Did I neglect to keep you up to date on the latest bill to fast-track sports development projects in California? Well, it was introduced by state senate president Darrell Steinberg, same as the last one, and it includes lots of additional goodies for the Sacramento Kings‘ arena project:
The bill will speed the judicial process for handling any environmental lawsuits brought against the planned $448 million arena the city and the Kings plan to build in Downtown Plaza. It also limits the courts’ ability to stop construction of the project if a lawsuit is filed, and bolsters the city’s ability to use eminent domain, if needed, to purchase the Macy’s men’s store downtown to make room for the arena. Macy’s plans to consolidate its downtown retail at the women’s store a block away.
SB 743 also represents Steinberg’s latest effort in a two-year quest to overhaul the venerable but cumbersome 47-year-old California Environmental Quality Act, which has made the state a national leader in environmentally friendly growth but has been used widely by plaintiffs to stall or kill projects, sometimes for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the environment. The legislation contains statewide provisions designed to avoid delays on urban “infill” projects.
The bill has now passed both houses of the California legislature, and is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. From the sound of it, Steinberg made enough last-minute tweaks to the bill to win Brown’s approval; others, including the Sierra Club, are not so happy
Yesterday was good news, bad news for would-be Seattle arena builder Chris Hansen: The environmental lawsuit against his would-be Seattle arena was unanimously tossed out of court, and then he agreed to pay a $50,000 fine for failing to report $80,000 in campaign contributions to the group trying to hold a referendum on a Sacramento Kings arena. Campaign contributions, by the way, that Hansen now insists were made without his knowledge or consent:
I agreed that a portion of the funds paid to Loeb could, in the future, be used for political purposes if a broad-based political committee, consisting of other donors and independent of STOP, were established to oppose the effort to build an arena in Sacramento. It was never my desire or intent to either directly fund signature gathering or to be the primary financial sponsor of the opposition’s efforts…
Without my knowledge or consent, Loeb & Loeb advanced $80,000 to GoCo consulting to collect signatures to qualify an initiative that would require a public vote on a new arena. At this time, a broad-based political committee had not yet been established, and I neither directed nor authorized Loeb & Loeb to make this expenditure on my behalf.
So Hansen did give money to his lawyers to give to the referendum campaign, he just didn’t tell them to hand it over yet. Hansen also claims he didn’t know about the donation himself until the public uproar began over where the money had come from, and he promptly stepped up to report it afterwards. And he intends to “take steps to prevent any signatures collected by GoCo from being submitted to the opposition.”
How much of this is true, there’s no way of knowing — though it’s worth noting that his initial defense, that he got “caught up in the heat of battle,” doesn’t completely jibe with this new explanation. But clearly Hansen is scrambling to do damage control, either to make up for his lawyers’ screwup, his own, or both. Now he just has to hope that David Stern is listening.
With all the crazy that’s been injected so far this summer into the Sacramento Kings arena deal, you’d think that an agreement with construction unions on labor to build the thing would be relatively uncontroversial, right? Of course not: Yesterday a spokesperson for a coalition of nonunion contractors grabbed the mic at a mayoral press conference, warning “there will be a fight” and vowing to give money to the arena referendum campaign. It’s getting impossible to keep track of the sides here without a scorecard; I can’t wait until the Dead Men of Dunharrow arrive.
Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton has made a special name for himself among sports subsidy boosters, as someone able to recognize the near-invisible economic returns on stadium and arena projects while simultaneously saying we should build them anyway. But Breton truly outdid himself with yesterday’s column, titled “Are arena subsidies good for cities? Let’s ask an expert.” The expert in question was our old friend Geoffrey Propheter, and here’s what Breton took from their conversation about the proposed Sacramento Kings arena:
- “Propheter found that either public subsidies were too high and never recouped by cities – or the new arena didn’t spur the level of consumer spending that arena proponents promised.”
- But Propheter’s work is “more nuanced and less uniformly conclusive” than this, and includes “a less publicized aspect…: That arenas sometimes can work in some markets,” especially those where the NBA team is the only game in town. In Oklahoma City, for example, “the arena and the franchise has had a positive effect on personal income levels,” Propheter told Breton.
- With Sacramento a one-team city, “The bottom line is: anti-arena advocates who claim there is no way an arena in Sacramento can work are just as wrong and partisan as those who say it will bring an economic windfall.”
- Propheter supports a public vote on a Kings arena, but as a Kings fan himself, would vote in favor of it because “I would be voting with my heart… The economist voice in me would be squashed completely.”
