Whale of a fail

Sacramento and Mayor Kevin Johnson shouldn’t do whatever billionaires want just to keep the Kings.

Let's play make-believe—Sacramento's been good at this lately, no?—and imagine that the Kings somehow don't bail for Seattle. Let's close our starry little eyes and pretend that the 916-hating Maloofs agree, for some reason, to sell the team to local-friendly owners. And that City Hall forks over millions for a publicly financed arena. I know this is hard, but work with me: Where should this shiny new arena go?

Last year, the answer to this question was the rail yards. City leaders insisted that a rail-yards Kings HQ was the only way to both revitalize downtown and also kick-start development on the toxic dirt lot. We spent millions studying this proposed site.

But now, Mayor Kevin Johnson's billionaires—those savior “whales” who hope to save the Kings—apparently don't like the rail yards. No, they want this hypothetical, imaginary new arena at the Downtown Plaza.

And that's fine. It's a game of pluses and minuses—or so I'm told—and, what with new ownership, Downtown Plaza is suddenly a more desirable location.

Yet, even if you support using hundreds of millions of public dollars to finance a Kings arena, last week's about-face should raise eyebrows.

It's not that a Downtown Plaza arena wouldn't be cool. I embrace the vision of a privately financed Kings home at the dying mall: games end, Kings win, 20,000 fans flood “The Kay” and its restaurants, shops, bars and clubs. This, as the mayor says, is called “Playing to Win,” right?

The red flag is how, in this unreal and probably unlikely arena world, City Hall and the mayor so willingly acquiesced to these Kings-suitor whales. Who knows what's being promised to 1 percenters like Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov behind the scenes.

I fear that if we keep putting out for billionaires, Sacto's setting itself up for bad deals. And a whale of a fail.