A skeptic’s perspective: Isaac Gonzalez on Sacramento’s arena saga
The debate over the future of the railyards entered a new phase with a bang Monday as Mayor Kevin Johnson announced his new target for the space: a Major League Baseball stadium. The details are sketchy at this point – there isn’t even a team in play yet, though the city hopes that bringing Kevin McClatchy, a former co-owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the current chairman of the board of The McClatchy Co., which owns The Sacramento Bee, will help them recruit one.
As part of The Sacramento Press’s ongoing discussion with writers, activists and community leaders who have been engaged with the arena issue, I checked in with ranSACkedmedia.com blogger and Sacramento Current podcaster Isaac Gonzalez to see what he was thinking. Gonzalez has plenty of detractors, but like him or not, he’s been covering the issue consistently for over a year, and, as he doesn’t hesitate to point out, he’s done his homework and can argue his points with facts in hand.
This interview was conducted on Monday morning, before the mayor’s press conference regarding Major League Baseball, and it’s just one of several that we’re planning on this topic. [Editor's note: Read our last one with Internet radio host and “Here We Build” mastermind Carmichael Dave here.]
Gonzalez started off by airing one of his primary concerns: that the city – and the mayor – shouldn’t lose focus on bread-and-butter issues such as crime and education while trying to pursue stadium plans that may or may not happen. The interview turned interesting when he described what he wants to see from the city and from Think Big Executive Director Kunal Merchant if the plan progresses.
SAC PRESS: We’re still in an early stage here, but what would you like to see from Think Big and the city if this initiative to bring a Major League Baseball stadium to the railyards goes forward?
ISAAC GONAZALEZ: I’ll tell you what I would really like to see and what would really calm the nerves of skeptics like me – that would be independent economic analysis, devoid of any kind of influence from the people who have already decided that this needs to get done, and that’s something that was sorely lacking in the first go-round. There were no true reports that came out that were (worth the paper they were written on). I mean some of the 37- and 57-page reports were little more than photographs and background info, and then when they made claims, there was no footnote to denote where that claim came from, but it got echoed on the news and in the newspaper without any kind of analysis, and then that becomes the talking points which people that criticize me lean on.
I really want to see an independent, vetted report that says, "This is how we’ll pay for it, this is what we would like to get back out of it, and if we don’t get that back, this is exactly how we would have to pay for it." And also… If it’s an investment of that magnitude, shouldn’t we (as the city of Sacramento) talk about how much we’re going to profit on it? And if we’re going to do the lion’s share of the investment, I would like for us to get the lion’s share of the profit – these are things that never happened with the basketball arena.
SAC PRESS: It’s been widely reported that the future of the River Cats may hang in the balance. What are your thoughts?
GONZALEZ: There is this one thing, and it’s a little early to see how this is going to play out. According to the rules of Major League Baseball, you can’t have a minor league team and a major league team in the same city. They don’t allow it. And the River Cats, on the other side of the river, are the most profitable minor league team in the league. They are the example of how we should do minor leagues. That facility is 11 years old. West Sacramento has built their waterfront around it. To lure a [Editor's note: Major League Baseball] team to this city would mean the end of that.
We went out hat in hand during the beginning of the arena process asking for a regional effort, and we didn’t get back anything – Rancho Cordova, Elk Grove, Roseville – they did not want to pony up anything for the arena. We’ll be very hard-pressed to ever go out looking for support in the region if we build a reputation of effectively killing the things that our neighbors have worked hard to build up, and that will be a real shame, if that came to pass, so I really hope that this is a vetted plan, and it isn’t just smoke and mirrors and that everyone does their due diligence.
SAC PRESS: The discussion on the arena has been heated at times, and you’ve taken some flak in our comments section and on other sites. What do you see as your role in the debate?
GONZALEZ: A critical discussion is meant to vet problems before the ground is broken, before the checks are cashed, in the hopes that we stay clear of them and make better decisions. Critical discussions should not be vilified, as it seems to want to be in this city. We worked people up to a fevered pitch as far as their emotion goes on arena plan A, and now that we’re on arena plan C, let’s let rational thought rule the day and let’s the best plan come forward, and let’s talk about it respectfully to one another. I am willing to do that, and I would welcome anyone that wants to tell me that I’m wrong in a respectful manner have their say. I know that I’d be wiser to listen to them to hear the other side, but the rancor and the name-calling? That shit has got to stop.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. That’s stupid. That’s absolutely stupid. And now that they [Editor's note: The Sacramento Bee] are actually leaning on a McClatchy family member for information… now that we actually admit that a McClatchy family member is actively consulting on this project, everything that comes out of that paper becomes suspect to me – not instantly, "This must be an active campaign of propaganda," but it becomes much more suspect, and I begin to wonder what the motives are…
SAC PRESS: But what do you expect them to do? As journalists, they are working on a story, and then a family member of the McClatchy corporation gets involved – how should they handle it?
GONZALEZ: Put a footnote in every article. "Mr. McClatchy is a consultant on this project," because they will let you forget – a couple of us will remember and yell at it and they’ll call us "yahoos," but they’ve mentioned it now and it will pop up every now and then… Put just a little line in the bottom in italics, "Mr. McClatchy is a consultant in this project," and then let the people figure out what that means to them. You don’t have to connect all the dots, but I think that’s a pretty significant development. We’re a one-paper town, there is little wiggle room for the other discussion, now that the one paper has skin in the game… I mean, we’ll see. I’m cautiously skeptical.
SAC PRESS: What do you want to see happen?
GONZALEZ: Hey, you know what, I would love for this to be a great program. I want to say “We got it all figured out – West Sacramento is on board, the River Cats are going to be dissolved, we’re going to build the stadium, we’re (the city) not going to spend any money, we’re going to give them the land, and some tax breaks and the city is going to make a ton of money – awesome, do it! It’s just a field now. Do it by all means! But the other way around – “We’re leasing away $250 million in public parking for 40 years, and this is what we’re going to spend it on, and we’re not going to ask the public what they think about it, we’re going to just chug along and do everything out of [Editor's note: Think Big].. now figuring out how to direct public policy, with no oversight, no Brown Act, no rules, just do what you want, no minutes taken for meetings, no attendance recorded, it’s scary.
Editor’s note: Think Big is a private advisory group formed by Mayor Kevin Johnson that is made up of a variety of business and government leaders. The group was originally formed to develop a sports arena and has recently expanded its scope to include regional development and job creation.
Editor’s note: The questions in this article were modified for clarity and cohesion.