Stern warning

Mohammad came to the mountain last week, and the clouds parted, and the sun shone, and the pearly gates opened, and the heavenly chorus took up a song of hope and unity. And the Maloofs saw that it was good.

Yes, when esteemed NBA Commissioner David Stern arrived last week at Arco Arena, it was with a mission: He was determined to get the Kings’ organization, the politicians and the developers to set aside their differences and get on the bus with Sheriff Lou Blanas’ proposal for building a new sports arena in North Natomas.

Stern quickly moved on to other pressing matters—i.e., a crackdown on players involved in the NBA brawl in Detroit last week. But his mission in Sacramento was a winner. That’s because the powerful NBA chieftain loves this game most when hoop franchises stay home where they belong. Stern rarely has supported the moving of a franchise, because it hurts the perception of loyalty between a team and its fans. He especially doesn’t want the Kings—who have fans to die for—going to another city.

OK, OK, so Stern’s intervention worked, and now there’s a new camaraderie around Blanas’ plan to build the arena. The powers that be are all spelling U-N-I-T-Y. But is this plan really the right one for Sacramento?

Of about 20,000 acres of open space in North Natomas, Blanas and arena co-conspirator Angelo Tsakopoulos propose to open up half to development, retaining the other half (including a buffer along the American River) as permanent open space. From the 10,000 acres that suddenly could be developed, 20 percent of sales would go into a charitable trust that would pay $400 million to $500 million for a new arena.

It all sounds hunky-dory until you stop to consider that the developers (big surprise!) are probably making off with too much. Environmentalists have been fighting further development in North Natomas for decades, and many of them see the Blanas plan as a sweet deal for developers who have been waiting to get a green light to build in this off-limits area.

Also, the Blanas proposal, which could go to the ballot as soon as November 2005, short-circuits the Joint Vision Plan for North Natomas that has sought public involvement (i.e., it’s brought more than just the rich and powerful to the table). Completion of the Vision Plan could leave us with an arena surrounded by smarter growth, more open space and less overall damage to a protected environment.

We’re not displeased that Stern inserted himself into our local controversy. And North Natomas may be a fine location for a new arena. But we worry that under the banner of newfound unity, a quick public vote will benefit the developers and team owners, not the citizens of Sacramento.

Let’s slow this process down and see what comes of the Vision Plan. Face it: The Kings aren’t going anywhere. And, as anybody who’s been there knows, rumors of the imminent collapse of Arco Arena have been greatly exaggerated.