Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sacramento Mayor Johnson plans 60-member arena commission

Mayor Kevin Johnson and  Senate
President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg
By Ryan Lillis
Sacramento Bee, June 1, 2011

In his quest to convince residents from Lincoln to Galt that paying for a new sports arena in downtown Sacramento makes sense, Mayor Kevin Johnson is convening a task force larger than the state Senate.

Johnson announced Tuesday that he is forming a 60-member commission made up of elected leaders, and business and labor representatives from across the region to come up with a plan to finance a new arena. They will be charged with hammering out a proposal over the next 100 days.

It's not yet clear what portion of that funding might come from public sources. A proposal unveiled last week for erecting a $387 million sports and entertainment arena in the former Sacramento railyard site did not include a financing plan.

Instead, that piece of the puzzle will be fashioned by the commission, with the idea, city officials said, that the region as a whole will have to contribute financially.

The group's roster will be finalized in the coming days. It is to be co-chaired by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, and state Sen. Ted Gaines, a Republican from Roseville.

"It's time for everyone to get on board," Steinberg said Tuesday. "It's time, after a decade of talk and of work, to finally get this done for the future of our great region."

The NBA has made construction of a new arena a requirement if Sacramento wants to keep professional basketball in town; and the Maloof family, who own the Sacramento Kings, have said they need to see an arena financing plan by March or will revisit plans to move the team.

By inviting 60 people to take part in his commission, the mayor is trying to put distance between the latest arena effort and the spectacular failure in 2006 of Measures Q and R, ballot initiatives that would have raised the sales tax in Sacramento County to build a $541 million arena downtown. That campaign was pushed only by Sacramento leaders – and even some of them were vocal in their opposition.

"We want to learn from the past," said mayoral spokesman Joaquin McPeek.

One of the commission's duties will be to market the concept of an arena built with at least some public funding. That message will be included in a series of town hall meetings the group is expected to conduct over the summer.

No broad sales tax proposal has been presented, and that option appears unlikely, given that Measures Q and R received just 20 percent of the vote in 2006. Other possible financing mechanisms include a regional hotel and rental car tax and surcharges placed on ticket sales for events at the arena.

The size of the commission is an indication that officials also are exploring a joint powers authority, which could pool the collective credit of local government bodies to issue bonds to help pay for an arena. That was the approach used a decade ago in construction of Raley Field, when West Sacramento, Sacramento County and Yolo County joined forces to finance the River Cats' stadium.

"The mayor is smart to cast a wide net so as to not alienate any of the decision-makers within the region, especially if you're going to be asking them for some type of political or financial investment," said political consultant Doug Elmets, who worked on the Q and R campaigns.

"And by being a commission member, officials are likely to be more constructive partners in the effort while at the same time being committed to the end game."

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, who is expected to take a high-profile role on the new commission, said the group will do more than seek support for the arena cause.

"It's not about building support just for support's sake or cheerleading," he said. "It's about putting together the smartest people in the region to find the right funding mechanisms."

Still, Cabaldon said, it wouldn't hurt if "at the end of 100 days, those people (commission members) would go out and talk about this issue."

Not everyone is impressed.

Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad said commission members will outnumber those in his county willing to tax themselves for an arena. And he criticized Sacramento officials for seeking regional buy-in for a project planned for their downtown.

"The one way to address this is to do it with a sales tax within Sacramento," he said. "We have a new community and senior center (in Woodland) and we built it with a sales tax. The city and county (of Sacramento) can take care of it themselves."

But Johnson already has the support of many elected officials, nearly 20 of whom joined him Tuesday at the California State Railroad Museum to announce the commission's formation. The elected leaders in attendance represented both sides of the political aisle and came from as far away as Yuba City.

"It's time for us to get back in the game," Gaines told the crowd.

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.

"It's about civic pride," the mayor said.

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