Johnson’s Big Plans May Backfire

Katy Grimes: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has made no secret of the fact that he’d like a big, beautiful new sports arena in the city.

Johnson is also still pushing for a change to the city charter to make the Sacramento Mayor an “Executive Mayor,” and not just one of nine votes on the City Council. His latest plan is actually a very good plan.

But Johnson can’t have both – he is undermining both plans by supporting the other.

Taken individually, the sports arena and Executive Mayor system are large, complex issues. Taken together, one spells disaster for the other.

Here’s the problem: Politicians are always surrounded by ‘yes’ people. Their groupies build them up, and keep telling them how great they are, and that everything they propose is a winning idea.

Sacramento Sports Complex

No one is apparently telling Johnson that the latest arena scheme is a real stinker. Sticking city residents with higher parking costs just to pull money out of city-owned parking lots is nothing more than an arena tax. And taxpayers know it.

Sacramento taxpayers emphatically voted down the arena proposals five years ago. Since then, savvy voters have only become more wary with the ensuing arena deals.

But what most people don’t know is that the arena deal is being pushed by the NBA.  A story published on the NBA’s website demonstrated this: “Sacramento is a relatively small NBA market and the aging Power Balance Pavilion where the Kings play lacks many of the profit-boosting features seen in newer arenas, such as a variety of premium seating options that command higher ticket prices. In addition, the state capital lacks large corporate operations, which have helped other cities finance arenas, like the Staples Center in Los Angeles or the United Center in Chicago.”

Sacramento already has an arena, albeit “relatively small” and aging. Sometimes it sells-out, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s more of a team problem than an arena problem. A bigger luxury arena would not sell more tickets to see the Kings.

If Sacramento had a consistently-winning all-star NBA team, the games could be played in an rickety old arena, and it would be to sell-out crowds. The fans are fans of the game, not luxury boxes and flowing champagne.

However, the NBA wants the fancy arena, with more expensive luxury boxes for big corporate sponsors. The NBA wants fancier digs, highfalutin vendors… and higher ticket prices. And they want Sacramento to put up some of the cash, or shut up.

“The economic downturn has left few politically viable sources of public money in California. And Sacramento voters in 2006 overwhelmingly rejected a sales tax increase to finance an arena,” the story stated.

It’s all about the image for the NBA. It’s economic for the NBA – and not for Sacramento. All that Sacramento will get is higher ticket prices, and higher downtown parking costs. That should really help the dilapidated downtown mall and struggling K Street shop owners.

If the city council agrees to the ridiculous parking deal, chances are that some businesses will decide that they no longer need an office in the downtown. My monthly city parking lot costs $145. If the parking lot sale goes through, monthly parkers like me will probably get stuck with $200 parking bills. Shoppers will be hit with the higher parking costs. It’s a penalty to downtown employees, and translates only as an arena tax. Higher costs like parking come out of taxpayers’ bottom line, and only serve to dig deeper in our pockets.

$145 a month for parking may sound low for San Francisco and Los Angeles, but this is Sacramento – we are not parking near a thriving business district or Tiffany’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks and Barneys. Sacramento’s Downtown Mall shoppers can choose from 12 eyebrow threading stores, Macy’s, movie theaters, a food court, Payless Shoes, and  a Hyundai showroom. And the Westfield Mall is for sale – it is apparent that the mall owner gave up a long time ago on the sad mall.

Executive Mayor 

The Executive Mayor plan has been modified four times. This latest plan is a good one and probably needed, after the recent redistricting shenanigans orchestrated by city council members. It was a gross abuse of power, for which they should have been recalled.

Johnson’s idea of a strong mayor is worthy. “The Checks and Balances Act of 2012” still proposes the mayor as chief executive, responsible for the budget proposal, chooses a city manager, and no longer will have a voting position on the city council.

The mayor would also get limited veto power.

The biggest change in the latest version of the executive mayor proposal is the Mayor will no longer have the power to hire and fire city officers, city attorney and city clerk, and will not be able to hire and fire department heads – those powers would remain with the city manager. Proponents say that this is the most significant change and brought balance to the plan.

The plan adds in a sunset date to automatically revert back to the mayor-council system should voters not like the new system. This is a good safeguard, without having to advance a campaign to make the change back. But if voters are happy with the new executive mayor system, they can reaffirm it.

