Town hall on arena sparks debate on parking, public funds

A town hall discussion of the new arena Thursday sparked debate between audience members and City Councilman Jay Schenirer about parking issues and the use of public funds to finance the arena project.

Schenirer and Assistant City Manager John Dangberg fielded questions from the nearly 30 people in attendance after presenting an outline of project details, including an overview of the term sheet and financing framework.

Schenirer said he held the town hall meeting for neighbors in his district because he wanted to make sure they had direct access to him to talk about whatever concerns they have about the arena project. Dangberg was included, Schenirer said, because he is one city staff member deeply involved in the project.

Comments from the audience largely reflected concerns about the City Council’s decision to partially fund the arena with revenue from leasing out the city parking inventory to a private operator.

Leasing the city’s parking to a private operator would create a $9 million gap in the general fund – money that city officials are planning to backfill from a variety of revenue sources including ticket surcharges and user fees, according to the presentation.

“This (deal) is just a real boondoggle for the Kings and for the city,” said one audience member. “It seems ridiculous to spend public money on an arena when we are cutting police and fire and closing pools and community centers.”

Schenirer said the revenue created from a parking lease would be used for the arena in order to create an economic engine.

“The money that comes out of parking has to make money,” Schenirer said. “If we put it into pools or potholes, there’s no return in that. Everything we do with the money has to bring revenue.”

Dangberg outlined the plan to backfill the general fund, spurring comments from audience members about the use of public funds without a public vote.

“Why are you making the decision for all of us without letting us have a vote?” asked an audience member. “You said people have the opportunity to vote in elections, but by the time we get that chance, this arena is done.”

Another audience member asked if an initiative to force a public vote that is being floated for the November ballot might cause a standstill for the arena project.

Schenirer said the council’s decision is a “complicated business decision” – one that he and the other City Council members have been elected to make.

“We’re taking it a step at a time, and if at the end of the day, you don’t like the decisions being made, you have the power to vote in an election for someone else,” he said.

Dangberg added that, according to the tentative timeline for the project leading up to construction, the “point of no return” would not occur until after March 2013.

“The council cannot financially commit themselves to this until there is a certified environmental review, and that won’t be completed until early next year,” he said.

After the more than two-hour-long meeting, some audience members said they weren’t satisfied with what they heard.

“This is a shell game,” said Sacramento resident David Arie after the meeting. “The numbers aren’t real. How are they going to get $250 million from the parking? No one is going to spend 20-30 bucks to park downtown.”

Schenirer said he appreciated the input from residents who attended the meeting.

“I think there is a lot of misinformation out there surrounding the arena, so my goal was to share information and answer questions,” he said.

“People are concerned about the risk – and I think that’s fair – and people are very concerned about the parking.” he added.

Dangberg said he takes the feedback he hears from residents constructively because it gives him something new to consider.

“We heard a real cross section of the community (tonight),” Dangberg said. “I think the questions and comments were well-intended and well-informed and typical of public dialogue on a very large project like this.”

Dangberg said he believes the city needs to continue providing outreach and solid information for people to base opinions and decisions on before the arena project is finalized.

Mayor Kevin Johnson said Tuesday that preparations for environmental review and site and building design for the project are under way. That portion of work is expected to be completed by March or April 2013.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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March 31, 2012 | 10:08 AM

Sorry Jay, when it comes to “complex business decisions” involving the spending of large sums of public dollars of this magnitude and long term ramifications of this project….the public has a right to a binding vote. If you don’t see the wisdom of that and an initiative is required to obtain that vote, so be it and let the collateral damage chips fall where they may.

And regarding “complex business decisions”, your track record from the school board days and that illegal CASA retirement scandal that you were a big proponent of…Grade F.

March 31, 2012 | 1:52 PM

So you’re in favor of a public vote to ratify the expenditure of over a billion dollars to repair Sacramento’s infrastructure approved by Council last Tuesday, right? And while we’re voting, perhaps a vote on all pension deals for employees, right? Where does representational democracy end and the “public’s right to vote” begin?

