Sacramento TV station stunned to find new Kings arena hasn’t cured homelessness

I’ve never seen it myself since I don’t live in Sacramento, but my impression is that FOX40 is a pretty bad news station, prone to reporting crazy-ass rumors as if they were true. (Though you could say that for most local newscasts, I suppose.) Anyway, last night they went to report on the new downtown Kings arena, and found that, glory be, it hasn’t cured homelessness:

One downtown with two very different faces. The drive to revive Sacramento is evident in a state-of-the-art arena. But that effort is facing a troubling problem on the streets.

One downtown, there is hope for a rebirth of a city and emergence from the shadows. The other: where people feel hopeless, forgotten in the shadows.

“They could spend $500 million on a basketball court, but they won’t put out a dime to help the homeless people,” said Larry, who lives on the streets.

The struggle on the streets juxtaposed to a downtown on the cusp of a rebirth.

It goes on and on like that, and on the one hand, using the Kings arena as a hook to examine chronic homelessness (though the examination doesn’t get much past “it exists”) isn’t the worst thing in the world. But on the other, this report reveals how deeply messed up local development reporting can be.

The key is that word “rebirth.” In developer-speak, all too often parroted by local news reports, rebirth or revitalization or renaissance is what happens to neighborhoods when you build new stuff. And new stuff is new, and newness is supposed to fix everything, whether it’s lack of jobs or a strained city treasury or the team being a chaotic disaster or, apparently, homelessness. We built you a new basketball arena, poor people, why do you persist in not being able to afford homes?

This is, frankly, an insane way to report on anything. If you want to go out and talk about how having homeless people sleeping downtown is an embarrassment to the elected officials who are trying to sell Sacramento as all cleaned up now, go for it. But noting all the new construction taking place downtown and then asking “Will it work?”, as FOX 40 does, shows a stunning misunderstanding of what redevelopment is supposed to accomplish — or worse, is an implication that the only “revitalization” that counts is the kind that makes the homeless disappear to somewhere else. After all, the Olympics get away with it.

I don’t want to come down too hard on the FOX40 reporters, really I don’t. But if you’re going to be a journalist, it’s vitally important that you not only think about what you’re covering, but about how you’re covering it, and what assumptions go into the way you frame your story. This news item ends up telling one story in its text — “homelessness bad and intractable!” — and another in its subtext — “how much concrete do we have to pour in order to fix social problems?” Sometimes good journalism is less about finding the right answers than asking the right questions.

16 comments on “Sacramento TV station stunned to find new Kings arena hasn’t cured homelessness

  1. It isn’t really a matter of irony that Sacramento (or any other city) will spend $500m on a playground for millionaires but won’t “spend a dime” on the homeless.

    The two things are very much linked… Sacramento has less to spend on social problems (or solutions…) precisely because it chooses to spend money on friends of Kevin Johnson. It is rare that there is a direct causal effect in public spending (one thing is usually not solely responsible for another), but here you can certainly say that at least some of that $500m could have helped the homeless if it hadn’t been earmarked to help the wealthy instead.

    Could that ‘investment’ in an arena create spinoffs such as (low paying, temporary) jobs at the arena? Sure. Are such spinoff revenue streams ever likely to come close to covering the public’s investment in their millionaire basketball players and their billionaire owner, let alone providing a net positive? Absolutely not.

    Any argument that suggests the surplus revenues and taxes from the arena can be used to help the homeless instead would be ludicrous.

  2. $500 million could’ve gone a long way in developing new low-income housing & better rehabilitation efforts for the homeless, but welcome to America.

  3. That really felt like two stories merged into one.

    The first was “non-profits aim to help homeless.” The second was “homeless annoy rich people trying to have good time.” The transition between the two is stark, especially in the video–suddenly you switch from the social worker to images of cops, talk of dirty and dangerous trains and a breathalyzer.

    The “will it work” was in the rich people section. Will rich people want to spend entertainment dollars if they might have to encounter homeless people?

    To me the subtext wasn’t “how much concrete do we have to pour in order to fix social problems?” but rather “how much concrete do we have to pour in order to not have to encounter social problems?”