The Executive Mayor/Checks and Balances Act :
*  Separates power: mayor and council have separate and different roles, each is accountable to voters – makes the mayor the chief executive of the city, rather than the city manager;

* Realigns authority: mayor’s role becomes more administrative, but council has authority of approval – Would have a City Council President preside over council meetings, rather than the mayor, so he does not have to manage the minutia at the weekly meetings;

* Streamlines responsibility: more direction comes from the mayor, more direct accountability for successes and shortfalls;

* Concentrates efficiency: mayor is executive branch, council is legislative branch, each with ways to “check” and “balance” the other;

* Would create an Independent Redistricting Commission;

* The mayor would propose a budget that gets approved by the council.

Two two public policy professors recently discussed the Mayor’s plan at a Metro Chamber event. Dr. Barbara O’Connor from CSU Sacramento, and Professor Robert Benedetti from University of the Pacific, said that the mayor should be the “chief negotiator” of the city, and should be available for leadership decisions, rather than the day to day city council meetings. They said that the Mayor’s focus should be as “aggregator for the city’s vision and use the bully pulpit to set the tone for the city pursue bigger ideas.”  Both professors felt that the changes in this proposal would be helpful in increasing transparency and accountability, and address the public’s distrust and distaste for government.

The current proposal can be found here.

Mayor Kevin Johnson already has his hands full with the city charter change, and should remain focused on this. He needs to sell this latest version to voters, who are already leary of the plan.

Throwing the arena deal into the fray will only lead to more of the distrust and distaste for local government felt by Sacramento voters, as well as probable defeat.

If arenas are such a good investment, Johnson could stand up to the NBA and tell them to find funders. It’s obvious that no one wants to pay for the arena, including taxpayers and city residents.

The history is there to prove that arenas are losing financial deals for cities. Sacramento is already running a serious deficit; giving up the parking lot revenue is foolish, particularly knowing that any new arena will lose its luster within 20 years. While the next round of city officials will be screaming about needing another new or upgraded arena, the leaseholders of the city’s parking lots will be enjoying their lucrative 50-year lease. It’s a short-sighted, bad deal for city residents and for the city, and proof that city officials see their roles on the council as terminal – they’ll be long gone by the time this all falls apart.

FEB. 20, 2012

12 comments

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  1. larry 62
    larry 62 20 February, 2012, 09:46

    As Sacramento struggles and fights with itself, surrounding areas are moving on without the nonsense that occurs in Sacramento. Plenty of shopping available everywhere and a new theatre in Folsom, which is very nice and doesn’t require an expensive parking fee. Sacramento should let the Kings move on and get a life. Why would the average income person spend a fortune just to see a basketball game and then spend more in taxes and fees in order to give these guys a half billion dollar place to play in? If that is what we call being a world class city, who needs it?

    Reply this comment
  2. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 20 February, 2012, 11:23

    Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has made no secret of the fact that he’d like a big, beautiful new sports arena in the city.

    As long as HE (and his Maloof brother buddies) don’t have to PAY FOR IT. When it is his money the tune changes.

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 20 February, 2012, 11:26

    “Sacramento is a relatively small NBA market and the aging Power Balance Pavilion where the Kings play lacks many of the profit-boosting features seen in newer arenas, such as a variety of premium seating options that command higher ticket prices.”

    Then tell the Kings to BUILD THEIR OWN NEW AREANA.

    What is stopping them from raking in the Big Bucks a new area willl command???

    Reply this comment
  4. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 20 February, 2012, 11:32

    What the City Council doesn’t realize is that if they approve the parking garage leases, and give up that city revenue stream, it is a deal breaker for many in the city.

    We are already straining under higher utility costs, surcharges for utilities, solar surcharges, libraries, police reductions, shabby parks, lousy street maintenance, a sewer system falling apart because the city has not done maintenance on it, nefarious garbage contracts, lane reductions in favor of bike lanes for cyclists,… the list could go on.

    I am a native Sacramento resident, and have watched short-term politicians screw up this city with their “big thinking.” And then they move on to the next political gig, and leave taxpayers holding the bill for one failed plan after another.

    The City is charged with staying focused on the things which benefit all residents – libraries, parks, bicycle trails, swimming pools, convention center, community centers.

