Sheedy’s question

Sandy Sheedy just found out how touchy people can get around here when you start asking the wrong questions. Good for her.

Last week the Sacramento city councilwoman released the results of a poll she commissioned, showing that voters are deeply skeptical about the public financing of a new Kings arena.

A majority of the 600 people polled said they are opposed to selling off city property to fund the complex; a much larger portion, 71 percent, said they thought the public should get a vote on any plan for public funding.

The opinion writers at The Sacramento Bee dutifully rushed to the defense of the half-gelled arena proposal, and the man behind the plan, Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Marcos Breton called Sheedy’s poll “horse manure.” The Bee’s editorial page said Sheedy’s suggestion that the public vote is an “unhelpful sideshow.”

The opposite is true.

In fact, it is helpful to taxpayers to know that this arena plan is specifically designed to avoid a public vote on the use of public money. The Bee should be helping to highlight that fact, not obscure it.

As for all the blowback, Sheedy says, “It sounds to me like somebody’s scared to ask the people what they think.”

Now, were the poll questions leading and biased, as Sheedy’s critics charge? You can read them yourself on SN&R’s news blog, Snog (

Certainly the language on some of the questions is a bit stark. For example, survey respondents are told that the city could sell public land to “pay for an arena rather than basic city services.” That’s a false choice. We’re not going to start selling city land to meet payroll. Bites hopes.

The mayor’s office also sent out its own critique of the poll, saying the poll is misleading when it refers to a car-rental tax—which got dropped from the plan earlier this fall—or to the “sale” of operations of city parking facilities.

When pressed, Sheedy acknowledged there’s a difference between “selling” parking operations and the long-term leases that are being proposed. Though with a 50-year (or longer) lease, that difference could be quite subtle.

Once upon a time, the mayor thought nothing was more important than the public’s right to vote. That was when Johnson wanted to wage an expensive ballot campaign to pass his strong-mayor initiative.

Likewise, political junkies remember that K.J.’s campaign adviser, David Townsend also did some dirty work last year for PG&E, on a ballot measure that would impose strict supermajority vote requirements on efforts by public power agencies like SMUD to form or expand. What was that campaign called? Oh yeah, the “Taxpayer Right to Vote Act.”

The mayor’s people point out that there’s a qualitative difference between amending the city’s constitution, and what is essentially a glorified development subsidy.

They’re right, of course. Still, it’s interesting to note when people find it convenient to evoke the rhetoric of a right to vote, and when they don’t.

“It’s interesting for them to say that we don’t ‘need’ a vote. This is the largest amount of money we’ve ever spent on anything. It’s the people’s money,” Sheedy argues.

Conveniently enough, there really isn’t time for a public vote. The next regularly scheduled election is in June, and the deadline for the city to have an arena-financing plan in place is March 1.

At least, those are the rules and the timeline that the NBA has given the city. And so far Sacramento has been pretty good about doing what the NBA has told us to do. Why stop now?