Shaq the lobbyist has Sac’s back?

Needing the governor to sign a sweetheart arena bill, Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé rolls out Sacramento's least-favorite 7-footer

Shaquille O’Neal lifts the governor’s wife, Anne Gust, during dinner at Zocalo this Monday night (because her husband won’t sign Senate Bill 743?).

Shaquille O’Neal lifts the governor’s wife, Anne Gust, during dinner at Zocalo this Monday night (because her husband won’t sign Senate Bill 743?).


Shaquille O’Neal’s not just the latest whale in the Sacramento Kings’ ownership aquarium: The NBA legend was in town this past Monday wining, dining—and lobbying—Gov. Jerry Brown.

What might normally be considered harmless elbow-rubbing became contentious: The governor is mulling whether to ink a special Kings bill that would fast-track construction of the team’s new downtown arena.

After announcing him as a new minority owner of the basketball team, O’Neal, along with Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadivé and co-owner Mark Mastrov (with whom the NBA star has opened 24 Hour Fitness franchises) met with Brown at the Capitol on Monday afternoon.

Later that evening, the trio joined new Kings front-office member Chris Mullin and Brown’s wife, first lady Anne Gust, and others at Zocalo, a popular Mexican restaurant in Midtown. Kings center DeMarcus Cousins also was in attendance.

By the end of the night, a photo of O’Neal bench-pressing Brown’s wife above his head was making the rounds on Twitter.

Too many margaritas, maybe?

Or perhaps it was strictly business: The Kings bill on the governor’s desk, Senate Bill 743, could make or break the arena’s construction.

Foremost, the bill—ushered through the Capitol by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg—would speed up judicial review of any challenges to the arena’s environmental-impact report.

Say then, if a group files a suit against the certification of the EIR, both the superior and appeals courts would have only 270 days to resolve any legal challenges, a significant fast-track. (Sure, the courts have told the Legislature that it cannot mandate such expeditious proceedings, but the bill includes such language all the same.)

Equally important is that the bill provides injunctive relief for arena construction. This means that, unless there is a serious risk to public health or American Indian artifacts are unearthed, work on the arena will not be interrupted by any environmental suits or challenges.

This timeline is important: A signature-gathering effort to put an initiative on the June 2014 ballot challenging the arena’s public subsidy will probably succeed. If it does, the Kings hope to complete the arena’s environmental-impact report and commence construction before any vote; experts say the EIR might be completed as early as late spring.

The special Kings bill also permits the city of Sacramento to engage eminent-domain proceedings against the owners of the Downtown Plaza Macy’s property, a New York-based real-estate firm. These owners have so far turned down the Kings’ offers for the Downtown Plaza Macy’s Mens & Home Store property. City council gave the green light to use eminent domain this past summer.

The Steinberg bill also streamlines judicial review of all CEQA suits.

When Ranadivé introduced O’Neal as a minority owner this week, turns out he was killing two birds with one stone: O’Neal provided the star power in a private meeting with the governor, and the all-star would hopefully be the key to developing one of the league’s most-promising young talents, Cousins, into an NBA superstar.

Mentoring troublemaker talents like Cousins is typical for retired NBA talents such as O’Neal. But lobbying the governor himself is unconventional—and contentious.

After the dinner, O’Neal told local media members that he would be in Sacramento often.