Factions and the Proposed New Sacramento Kings Arena – The Situation Today (September 6, 2013)

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In the eastern suburbs of Sacramento, you’ll find a dedicated fan base for the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team. You’ll also find a sizable number of conservatives and libertarians who dislike unions and crony capitalism. (That’s why Tom McClintock is able to represent this area in Congress.) Some people would identify with both groups.

As I’ve gone about my mundane business in this region over the past two days, I’m surprised to hear so much talk from these two groups about the planned Sacramento Kings arena and the union Project Labor Agreement deal announced on Wednesday for the construction of the new arena in downtown Sacramento. Ordinary people are paying attention to this issue in the newspapers, on local radio and TV news, and on local news and sports talk shows.

Here’s a general summary of what I’m hearing from the suburban fan base for the Kings:

  1. We want our only major league professional sports team to stay in Sacramento. It would be nice to have a revitalized downtown central city to visit, free of rundown buildings and devoid of people loitering and living on the street. “I won’t take my kids downtown because of that,” a female Kings fan said to me this morning.
  2. No one is fooled by Mayor Kevin Johnson’s obligatory talking points about the union deal. It was a political payoff to get the arena built. Ideally, everyone should have a fair chance to compete for work on the arena. It isn’t going to happen now.
  3. Please work out a solution so the arena can move forward without being derailed by this vicious new controversy over the labor deal. We need to keep the team here.

Here’s a general summary of what I’m hearing from the suburban conservatives and libertarians:

  1. Why is Government giving money to billionaire investors and professional athletes? How were these rich people (the so-called “One Percent”) able to get subsidies from city parking revenue?
  2. Professional basketball is corrupt and so are Sacramento politicians and union bosses. Of course unions will get the work from their cronies.
  3. Please kill the project as it stands now. It would be a service. People need to say “no” to doing business in this way – it’s destroying our state and country.

Within the City of Sacramento itself, there are a few more vocal factions: (1) people on the Left who resent how the city leadership is using public resources and spending so much time and money to keep a professional basketball team at the expense of other civic priorities; (2) small business owners and business leaders who seek a prosperous downtown and are willing to compromise and make undesirable deals with special interest groups to make it happen; and (3) residents who think the proposed financing plan for the new arena will be a fiscal disaster for the city.

Then, of course, there are activists in the local construction trade unions who love what’s happening. They get guaranteed work on a glamorous project that can be used to promote Project Labor Agreements on more public and private construction projects in the future.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announces Project Labor Agreement for new Kings basketball arena on September 4, 2013.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announces Project Labor Agreement for new Kings basketball arena.

Their arrogance about their victory has not helped matters. The mayor’s September 4 press conference at the Downtown Plaza in Sacramento to celebrate union control of construction with a Project Labor Agreement ended up being a public relations fiasco for union officials and the Kings ownership. Instead of being a quiet political payoff, it was a divisive, high-profile political payoff that disgusted area residents.

Nevertheless, the press conference achieved its true purpose of putting union lobbying pressure on Southern California Democrats and Bay Area Democrats in the state legislature to support Senate Bill 743. Forty-eight hours after the press conference, State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg won a vote in the Assembly to “gut and amend” Senate Bill 743 and transform it into a bill that gives the planned Sacramento Kings arena some special breaks from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The state’s leading environmental groups objected to SB 743, but most Assembly Democrats voted for the amendment: it passed 46-21. Republicans generally opposed SB 743 and demanded a roll call vote on this bill, which was placed among a long series of proposals approved by the Assembly through voice vote.

Overlooked in this controversy is that no one seems to have a copy of an actual signed Project Labor Agreement or even a draft of the agreement. The Sacramento City Council never discussed it and never voted on it. The public has no way to verify any of the rhetoric about its alleged benefits. But it doesn’t matter: it’s about political payoffs for the greater good.


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