There’s no end run in b-ball

After six months of silence, it’s suddenly been one gushing headline after another about Sacramento’s favorite not-so-secret fantasy—a new and improved sports-and-entertainment arena! The recent news stories have revealed new task-force findings, quoted intrigued business people and hinted at which key insiders support the business people’s arena vision.

But there’s one important player who, so far, has been altogether missing from the discussion. You! After all, it’s your taxpayer dollars—as much as $400 million of them—that the politicos, developers and business leaders have decided will finance the project.

OK, let’s review. Six months ago, we all watched Mayor Heather Fargo’s plan to build a stadium crash and burn because of poor planning and a financing scheme that would have added steep surcharges to nearby businesses. After a half year of silence on the subject, we’ve just had the release of a well-timed study from the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce. (Let’s not forget all this is happening within the context of the 2004 NBA playoffs and the not-so-subtle threat that the Sacramento Kings might leave if an arena deal doesn’t get made.) Basically, the chamber report promoted the notion that Arco Arena needs replacing within five years. It also recommended that taxpayers pay up to a whopping 80 percent of costs for the thing.

The following week, Fargo and the owners of the Kings—the billionaire Maloof brothers—unveiled a plan to build the new arena at the east end of the Downtown Plaza, at the bookend of the K Street Mall (what happened to the rail yard, oft promoted as the preferred location?). This new proposal came to the mayor from a group of heavyweight business-development leaders who were handpicked for the task, and somehow you weren’t consulted.

The K Street site may have many things going for it, including some existing parking infrastructure and public-transit access that would make the project less expensive. Indeed, a downtown arena in this location could be positive for the city on multiple levels.

But the idea that the public should foot the lion’s share of the financing is ludicrous—especially because the public, so far, has been altogether missing from all aspects of this discussion. All we’ve heard from so far are developers, politicos and the business community—the people who stand to gain the most from a new arena.

Folks, there’s been an end run around the process, and that’s not right. There should be a legitimate task force of neighborhood activists, city planners and just plain folks. Then a vigorous people’s debate and public vote on the financing aspect needs to take place before Fargo and the Maloofs ram this through. It might come as a surprise to the magnates involved, but lots of Sacramentans don’t like the idea of footing a $400 million bill for an arena when it’s basically the elite of Sacramento and, especially, the ultra-wealthy Maloof family who stand to reap the rewards.