash there; it would be a wise investment.

But if these negotiations are, for all intents and purposes, about giving hundreds of millions, plus downtown’s keys, to secret whales, the public should be able to fine-tooth-comb the details. Not be forced to watch as it’s hashed out in the shadowy depths of the deep blue sea.