Uncensored, Sacramento style

Five local stories from this year that weren’t on traditional media’s radar

Most major Sacramento media outlets failed to report on the United Nations letter sent to Mayor Kevin Johnson in February, which argued the city’s homeless population is “increasingly being criminalized.”

Most major Sacramento media outlets failed to report on the United Nations letter sent to Mayor Kevin Johnson in February, which argued the city’s homeless population is “increasingly being criminalized.”

Photo By nick miller

A daily paper, a few news-radio stations, four network TV stations, a couple websites, some blogs—if the news doesn’t make a splash in Sacramento, it likely isn’t because of censorship. It’s because we just don’t have a lot of noses sniffing out stories. It’s underreporting.

Then again, there were a handful of stories here in town that should have gotten more ink or airtime in 2012, yet for some reason couldn’t break through. Here are five.

1. K.J.’s “parallel government.” Mum was the word on Mayor Kevin Johnson’s network of groups and nonprofits—and to what extent they blurred the line between private and public interests. That is, until SN&R’s Cosmo Garvin’s feature story “K.J. Inc.” dropped this August.

Garvin outlined how the mayor used these groups, such as Think Big Sacramento, to “collect unlimited amounts of money from donors—many of whom have business before city council—in a way that would be illegal under regular campaign-finance regulations.” He also noted how his groups acquire free labor through the city’s internship and fellowship programs.

Derek Cressman, a Sacramento Charter Commission candidate and watchdog with Common Cause, called these groups a “parallel government.” Yet a Google search for “Kevin Johnson” and “parallel government” brings up but one Sacramento-specific story. And of all local media, only The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board and city reporter Ryan Lillis followed up in any meaningful way on the mayor’s shadowy nonprofits.

2. “Still be a chance to say no to the deal.” Traditional media and TV networks didn’t even bother investigating a series of emails between George Maloof and the NBA that revealed there never was, in fact, an arena pact between the family and the city of Sacramento.

As this paper reported in April: “Private emails between George Maloof and the NBA … reveal that while the Kings owners went along with the February 27 Orlando handshake deal—tears and all—the arena pact was anything but ‘game over.'”

Less than two days after the Orlando “deal,” NBA executive counsel Harvey Benjamin told the Maloofs that there was really no deal.

His private email to the Maloofs read: “[If] things are not worked out to your reasonable satisfaction, you will have the opportunity to pull out” of the agreement.

And the Maloofs did. And Sacramentans and local media pummeled the boys.

But when the emails surfaced, no other media outlet in the region picked up on the news, which could be perceived as damning to city leaders and the mayor.

3. Sprawl lives! Anyone who thought suburban sprawl was of a bygone pre-Recession era got a wake-up call when Cosmo Garvin’s SN&R cover story hit newsstands on April 19.

In his feature “Onward, sprawl” he gave an in-depth report on how Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Folsom leaders still plan to push the boundaries of their cities’ limits with new developments, expressways and shopping malls.

“[Elk Grove] is pushing to expand its sphere of influence,” Garvin wrote, “and then eventually annex about 8,000 acres to its south and east, pushing farther into the Cosumnes River basin.”

Meanwhile, no other traditional local media’s talking about sprawl—just recessions, job loss and foreclosures.

4. Criminalizing homelessness. Sacramento Bee writer Marcos Breton has in the past month bylined a handful of columns decrying the city’s homeless community.

But where was Breton on the homelessness beat back in February when the United Nations sent a letter to Mayor Kevin Johnson arguing that the city’s homeless residents are “increasingly being criminalized”?

That same week in February, incidentally, SN&R wrote about a Sacramento County ranger report that showed citations for illegal camping shot up nearly 2,000 percent in 2011 over the previous year. That’s not a misprint: 2,000 percent!

And Breton says city leaders aren’t doing enough about homeless campers on the parkway.

5. Boozy Sacramento County. As SN&R staff writer Raheem F. Hosseini wrote in January: “Sacramento doesn’t have a drinking problem. It has a drinking solution. County supervisors last year approved a flood of new liquor licenses for high-crime and booze-saturated neighborhoods.”

In his story, “Sacramento County binges on liquor stores,” he found that active liquor licenses were up 9 percent in 2011 over the previous year. And, so far in 2012, the trend of county supervisors rubber-stamping liquor licenses in poorer, booze-impacted neighborhoods continues.

“Only six [liquor] license applications were denied between 2007 and 2011,” Hosseini reported. “It’s possible even fewer get turned down by the [Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control].”