Sacramento’s Delusions of Grandeur

Sacramento officials are still actively pursuing building a downtown sports arena and entertainment facility. Despite climbing unemployment in the region, escalating business closures, widespread home foreclosures and declining tax revenue, arena talks are in full swing. City officials have cut major services including police, fire, city park maintenance, and are even closing city swimming pools, but arena talks are in full swing.

Most residents are growing weary of the frivolous arena plans when the city can’t respond to 9-1-1 calls, pick up garbage and yard waste, or properly maintain regional parks.

With the final report due in September, Mayor Kevin Johnson’s arena working group issued a preliminary financing report last week listing potential money sources, including a $2 to $3 surcharge on tickets for sporting events, concerts and other events at a new arena.

The report also suggested that the city-owned downtown parking garages may generate up to $5 million from events.

A patron-supported arena appears to be the direction Johnson’s working group is headed. And that may sound reasonable to many. But what sounds reasonable cannot possibly be realistic.

Enumerating the city’s problems begins with the City Council – nine mediocre, self-absorbed local politicians, more focused on maintaining their fiefdoms than the issues facing their constituencies or the city at large.

While this condition may sound similar to the members of the state Legislature, in Sacramento the tawdry behavior exhibited by the council overshadows any good they may actually do.

It’s delusions of grandeur that cloud the judgment of the council and Mayor. Claims that a new arena will cost $387 million is only one part of the story. After Sacramento voters defeated Measures Q and R which would have added a quarter-cent sales-tax increase to fund the new arena, it became clear that taxpayers do not want to foot the bill.

Despite Sacramento’s record economic crisis, the arena effort has continued, with implied promises of doing it without a sales tax increase and instead, ticket increases for patrons.

But the debt service on a $387 million arena would be nearly $30 million per year. It is not possible to service arena debt on $2 or $3 ticket “surcharges.”  Many are saying that only a sales tax increase would fund the $30 million per year debt service.

The latest arena committee is taking its time releasing their promised report. Many area residents are saying that the committee is postponing the inevitable announcement that Sacramento will have a new arena however, a voter-approved tax increase will be necessary.

Real progress comes from courageous leaders who dare to row against the tide. Sacramento’s current spate of leadership is swimming downstream in the easy flow. The Mayor and city council should be making bold decisions to drastically cut spending, cutting the size of city government, and privatizing services in order to eliminate the city’s budget deficit.

But instead the city council is opting to close swimming pools and parks, and threatening residents’ safety with police layoffs.

“If by next March the NBA owners are not impressed with progress toward a new arena in Sacramento — including how to pay for it — they will give the Maloof brothers permission to move the Kings to Anaheim or whatever other city they so choose,” reported Probasketballtalk, an NBC sports blog. “How to pay for it will be the sticking point, and a financing plan is supposed to be presented by Sept. 8.  Mayor Kevin Johnson and his task force are trying to figure that part out.”

The Mayor has been distracted from his job of running the city by the NBA and the owners of the Sacramento Kings and the March deadline. His 60-member arena task force includes many elected officials from the region, which should be a warning indicator that tax monies are still an option.

“As he has for months, Johnson continued his role as chief marketer for the arena effort. Amid hugs and high-fives, the mayor took the tone of a salesman, pitching the project as a job generator that would bolster the region’s arts and culture scene and revitalize downtown Sacramento,” reported the Sacramento Bee in May. “It’s about civic pride,” the mayor said.

Civic pride would come from balancing the city’s budget, lowering taxes, cutting off the  redevelopment boondoggles Sacramento is so famous for, and allowing private sector development to thrive. With city government driving everything from downtown “revitalization” to arena development talks, this could end as badly as the K Street Mall has – $380 million of redevelopment money spent resulting in block after block of blight and an empty shopping mall.

The city’s Economic Development department boasts that the objectives of the most recent project on the mall will “aesthetically improve the corridor, increase safety, enhance pedestrian lighting, build connectivity, improve pedestrian mobility, and create a safe and inviting public space. The project will include new and consistent paving materials, street furniture, trash receptacles, landscaping, lighting, enhanced intersection treatments and gateway elements.”

This is the leadership offered?

City officials have been hoping that an arena would solve all of Sacramento’s financial woes, and put Sacramento of the map… delusions of grandeur by people who can’t be trusted to spending other people’s money.

AUG 1, 2011

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