Sacramento group threatens to sue if Kings don’t build 24/7 public bathrooms

Thought the Sacramento Kings arena project was finally all over but the shouting, did you? Well, think again, people:

A coalition of labor, environmental and low-income housing advocates has a list of 25 terms they want agreed to before the city hands over a $255 million public subsidy.

Among the demands are giving hiring preference to Sacramento city residents and mitigating traffic impacts. There are also some unusual requirements, such as building public bathrooms that are open 24 hours a day, and donating $600,000 to local underserved arts groups…

The coalition says it could sue to stop the arena if their terms are not met.

This is the “community benefits agreement” model, which is swiftly turning from a promising way to demand public benefits from development projects to a way for local groups to shake down developers for a few specific goodies. No clue what grounds this coalition thinks it has for a lawsuit, since pretty much every possible lawsuit has already been filed, but at least this promises to drag out the always-hilarious Sacramento arena battle for a bit longer.

Kings eminent domain suit cleared, final arena approval possible in April

The Sacramento Kings eminent domain case is over, and it didn’t even take an out-of-court settlement to get resolved: A Sacramento Superior Court judge just up and ruled that the city can seize the former Macy’s building to use for the site of a new Kings arena, and that’s that.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone: Ever since the Kelo case, the courts have established that pretty much anything can count as a “public purpose” for which eminent domain can be used. (Maybe not organ smuggling. Maybe.) The courts will now figure out a fair purchase price for the property, but in the meantime arena preparations can proceed apace.

Next up: public hearings in April on the city’s environmental report and bond offering, with arena bonds to be sold shortly thereafter. According to the Sacramento Bee, the final agreement between the city and the Kings “will be released to the public 10 days before the City Council takes its final decision,” which is totally plenty of time to decide if it all makes sense. Or plenty of time to hold a couple of hearings and then rubber-stamp it, anyway. Definitely one of those.

Sacramento judge kills Kings arena petition drive dead, finally, no backsies

The nearly two-year-old petition drive to hold a public vote on the proposed Sacramento Kings arena plan finally met its maker yesterday, as Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley ruled that the Sacramento city clerk was correct in having given it the boot:

In his written decision, Frawley said the proposed ordinance should be excluded from the ballot because it conflicts with the city’s charter and is “beyond the power of the voters to adopt.”

He added that the court found the “volume and magnitude of the proponents’ procedural errors undermined the integrity of the electoral process.”

The procedural errors bit is unsurprising and something that’s been covered in great detail; I’m a bit more surprised that Frawley went along with the city’s argument that voters can’t overrule city spending decisions without a charter revision vote first, but if STOP can’t be trusted to proofread their own petitions, I guess it’s possible they couldn’t read California law before launching this whole quest either.
Anyway, STOP has issued a brief press statement about the ruling, in which the group calls it “deplorable that our city’s leaders have put special interests ahead of the voters who elected them” and that they “make a mockery of democracy,” and calls on “Sacramento’s disenfranchised voters to express their outrage to their City Council and hold their representatives accountable” — but doesn’t threaten an appeal or anything, so it looks like this is indeed the end. Though of course there’s still the STOP lawsuit arguing that the city illegally hid the amount of subsidies it’s giving the Kings owners, which unless I missed something is still trundling along. But it sure sounds like it’s full speed ahead to see a groundbreaking soon — not that the city has figured out how it’s going to pay for this yet any better than its crazy-ass “divert parking revenues and make up for them with parking revenues” plan, but actually paying for it is the kind of thing you can figure out later, right?

Sacramento judge calls Kings petition errors “fatal flaw,” hints at ruling against public vote

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley has put off until this week a final ruling on the petition campaign to force a public vote on the Kings arena project, but it doesn’t sound like he’s likely to rule in favor of the petitioners:

“These petitions are defective in a multitude of ways,” Frawley told a packed courtroom during a hearing that lasted about 90 minutes. While it could be argued that each individual error wasn’t enough to scrap the petitions, he said, “collectively there are so many errors” that they added up to a “fatal flaw.”

Frawley says he’ll allow the petitioners to submit new arguments on Tuesday, but if you see handwriting on the wall, you’re not alone. At least we may finally get an answer to the question of which side in this dispute is more farcically inept.