March 31, 2012 | 2:15 PM

Essential vs Non-essential expenditures. Both will have an impact on the discretionary spending of city taxpayers. Difference is, one we can’t live without.

Either one will always be subject to the referendum process is council proceeds without a public vote.

Essential, by its very nature, always comes in first. And to where does the right to a vote begin? When speaking of a nonessential venue, somewhere well south of 255,000,000 million dollars. Way south.

March 31, 2012 | 4:23 PM

Pensions for government workers is essential?

April 1, 2012 | 1:40 PM

where is this crying for the higher taxes to fix the water system? why no vote on that?

April 1, 2012 | 8:46 PM


Pensions for government workers are not essential – if you’re talking about not yet hired workers and you negotiate remuneration packages with them that don’t include pensions. However, pensions for already employed government workers who have already earned them over years of employment ARE essential and are a contractual obligation/debt that already exists and must be serviced. There’s nothing special about pensions – they’re just another part of a deferred compensation package that represents payment for work already performed – if the city hadn’t been offering pensions it would simply have been paying higher salaries the whole time.

March 31, 2012 | 11:04 AM

Residents of Sacramento already indicated their objection to using tax money to subsidize entities such a sports franchises. How is leasing or franchising city assets different than imposing a tax? Are we in the “World Class City” downward spiral?

March 31, 2012 | 11:41 AM

What continues to amaze me is the cavalier use of the Parking Fund as a piggy bank to fund the arena.

The garages and lots are operated within an enterprise fund known as The Parking Fund. Revenue generated by the lots and garages is limited to “the cost of operating, maintaining and paying off existing debt on the current inventory and providing for new lots and/or garages. Period. It does not fund the general fund. So how can it be used for funding the Arena EIR? Pre-development drawings? Additional land acquisition?

Money that is borrowed from the enterprise parking fund, utilized for activities not related to the operation of the parking lots and garages must be paid back inclusive of the interest that would have been accrued on the borrowed funds.

So, where is Craig Powell’s “Eye on Sacramento”…involving the potential mis-use of this enterprise fund. His EOS is all over the utilities department operation but totally mum on this…in fact EOS has been virtually mum on the Arena deal in general, except to suggest that the utility rate increase was possibly associated with creating a funding source for the arena.

Is someone is trying to empty The Parking Fund assets, to force the privatization of the parking lots and garages? Just how legal is this?

This whole mess stinks!

March 31, 2012 | 1:55 PM

I applaud Councilmember Schenirer and John Dangber for holding what they knew would be a contestuous public town hall and standing up for what they, and many of us, believe is a needed investment in Sacramento’s future.

March 31, 2012 | 4:09 PM

I am glad that at least one Council member decided to go to his district and explain why he voted to use the equivalent of the city’s revenue for a whole year on a Maloof arena. I hope that other Council members do likewise but that, unlike Schenirer, they hold the town halls after working hours. Democracy is more than just voting; it’s about communicating with your constituents. And while I applaud Schenirer for at least beginning to do that (this is the first such hearing) a part of me suspects that this hearing is the result of STOP’s initiative. Which hasn’t even hit the streets yet.

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April 1, 2012 | 11:16 AM

Evak obviously you are part of, or for all i know the founder, of STOP and calling it the ‘Maloof arena’ is part of your silly tactic. I’m not saying I support the deal (if there is one) but you hurt your cause by being disingenuous. I do find it curious that many supporters of the arena would demand a public vote if it involved a public expenditure that they didn’t favor and that people who are against the arena would shy away from a vote if it was something they believed was for the good but felt the vote would go against them. So enough with the holier-than-thou, saving democracy stuff. Just be honest.

