We’re in good tentacles

On Goldman Sachs, the arena and other undertow

Haven't we been here before? The mayor and city manager want the Sacramento City Council to approve a deal to subsidize building a new Sacramento Kings basketball arena on March 26. But the details of the deal won’t even be made public until around March 22, if then.

It sounds familiar because it’s basically the same drill that Mayor Kevin Johnson and City Manager John Shirey, along with the Assistant City Manager John Dangberg, put us through last year. Lots of drama, a bare minimum of information. Roll out an arena term sheet that will profoundly affect the city’s finances for a generation or so, but allow no time for meaningful public review.

City officials say there just isn’t time for transparency, because of the NBA’s deadlines, and because it takes until the last possible minute to hammer out a deal like this. Bites didn’t believe it last year, either.

Don’t worry, though. Representatives from investment-banking giants Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are in that back room with the local boys, guiding and advising and assessing the meatiness of Sacramento’s public-parking system—the main revenue generator for this plan.

These are the same folks who (Bites never tires of recalling) were dubbed by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” So, obviously we’re in good hands, or tentacles, or whatever. And the bankers are probably pretty helpful, too.

Congratulations to teacher Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, who won a seat on the Washington Unified School District board in West Sacramento. Kirby-Gonzalez beat her closest rival Francisco Castillo 51 to 26 percent. Castillo is press secretary at StudentsFirst—the anti-teacher-union lobbying group started by Michelle Rhee and headquartered in downtown Sacramento.

So, naturally, the contest got framed as “teachers vs. the Rhee-formers,” and drew money and interest from outside the district. Castillo took $15,000 from StudentsFirst, and $10,000 from the California Charter Schools Association. Kirby-Gonzalez got $10,000 from the local teachers union, but also $5,500 from the Sacramento City Teachers Association.

Rhee’s just getting started trying to influence local races. She didn’t do so hot in Los Angeles school-board contests, either, where StudentsFirst candidates lost one race, won another and face a runoff in a third.

Bites asked West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon if he thought the StudentsFirst association was a drag on Castillo, whom he backed.

He said no, that special vote-by-mail elections like this one “tend to reflect support for candidates, not anti-candidate messages. [Kirby-Gonzalez was a] great candidate with solid get-out-the-vote,” he added.

Still, it’s hard not to notice the big money Rhee plowed in that little local race. And it’s hard to think we won’t be seeing more.