Meanwhile, with a respite of a couple of days, the Sacramento Bee’s Marcos Breton has penned a column arguing that voting on things is undemocratic, because journalists can play at this game, too.

Change of venue motion filed in Sacramento eminent domain suit! Feel the excitement!

The Sacramento Kings arena battle is deep into its terminal lawsuits phase now, though of course it’s yet to be determined who it will be terminal for. (That’s what the lawsuits are for. Duh!) In the latest twist, the owners of the former Macy’s store that the city wants to seize by eminent domain have filed a motion seeking a change of venue, saying “local bias” would make it impossible for them to get a fair trial in Sacramento.

There’s more detail, but let’s skip straight to this paragraph in the Sacramento Bee’s coverage of the story:

A separate filing spells out just how far apart the city and the property owners are on price. The owners said the property has been valued at $10 million for tax purposes. The city, by contrast, recently put $4.3 million into an escrow account – the amount it says the property is worth.

Seriously, guys? All this over a little more than $5 million in price? Admittedly, that’s real money to normal humans, but it’s a rounding error to a $447 million project. Like all eminent domain cases, this is likely to end with a settlement somewhere in the middle once each side sees on which side its legal bread is buttered.

Meanwhile, the two other Kings arena lawsuits — The One About The Public Ballot Petitions, and The One About The Subsidy Value — are forging on ahead, though with no new developments this week. Yet, anyway.

Sacramento councilmember: Would-be Kings owners wanted hidden subsidies before we gave team hidden subsidies

That Sacramento city councilmember who Kings arena opponents subpoenaed to testify about the Kings arena deal testified that he thought it would cost more than the city has publicly revealed, which is no surprise, given that not only he but a lot of other people have been saying this for almost a year now. The surprising part, sort of, is that he said that some of the people trying to buy the Kings admitted it too:

McCarty, who has consistently opposed the subsidy, said he was contacted by representatives of the Kings investment group asking if the city would be willing to pay a subsidy beyond the $258 million figure. The men, he said, were lobbying the city on behalf of the investors trying to buy the Kings last year to prevent them from moving to Seattle.

McCarty identified one caller as Sacramento developer David Taylor. He also said he was contacted by lobbyist and businessman Darius Anderson and Frank Quintero, a representative of Southern California billionaire Ron Burkle. Burkle, Anderson and Taylor wound up not buying the team. Instead, a group led by Bay Area tech executive Vivek Ranadive purchased the Kings last May and is pressing ahead with plans to build a new arena at Downtown Plaza – with what the city has pegged as a $258 million subsidy.

Taylor and Anderson declined to comment Thursday. Quintero couldn’t be reached for comment.

“So-called whales lobbied me and other councilmembers asking the city if they would contribute more than last year’s $258 million subsidy and using the number $125 million more because they were overpaying,” McCarty said…

McCarty added that City Manager John Shirey told him the “whale team stormed out” of a negotiating session over the investors’ insistence that the city throw in an additional $125 million. The deposition does not specify which investors were in the meeting with city officials.

So that’s not exactly a smoking gun that there are hidden subsidies in the Kings deal, but given that we already know there are hidden subsidies, it’s evidence that the would-be Kings owners (who ended up not owning the Kings) knew it, too. Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork attorney Patrick Soluri declared yesterday that this “constitutes a gift of illegal funds for private benefit, and we believe that part of the term sheet is unlawful and we believe that a court would strike that arrangement”; that sounds like a reach to me (if every stadium deal that included hidden subsidies were thrown out, the Yankees would still be playing at Hilltop Park), but I guess it’s possible there’s some wrinkle of California law that requires “honesty.” Those hippies would be just like that.

Everybody in Sacramento now suing everybody else

Isn’t that always the way? You announce you’re filing a nice little lawsuit, and next thing you know everybody wants to get involved. In the case of Sacramento Kings arena opponents’ suit against the city for denying their petitions to put the arena deal up to a public vote, the Kings, the The4000 pro-arena group, and state senate president Darrell Steinberg have all filed paperwork looking to intervene in the suit, which would allow them to make legal arguments in the case.

A preliminary hearing is set for tomorrow morning, at which we can be sure of at least one thing: The courtroom will be very, very full of lawyers.