April 1, 2012 | 2:00 PM

JWS, I can’t get my husband to go to the STOP fundraiser today; he hates that sort of thing and the only reason I was able to get him out to the last one is that it was on our way to Safeway… so no, I am not “the founder” of STOP. As for the arena, look here’s how I personally see things. We need Something downtown and, if done properly, an arena Could be a good thing. But the way it’s done now–to the specifications and within the budget of the NBA/Maloofs with us footing the bill is not what we need. Having said that, if the majority of Sacramentans do vote for this then I will shut up. Because that is how democracy works. Both sides make their case (which is why I was so impressed with Schenirer holding the town hall–something he did not have to do btw but which in a democratic society he Should do) and then people decide. At the ballot box. I’m a no vote on this deal. I’m sure you could guess that. But if the majority votes against me, I’m OK with it.

April 1, 2012 | 2:06 PM

If you set the specs for a building and stand to make the most money from that building, I think it’s fair to same that the building is yours–hence this really is a Maloof arena. The city is simply paying for it.

April 2, 2012 | 12:59 AM

For the record, Darrell Fong held a similar meeting prior to the March 6 vote. I know, because I was there.

Also, Jay said before he was elected that he felt pretty negative about the use of public funds for an arena. Many voted for him because of this stance. My parents, who know Jay, did so. So if they say one thing to get elected, and do something else while in office — this is a HUGE flip-flop — then yeah, we have the right to exercise direct democracy.

April 2, 2012 | 9:43 AM

Cosmo Gavin, over at SNR did an excellent SNOG post regarding Jay’s 180 on the use of public funds and assets for an arena. He also included a copy of Jack O’Connell’s endorsement letter that was part of Jay’s Council campaign literature. It included reference to the selling of approximately $30 million in city land would be better spent on after school programs than giving it to a developer for a downtown arena. One could easily apply the term hoodwinked to this ploy…..especially since we are approaching 10X that amount without calculating in the infrastructure cost.

“March 01, 2012

Why Jay Schenirer is a sure “no” vote on arena deal. Unless he was (“BS” ing) before.

We’re still waiting for the arena term sheet to come out–though some of the basics have been reported in the Bee and elsewhere in the daily media. Speaking of the Bee, thank goodness for watchdog reporter Marcos Breton to remind us that we need to look at the details of the deal before it’s approved 7-2. Good looking out, Marcos.

Actually, maybe my vote count is a little off. Darrell Fong and Bonnie Pannell are iffy. And Jay Schenirer, based on his past beliefs about subsidizing sports arenas, really ought to vote no.

When he was running for city council, he told the Sacramento Bee:

“I’d love to see an entertainment/arena complex downtown but do not favor any public subsidies.”
And he told the SN&R: “I don’t see how we can give away a resource that’s worth at least $30 million.”

And one of his supporters in that campaign, then-California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell sent this letter to voters, letting them know he though Schenirer was the best candidate because he proposed selling public land to build after school programs, not arenas.”

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April 2, 2012 | 12:58 PM

If we are to wait for the perfect conditions, the perfect economic climate, the perfect political solutions, the perfect design – you get the idea – downtown will continue to display nothing but what it is today – a half-alive-half-dead wasteland and a dustbowl of “potential”.

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April 2, 2012 | 7:08 PM

I agree P.W. but we are slightly deluded if we think building a downtown arena will be the golden ticket to a revitalized downtown. Well it help? Yes. But it will not be as transformative as so many people here imagine. Therefore, the costs do not merit the effort.

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April 4, 2012 | 11:51 AM

I totally agree with your proportional response! However – as I’ve pointed out before, there IS the other element which gets very little attention: The eventual redevelopment of the old arena site. Of course, it’s all speculation (even moreso than the railyard development), but this part of the puzzle has the potential of being more of an economic boon to Natomas and the rest of Sacramento than the new arena might be. The Railyards is just one dimension of the area’s future economically. A smart development in Natomas could bring in many more jobs (such as a major medical campus, which is desperately needed) or the like than Arco (or Rubber Band Pavilion) ever did. City Council and the rest of us should be looking at the WHOLE picture. Even if the economic results from a new arena are relatively flat, redevelopment in Natomas could make up the difference. A lot of “ifs” here – but that’s life. I think we have to come to terms with the fact that this new arena thing IS going to happen. Quit wasting time lamenting about it – and figure out what to do in Natomas next. And please, GOD, PLEASE – not an auto mall!!!

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