It all comes down to a nice simple “beware the extremism of both sides” message that is beloved by newspaper columnists the world over — and which sounded strangely at odds with the dispassionate statistical analysis that I’d read in Propheter’s research, and heard during my own previous conversations with him. So in the spirit of Woody Allen and Marshall McLuhan, I dropped Propheter an email asking if Breton’s conclusions jibed with what he’d told him. His answer: Not exactly.
- Propheter says he doesn’t recall saying that the arena would be likely to produce tangible economic benefits, “because I don’t believe it would (or that we’d ever be able to tell if it did).” Oklahoma City, he notes, does show a correlation between building the Ford Center and an increase in resident income, but because it also built a whole ton of other downtown development at the same time, it’s impossible to say whether the arrival of the Thunder caused it or not.
- If you want to talk about the benefits of stadiums and arenas, you should look at the intangible psychic benefits to a city, because economic benefits are going to be few and far between.
- With that in mind, Propheter concludes, “If Sacramentans love the Kings more than anything else on the planet including safer neighborhoods, dependable water, quality schools, etc, then it makes sense to give as much money as it takes to keep the team when the alternative is that the team leaves and Sacramentans lose the enjoyment of their first investment preference. But I doubt anyone in their right mind would take such a position.”
Now that’s a nuanced position — and certainly takes into account that some residents of a city might want to support an arena not as economic development, but just because they can’t stand to see the team leave. But it also is an excellent argument for letting people vote on it, because without the economic justification, it comes down to: Would you rather have your basketball team, or would you rather keep the money the owners are trying to extort from you? That’s a less pleasant question, perhaps, but it’s still one that reasonable people can come down on either side of.
What it isn’t is support for the notion that those who say an arena can’t be an economic benefit are “just as wrong” as those who say it will create an economic windfall, and surely no columnist would pretend it is just to support his own preconceptions, right? Boy, if life were only like that…
Who says that sports facilities don’t spur economic activity? Why, no sooner does the Sacramento Kings arena get sorta kinda maybe approved than people are talking about maybe selling nearby land to each other!
Two notable J Street sites, the historic Fruit Building at Fourth Street and a group of four boarded-up buildings near 10th Street, are either in escrow or in final negotiations for sale, parties involved in the deals say.
The sale of an office building at Seventh and L streets to a national investment company was completed two weeks ago.
Officials say the potential downtown arena was either the spark for the sale in each case, or a key driver in raising the price.
Now, it’s not actually that unusual for an arena to spark some interest in development nearby — anytime a city devotes any resources to any downtown area, in fact, you’re going to see developers and land speculators sniffing around. But there’s a big leap from “land is changing hands, maybe for more money than it would have otherwise” to people actually building stuff, as we’ve seen in numerous other cities. Also, given that one row of boarded-up storefronts that the Sacramento Bee cited as a key sale only went for $7 million, it might have been cheaper for the city to just buy the land and give it away to developers for free than to spend $334 million on a Kings arena
I genuinely didn’t think the Sacramento Kings arena-funding petition drive story could get any crazier than yesterday, but here we are:
Sacramento’s arena boosters want Chris Hansen to do more than apologize for financing an effort to derail the project. They want him to shred the signatures his money funded that could send the arena plan to the June 2014 ballot.
In a letter sent Monday, members of the DowntownArena.org campaign asked Hansen to “not allow these petitions” to be used in the arena vote effort. The letter can be found here:HansenLetter.pdf
To get how screwy this is, keep in mind that it’s not like Hansen has a pile of petitions sitting in his garage that his own hired henchmen went out and collected. No, he just gave a whopping big check to the group that is collecting signatures, which put it in its bank account, then used it to help hire signature-gatherers. Who gathered signatures, presumably from people who just wanted to sign the petitions and had no idea who paid for the people carrying them, but now those specific signatures should be somehow tracked down and shredded because EVIL HANSEN MONEY.
Anyway, it all makes for a great publicity stunt for the Kings arena backers, I suppose. And the letter is pretty amusing to read, what with its references to Hansen as the “true owner” of the signatures. I bet the lawyers were giggling as they wrote this one.
The Sacramento Bee lede reads, “Sacramento’s arena war hit new levels of intensity this week,” but my brain read it as “insanity.” Which is probably apropos, given that now that Chris Hansen has been revealed to be the Kings arena referendum campaigners’ mystery donor, arena proponents began hanging flyers on doors yesterday proclaiming, “Don’t let Seattle money steal away our chance at 4,000 jobs for Sacramento!” and calling on people who’d already signed petitions to withdraw their signatures. The referendum backers, meanwhile, hired a new PR guy who declared that the Hansen news is “a temporary setback” that has “brought STOP to the forefront in the awareness of Sacramento citizens.”