Sacramento city memo says no better than 50/50 chance of court okaying rejection of Kings arena petitions

In a rush this morning, but did want to get this in: Arena opponents in Sacramento have filed a lawsuit to challenge the city clerk’s rejection of petitions to force a public vote on the Kings arena deal. That was expected. What was not expected: the surfacing of a memo from a city attorney saying he wasn’t sure the city would prevail in such a case.

In a confidential Jan. 10 memo to top city officials, obtained by The Bee, assistant City Attorney Matthew Ruyak wrote, “We cannot conclude with the requisite level of confidence that a court would more likely uphold an action to disqualify the initiative or its signatures.”

“(G)iven the fundamental right of the electorate to assert their voice through initiative … we cannot definitively conclude that there is a greater than 50 percent chance of prevailing in court should the City Council refuse to place the measure on the ballot,” Ruyak wrote.

All that really tells us is that you can’t predict judges, which we already knew. Still, it’s a reminder that this battle is far from over. Did you really think it ever would be?

Here’s what the Sacramento Kings arena will look like, if you’re a computer-rendered avatar

The “final” renderings of the new Sacramento Kings arena are out, and they look to involve lots of aluminum mesh, an interior designed as a backdrop for a black-and-white minimalist comic (Adrian Tomine, maybe? Hey, he’s from Sacramento!), and hip young white people staring blankly into the sky. (What’s with the guy in the porkpie hat whose arm is permanently attached to his girlfriend?) Commenter MikeM has already dubbed it the Jiffy Pop Arena; other suggested nicknames, disparaging or otherwise, are welcome.

As far as the actual effect on seeing a basketball game goes, it’s tough to tell much from these, except that it follows the typical modern wall-of-luxury-seats-and-screw-those-people-in-the-upper-deck model that I’ve complained about at the Brooklyn Nets‘ Barclays Center. Though if everyone’s more interested in the sky, it doesn’t matter if they can see the game, right?

In other sports venue design news, the Atlanta Braves have announced that they’ve hired Populous (formerly HOK) to design their new building in Cobb County, which isn’t really news given that just about everybody hires Populous to design their baseball stadiums. Still no word on when they might finalize their long-awaited stadium operating agreement, meanwhile (which will go a long way toward detailing the level of public subsidies the stadium would require), or what’s up with their possible demand for state tax breaks, or the lawsuit against the property-tax extension to pay for the place, or the charges that Cobb County violated open meetings laws in approving the project. Just lookit the pretty pictures — okay, there aren’t any pictures yet, so everyone just imagine your own versions in your mind. It’s crowdrendering!

Sacramento clerk rejects Kings arena petitions, everybody warms up their lawyers

Turns out that getting people to sign multiple different versions of a petition is a problem after all: Sacramento city clerk Shirley Concolino ruled on Friday that she was rejecting the petitions to put a vote on the Kings arena plan on the June ballot, because of the multiple-versions thing, and the failure-to-include-required-legal-language-saying-this-will-be-enacted-into-law-if-approved thing, and the statements-ending-in-incomplete-sentences thing. “I’ve never seen a petition with as many flaws as this one,” Concolino said.

Of course, Concolino’s boss is Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, something that ballot measure advocates noted in protesting her ruling. Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal will almost certainly now challenge the petition rejection in court; the Sacramento Bee cites some legal experts as saying judges tend to interpret petition rules strictly, others that they’ll let things slide if they’re not major, so it’s anyone’s guess how things proceed from here. Except that unless things are resolved soon, there’s an excellent chance that Sacramento will be able to sell arena bonds before anyone can vote on anything, which could make the whole issue moot.

Meanwhile, the Bee this weekend ran another story about that economic impact report Kings arena boosters issued last month, this time burying the bit about how more than 90% of the impact would just be cannibalized from spending elsewhere in the city way down in the 22nd paragraph. Actual additional economic activity: $25 million a year, according to the report. Even that’s questionable (Stanford economist Roger Noll says it’s more likely $10-15 million a year), but if we take the report at its word, this means that the city of Sacramento would be better off taking its arena money in suitcases of twenties and handing them out on the streets of the city. (Especially when you consider that Sacramento residents are more likely to spend money locally than Kings players or owners, making for a higher multiplier.)

It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a headline — “Even Kings supporters don’t see much new economic impact” — but instead we get
“City says Sacramento arena would be economic powerhouse; subsidy critics disagree.” Because far be it from journalists to actually try to say whose math is correct.