Sleep Train on sleep mode

Natomas residents want the city to keep its promise to replace their arena, but a funding strategy remains elusive

A move to earmark hotel taxes generated in Natomas to revive the former Sleep Train Arena was put on an indefinite hold this month, after City Councilman Jeff Harris challenged the proposal as a form of “ballot box budgeting.”

The matter likely won’t be revisited until next year, marking a setback for the grassroots movement to build a state-of-the-art zoo on the site.

The proposal to use transient occupancy tax revenues from hotels in District 1 as a funding strategy for a new zoo or other project was an attempt by the city manager’s office to rectify a broken promise from the recent past. City leaders and the Sacramento Kings had told Natomas residents in 2013 that their lost sports arena would be replaced by a major “shovel ready” amenity before Golden 1 Center opened its doors. Frustration over that neglected assurance has lately fueled a “We Want a Zoo” campaign in Natomas.

But hotel tax funds have historically been used for citywide projects or by council vote. When the Natomas proposal came up on the council’s Nov. 5 consent agenda, Harris insisted it be pulled.

“I have hotels being built in District 3 and, if this passes, it might incite me to say, ‘Well, maybe I should sequester the money that’s gathered from TOT in District 3 for District 3 projects,’” Harris argued. “I don’t think that’s the proper use of that money.”

Councilman Jay Schenirer seconded Harris’ motion to pull the item.

Brandy Tuzon Boyd of the “We Want a Zoo” campaign told council members that since the item wasn’t scheduled for a public hearing, the Natomas community had not been given a chance to make its voice heard. Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents Natomas, had a simple explanation for that.

“It was on the consent agenda because, at one point, it wasn’t controversial,” Ashby said. “I didn’t think this was an issue. … The problem is, this council made a promise a long time ago about the designated re-use of the arena, and it has not kept that promise, and has not set aside any funds to keep that promise.”

Ashby added that Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who was not present, supported the move. But Harris pushed back on the idea that it constituted a simple voting matter.

“You could extrapolate this even further. You could say, ‘Well, what about sales tax then, in one particular district—would we now use it for a large project in that district?’” Harris pointed out. “I say we should draw a line here.”