All this craziness has totally overwhelmed any serious debate — okay, possibility of serious debate, since it’s been pretty much people trying to shout over each other for months — over the actual Kings arena deal, which let’s remember requires $334 million in subsidies that would come from maybe parking revenues, or maybe hotel tax money, or maybe we’ll get back to you on this one. Maybe if the referendum collects enough signatures to get on the ballot, by the time there’s a vote next June things will have cooled down enough to have a calm, sensible discussion of the pros and cons of devoting that much public money to a pro basketball team whose best threat of moving just publicly shot himself in the foot … oh, who am I kidding?
After days of speculation over who the mystery funder was who’d given tens of thousands of dollars to the campaign to hold a public vote on the Sacramento Kings arena deal — the conduit for the donation was the law firm of the Maloof brothers, ex-owners of the Kings — late on Friday the mask was pulled off to reveal … would-be Seattle NBA owner Chris Hansen?!? Ruh?
Amid a lawsuit and a state investigation, Hansen and an Orange County political action committee filed documents revealing Hansen contributed $100,000 to the petition drive on June 21 – a month after the NBA board of governors vetoed his plan to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle.
Hansen apologized for the donation on Friday and said he wouldn’t give the anti-arena effort any more money. But the revelation seemed likely to damage the petition drive – and Hansen’s own efforts to bring the NBA back to Seattle.
Or as Deadspin put it more succinctly:
So it turns out that the guy who tried to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle is kind of a giant scumbag. Huh, how about that.
Hansen immediately said that he regretted the donation, explaining that he got “caught up in the heat of battle.” (Forgetting to file his campaign finance paperwork until threatened with a lawsuit was, no doubt, part of the fog of war.) But that’s not likely to help mend bridges with the NBA, which had previously said nice things about Hansen and hinted at him eventually getting an expansion team, but which is now almost certainly going to take him off their Christmas card list now that he’s funding opponents to their hard-won $334 million arena-subsidy deal. And some Seattle columnists (okay, one Seattle columnist, but one who’d previously praised Hansen’s arena deal) are saying that that city’s council should take a hard look at whether it wants to be partners on an arena plan with a guy who resorts to secret campaign donations.
It’s a huge, huge shooting-yourself-in-the-foot moment for Hansen. And it makes me wonder whether it’s possible that there’s another explanation for how Hansen expected to spend $400 million on a new arena plus $521 million for majority ownership of the team plus a league relocation fee: Maybe the guy’s just nuts. Or, more specifically, maybe in the “heat of battle” he loses track of sensible financial decisions the same way he loses track of campaign finance laws, and can’t resist throwing in a few more million for the chance of walking away with the prize.
Yes, Hansen is a successful investment titan, but it’s not like those folks are immune to doing dumb things based on not much more than hoping everything will turn out okay. That his Seattle NBA plan came down to similar wishcasting is a possibility, anyway, not that at this point we’re likely to find out — at least, not unless he sends David Stern one hell of a fruitcake.
The drive to force a public vote on the Sacramento Kings‘ arena deal pretty much blew up on Friday, when two of its leaders quit after revealing that lawyers for the team’s outgoing owners, the Maloof brothers, had provided $80,000 in funding for the campaign:
[Paul] Olson and Sacramento political consultant Tab Berg said in a joint press release that they were cutting ties with the campaign. Their resignations came two days after a complaint was filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that the signature campaign had not properly reported donations and expenditures.
“I have broken no laws, and I am not going to stand in front of those who refuse to take responsibility to try to throw my colleagues or I under the bus,” Berg said in an emailed statement that appeared alongside Olson’s comments.
So that’s good news for the Kings, since even if the campaign can recover from Olson and Berg’s departures, it’s going to be tough to recover from what Sacramento political consultant Doug Elmets calls “the taint of the Maloofs.” But because this is Sacramento, there’s bad news for the Kings as well: The team is having trouble buying the last piece of land it needs for the arena, and may have to ask the city to use its powers of eminent domain to force a sale. Which probably won’t be too hard — courts have been remarkably lenient about ruling private sports stadiums to be a “public purpose” in eminent domain cases — but it could be enough to slow things down a bit.
Ryan Lillis of the Sacramento Bee thinks the Kings arena referendum is going to get on the June 2014 ballot:
The referendum push is getting help, the Bee revealed today, from a conservative Southern California-based PAC that has a history of acting as a conduit for big-money donations and which won’t reveal its donors. The Bee doesn’t say how much the PAC, Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods — a name that makes you wonder if they have an evil nemesis called Tax Scofflaws for Unsafe Neighborhoods — has actually spent on the campaign, but it adds one more layer of intrigue to what is already way, way more entertaining than any petition drive has a right to be.