    My takeaway was “homelessness is intractable and the people who are trying to work with the homeless have a hard job. Let’s arrest the homeless and chase them out so we can all have a good time” which is pretty depressing but not an inaccurate reporting of what a lot of politicians propose all the time.

  4. Small town media is just the worst. They aren’t exactly getting the cream of the crop of journalism majors and they’ll cheerlead anything if they’re sold on it well enough. I remember one of the stations from the small town I grew up in once did an investigative report on what happens to frozen dinners if you leave them in the fridge for a couple months instead.

  5. This story is typical of Sacramento “journalists”. Except for the News and Review, there was not a single story that resulted from independent research into the impacts the arena and the money taken from the City’s General Fund would have on Sacramento. All of the stories regurgitated press releases from Johnson and other arena advocates.

    The arena was touted as the solution to all the problems of downtown and cause people to want to spend time there even when there is not an event. Now, reporters are realizing that this is not the case. We have parking rates going through the roof, Regional Transit increasing fares to pay for the free rides that they will be giving to arena event-goers, the City Council meetings being taken over by the Right to Rest movement, businesses are closing or moving to locations outside of the city.

    After the city “leaders” assured everyone that the city had plenty of money to give General Fund dollars to the arena, they now talk of extending the parcel tax to pay for libraries, extending the sales tax to pay for police and parks, increasing taxes to pay for repairing roads, increasing utility rates to pay for installing water meters, and increasing parking rates even more that has already occurred. It is only now that the media is reporting on the deficits that the city is facing and advocating that all of these tax increases be approved by the voters. If there was plenty of money before the arena subsidy was approved, there is plenty of money now – or we were lied to …. again.

  6. R:

    Sacramento is not a small town. It is a city of nearly half a million people and the metropolitan area includes one and a half million people. It is the sixth largest metropolitan area in California and the 35th in the country.

  7. Just to state the obvious: But Sacramento isn’t exactly “small town media.” It’s the 20th largest TV market in the country. It’s not New York but it’s also not Terre Haute.

  8. This is the number one thing people don’t or more often don’t want to understand about development.

    That new light rail line is not “enriching the poor neighborhoods” it goes through (unless you think the neighborhoods don’t consist of the people in them). It is driving up the value of the property and housing, and the poor people relocate to other cheaper areas.

    Now that is sometimes the explicit goal, but a lot of times people seem to get bamboozled into thinking the poor people magically transformed into middle class people, because of say a new light rail line or stadium.

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with some community attempting this (though I think the states should pass laws discouraging communities from trying to do so), but I just wish there was more honesty about it.

  9. Go see the movie Spotlight. It is not just the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigative team Spotlight reporting on rampant pedophilia by some Boston priests, but about the institution of journalism and how it should or should not perform its important investigative job. To me, the same sort of cover ups apply to the sports industry – by journalists and their editors.

  10. Juvenal: Not quite that cut and dry. Development can either correct or exacerbate spatial mismatch. It depends on the specifics of that development. If it corrects it, it helps poor people become if not middle class at least less poor. It it makes it worse it may make people even poorer.

    However, this refer to the working poor, not the homeless who often face numerous challenges that have nothing to do with spatial mismatch.

  11. This is the most asinine correlation I can think of. An events center is what it is. The notion its going to cure homelessness is ludicrous. Of course, Sacramento city officials may opine that protecting a new investment is important and order law enforcement to conduct sweeps of the are to make sure a detrimental presence doesn’t exist around Golden 1 Center of the new adjacent hotel.

  12. FYI, I wrote up an adapted version of this post for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting’s site:

  13. Juan, it (building an arena) is sort of like saying getting a high end BMW in the garage is going to lead to the kitchen getting upgraded. I still see people arguing the Pac-Bell led to a renaissance in the south of market area when it was obvious to me by the early ’90s that the area was getting developed regardless of whether or not a stadium was there.

  14. That is correct. In fact, way back in the 80’s they had already projected the San Francisco skyline would extend into the SOMA neighborhood. That was before AT&T Park was ever discussed.