Dec 14, 2011, 7:09 PM EDT
City council meetings can be dull, but the Sacramento City Council meeting on Tuesday to decide if the Kings should go forward with a key element of their plan to secure a new Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) was anything but.
Alright, it was still pretty boring, but Tuesday’s meeting had everything you could ask for in a five-hour local government showdown, including human PowerPoint presentations, #Occupy protestors, some normal people, the villain city council member, people whose sole purpose in life is to show up at every city council meeting and speak on every issue, people that sang during their two minutes to speak, the transvestite with a keen business acumen, and of course, the mayor that dunked on Hakeem Olajuwon like he was Timofey Mozgov.
On the docket was a vote to determine if the city should go forward with a Request for Qualification (RFQ) from parking lot operators that could end up providing $200 million or more toward the city’s stake in the estimated $400 million arena. Once the vote passed, the city manager would then be authorized to have parking lot operators produce preliminary bids for the right to operate city-owned parking lots for terms up to 50 years. This is said to be the funding nut that will push the Kings over the finish line, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough.
What made Tuesday’s meeting critical, aside from the unlikely scenario that the council would vote down this motion, was getting to see once again how each council member would act, as they will ultimately determine the project’s fate. During the last procedural vote in which $500,000 was requested to secure a qualified arena negotiations team, I wrote about how each council member discussed the arena project and said that things looked good for Kings fans.
They voted 7-2 on that day to authorize funding that would move the process to its next step, and on Tuesday they voted the same exact way to authorize this RFQ. Again, the main opposition to the arena plan has come from two council members, Sally Sheedy and Darrell Fong. After Kevin McCarty talked extensively on Tuesday about how the parking funds could be used in other ways, he also joined my unofficial ‘no’ side of the ballot. Meanwhile, Sheedy has taken a Judge Judy like role in proceedings, barking out commands to city staff and generally trying to muck up the process. She is seeking re-election under an anti-arena campaign.
On the other side of the ballot I had identified four arena proponents prior to Tuesday that, as I see it right now, will vote yes when the vote matters in February (Rob Fong, Angelique Ashby, Bonnie Parnell, and Jay Schenirer).
Following Tuesday’s meeting I added Steve Cohn to that list after he offered up this tidbit following an exchange with ‘no’ voter McCarty. After Cohn cited a Green Bay Packers-like stock plan as a creative example of a funding mechanism, McCarty said “It probably helps that the Packers are 13-0.”
To that point, Cohn said “Yeah but they’re going to keep their team no matter what. So we need to keep ours.”
Kevin Johnson’s ‘yes’ vote would only be needed to break a tie, so essentially Kings fans need 4-of-8 members to vote ‘yes.’
All said, I’m predicting a 6-3 vote in favor of funding the arena, but like everything else having to do with Sacramento versus Los Angeles, this will come down to the wire. Assuming my word-parsing, eye-tests, and other voodoo analysis are correct, the deal still has to come to the city council’s desks without any major flaws. Then, it has to provide enough time for council members to vote on it without having any reservations about moving too fast.
As of now, Kevin Johnson has yet to make a mistake and has conducted the campaign to a presidential degree, with a former campaign manager to Bill Clinton, Chris Lehane, at his side co-chairing the Think Big coalition. Until Johnson screws something up, it’s wise to bet that he’ll continue to hit his deliverables.
Meanwhile, Kings fans continue to impress in their role of drumming up public support. During Tuesday’s meeting, a diverse set of seven Kings fans spoke during the time for public comments, but the twist was that they scripted their comments to fit a theme. The theme was that the city’s need for an arena is “bigger than basketball,” so before each of them spoke they removed their Kings jerseys to reveal a white T-shirt with one of the words ‘Concerts, Regional $, Events, Revitalize, Nightlife, Jobs, and Pride.’
They live-tweeted each person’s talking point and along with the streaming video of the council meeting the entire Kings’ grassroots network trended on Twitter in Sacramento. Small gestures, big impact. I’ve said it before, but Save our Sonics needed Twitter to invent itself a few years earlier.
I asked the leader of the group that came up with the idea for the T-shirts why they did it, and Mike Taveres of #FANS (Fund Arena Now Sacramento) said, “We wanted to show this was more than just our Sacramento Kings. They’re a piece of the puzzle but not the only piece.”
What’s going on in Sacramento is much bigger than basketball, indeed. The region has 12 percent unemployment and lost $40 million in tax revenues in the last year alone due to falling property values. The city’s normally stable public sector has been hammered by budget cuts at the state level, and big businesses are leaving with regularity (for places like Anaheim that cater to business no less).
Should Sacramento not fund the arena and they lose their team, they will need to find an anchor tenant before they could entertain the idea of building a game-changing downtown anything district. Their citizens will continue to pour money into other regions when they travel outside of Sacramento for shows and events, property values will likely continue to struggle, and businesses will see the city’s inability to build an arena as a failure of leadership. They already are. The citizens, already slumping through bad economic times, will see their crown jewel going away as a sign that things aren’t working, and confidence will erode all the way around. These aren’t my words – they’re the words of the many citizens I’ve interviewed that desperately want to keep the tumbleweeds outside of city limits.
Yes, there is a discussion to be had about the public funding of sports arenas, but ironically that discussion is in a pending status within the academic community. As I reported back in August, the go-to economist on sports subsidies, Brad Humphreys, is in the middle of a study to address the hundreds of millions of dollars of increased property value a facility like the proposed Kings arena might bring. I spoke with Humphries in great detail, and he said that as long as the Maloofs and the NBA were throwing in the type of money that had been reported, that the Kings deal shaped up as a “good deal.” As for the study, that’s on pause until his co-author can catch a break from his two newborn kids. They’re in no hurry to finish the study and under no societal obligation to do so, but for anybody with so-called claims that they understand the economics behind this – they don’t. Simply put, the experts are still studying it. In the meantime, Humphries and others have noted that the previous approach of building a stadium or arena in the middle of nowhere was flawed, and building them in the middle of downtown hubs is the best way to monetize the value of a sports franchise. He wrote,
A new state of the art facility integrated in a comprehensive urban redevelopment program and located in the heart of a large city might be expected to generate increases in residential property values in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of dollars within a mile of the facility, if the location, planning, construction, and development are carried out carefully.
This is what the Kings fans and community leaders are fighting for. It’s not just the increase in tax revenues an extra ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ of land value might bring, but rather the overall economic activity the arena will spur. It’s why these normal citizens have given all of their waking hours to a cause, it’s why a documentary is being made about the #HereWeStay guys, it’s why thousands of fans refused to leave after the team’s final game, and it’s why they continue to outpace their opposition at every turn. Their community literally depends on it.
Kevin Johnson heads to New York on Friday to meet with the NBA and AEG to discuss how much private contribution the league and the Maloofs are going to make. All of this is going to come together in the next 60 days, and ultimately there will be a final vote.
Sure public opposition could pick up, and yes, unappealing deal-points could make the deal go bad, but with Kevin Johnson pitching a shutout and Kings fans handling the public education piece – it sure seems like they’re on track to finally get that win over Los Angeles.