    Redevelopment projects to steal land for higher tax projects, sports arenas, and other “public-private” projects are taxpayer funded boondoggles, and are not infrastructure. Roads, streets, parkways, are.

    – Katy

    Reply this comment
  5. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 20 February, 2012, 11:45

    Sacramento gets what it deserves for electing a former athlete to a position that he really had zero qualifications (intellectual or experience) to hold. The voters in Sacramento must be complete morons. I hope he flushes your entire city.

    “If arenas are such a good investment, Johnson could stand up to the NBA and tell them to find funders. It’s obvious that no one wants to pay for the arena, including taxpayers and city residents”

    Why would Johnson, a former NBA’er himself, stand up to his buddies in the NBA? It’s a perfect opportunity to grease the skids for his connections setting himself up for a nice big payback. You think he’s promoting the sports arena for the benefit of the citizens and taxpayers??? 😀

    Johnson doesn’t have clue one how to run a city. But you elected him. Good luck.

    Reply this comment
  6. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 20 February, 2012, 16:29

    Ask Chicago resdients how that deal went where they sold off the downtown parking meter revenue for the next 75 yers for 10 cents on the dollar- for a one time cash infusion that is now long gone, and parking rates have gone up 10 fold….go ahead, call up ChiTown and ask them how that deal worked out.

    Reply this comment
  7. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 20 February, 2012, 17:00

    They always understate the costs and overstate the revenue. Once it’s built and reality rears it’s ugly head the ones who promoted it turn to the taxpayers for a bailout. Johnson and his crony council members who pushed it are long gone when the bad news hits and the new council members say “Don’t blame us. It’s not our fault. We didn’t approve it”. This is the way the game is played when it comes to all the failed issues (eg. pensions).

    Reply this comment
  8. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 20 February, 2012, 18:30

    They always understate the costs and overstate the revenue. Once it’s built and reality rears it’s ugly head the ones who promoted it turn to the taxpayers for a bailout.

    Every budget this state has put forth for the past 20 years has over stated revenue and understated expenses. It is done intentionally. It is not going to change. The cities are just doing what Mom and Dad State are watching them, and why not-there are no consequences for such lies.

    Cannot wait until #1) San Diego votes to put ALL public employees into 401K’s in June, and #2) Jerry Clowns pension sales tax gets destroyed at the ballot box (Clown will then pass a tax increase unilaterally with the legislature once this happens-mark my words-or he will try again as soon as he can get another ballot qualified, heck we just destroyed Arnold on this very issue last year……………..

    Reply this comment
  9. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 20 February, 2012, 18:52

    “The cities are just doing what Mom and Dad State are watching them, and why not-there are no consequences for such lies”

    In a fair and just world politicians would be prosecuted for knowingly misleading the public on matters that effect their tax payments. It would be prosecuted just like perjury and fraud – as a felony. Lying to constituents to gain votes or political contributions should be an extremely serious offense. It destroys the faith and trust of the electorate. And in a so-called democracy there is really no greater political sin than that. BUT THEY ALL LIE BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH IT! The dirty system protects them. That’s why the entire political system is one big farce. LIARS AND FRAUDS are totally shielded from punishment.

    Reply this comment
  10. @Ronnie_XXIII
    @Ronnie_XXIII 21 February, 2012, 16:26

    I read that Sacramento lacks big corporate sponsorship for a new arena. Then a few sentences later I read that we need the new arena to accommodate corporate customers in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed – luxury suites. Well which is it? Do we have enough corporate interest to actually sell the luxury suites? If so, where is their corporate sponsorship of the arena project? Oh, I see. As usual, the “little people” are supposed to pay for luxuries reserved for the elite. Not with my tax dollars! If this arena plan is passed I’ll organize to elect another mayor, and replace Darrell Fong as my councilman.

    Reply this comment
  11. JoeS
    JoeS 22 February, 2012, 16:43

    He is an extension of Obama. There is a payoff somewhere…

    Reply this comment
  12. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 23 February, 2012, 10:46

    “He is an extension of Obama. There is a payoff somewhere…”

    Of course. Can’t you people add 2+2? Johnson’s an ex-NBA player who wants to spend public money to benefit the NBA and it’s corporate friends. You don’t think there’s a payback in the making there? Come on. Wake up! You’re being conned. Call him out!

    Reply this comment

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