Think ‘Big Labor’ For Arena Deal

Katy Grimes: What does a city do when the chips are down, the deficit is huge, services are cut and public approval is at a record low?  Why, of course, it’s time to build a sports arena.

In Sacramento, despite local voters refusing to support public financing to build another sports complex, Mayor Kevin Johnson continues to push another new arena. And, anyone who critiques the plan is called names, and attacked by sports writers.

Sacramento not only cannot afford to build an arena, the taxpayers have already voted down two ballot measures to pay for a new arena. The Sacramento Grand Jury expressed serious concerns in a 2006-07 report, The Kings and City and County of Sacramento: Betrayal in the Kingdom? .

So instead, city officials schemed and came up with a plan to pawn its parking lots, together with the future revenue they generate, in order to get a big enough chunk of change to be able to play in the big leagues.

The last scheme, would have relocated the state fairgrounds to Arco Arena in Natomas, and  developed the 350-acre Cal Expo site to help finance a new arena downtown. It would have turned ownership and operation of the state fairgrounds and the annual state fair over to a private company, VisionMaker Worldwide.  VisionMaker would have returned ownership of the facilities to the state after 30 years.

 Think Big Labor

However, Sunday, one of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s “Think Big” members publicly outed the motive behind the arena push today on a local news show — and surprise, surprise… it’s labor. The guy said that “the city and labor are backing the arena deal.”

Why labor? Because the arena would be built by union employees. All city government contracts require Project Labor Agreements, an arrangement heartily supported by Bob Balgenorth, of the State Building & Constructions Council, and “Think Big” board member.

Balgenorth is joined on the “Think Big” board by Senate Pres. pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, City Council Member Rob Fong, and numerous other area Democrats, comfortable with spending other people’s money against their wishes. Republican Sen. Ted Gaines is however, also on the board, and has been offering a great deal of support for the plan.

The best quick explanation of the damage to business caused by Project Labor Agreements comes from The Truth About PLAs: “Anti-competitive government-mandated project labor agreement (PLAs) are special interest kickback schemes that end open, fair and competitive bidding on construction projects.”

Think Big Money

One of the “Think Big” goals include “Identify a menu of funding options and finalize a public-private funding plan.” But there is a problem — the public doesn’t want to finance the ‘public’ portion of the plan.

Sacramento’s newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, is also shilling for the plan. Former sports writer Marcos Breton writes several quasi-political columns each week pimping the plan. Instead of just doing his usual hackneyed bootlicking support column for the arena plan Sunday, Breton called opponents to the plan “naysayers,” and supporters of “government-town ethos.”

I’ve done my share of calling out the opposition on a myriad of issues, but Breton’s column is such a thin shill veil. In his view, either Sacramento residents support the arena plan, or they support the government town.

Really? I know that he is not that simple. But Breton is one of the few who stand to benefit from an arena. He’s not just a sports fan — Breton is still a sports writer.

“Pension spiking and public-payroll double dipping are rampant around here,” Breton wrote. But he ignores that the arena plan is an ace-in-the-hole for unions. How does Breton think that pensions spiking and double-dipping took place?

Obviously, the Sacramento Bee and a few downtown merchants stand to benefit.  And the bottom line is that a new arena may satisfy sports fans, but the venue will be one in which many more will not be able to afford to attend.

As a sports writer, Breton could and should be pushing for a more responsible and reasonable plan. Sacramento has a sports arena that could easily be remodeled and greatly beefed up. There is plenty of parking around the arena, and businesses have sprouted up in the area supporting the venue.

This can and will backfire on the city. The higher parking fees which will come out of the bad deal to sell the city’s parking garages and metered parking, higher taxes are inevitable in city business districts businesses, and there will be hefty surcharges on arena tickets. Fewer people will go to arena events and downtown to patronize businesses because it will be too expensive.

But that doesn’t bother arena supporters who will be insulated from the masses in the new  luxury boxes.

The small thinkers who insist that the city needs an arena to elevate Sacramento into world-class city status are the real naysayers. They are typical of every Johnny-come-lately who moves to an area and then wants to change the landscape and demographics.

As a life-long resident, I’ve watched Sacramento sprawl, and make really bad decisions for short term gains.

Sacramento is located on two rivers, neither of which has ever been developed. In the downtown, K Street was turned into a pedestrian mall in the 1960’s. It was a failure, but only made worse by the city, which spent more than $250 million over the years, annexing buildings and property along the street, turning it into a giant slum. As the biggest slumlord on K street, and in downtown, the city has made a mess, from which an arena will not performa a rescue.

These are real issues that real leaders would tackle. Sacramento could be a much more interesting city, had past city councils allowed development along the rivers. And the downtown business district might have been a thriving area, had the Sacramento redevelopment agency not robbed the taxpayers of several hundred million dollars over the decades.

Sacramento is still operating with a massive deficit. I’ve been told by city insiders that the city’s deficit is as high as $60 million. So let’s build an arena.

Building a sports arena is nouveau riche, and a short-term gain for a very few. If there really is such a demand for a new sports arena, then there would be numerous wealthy individuals or corporations vying for a chance to be a part of it. But there are no long lines of wealthy suitors waiting in line to build Mayor Johnson and his friends a new arena.

Arenas are nothing more that fields of schemes; apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this.

FEB. 27, 2012

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