Sen. Darrell Steinberg discusses his Sacramento arena bill

Photo courtesy of the Office of the Pro Tem

Next up in our downtown arena Q&A series is Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's legislation that would help prevent legal obstructions to building a new arena in downtown Sacramento is currently on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, awaiting signature.

The bill, SB 743, among other things, prevents lawsuits from halting construction of the $448 million arena slated to replace land that the Downtown Plaza (sort of) currently occupies. It also shortens the judicial timeline for any environmental lawsuits filed against the project.

Steinberg, who represents California's 6th Senate District, which includes Sacramento, has been a staunch supporter of Mayor Kevin Johnson's and the city's effort to keep the Kings in town. He was kind enough to join me as part of Sactown Royalty's ongoing Q&A series about the new downtown arena and the changing landscape of the Kings franchise.

I wanted to briefly touch on the last eight months or so in this battle to keep the Kings in Sacramento. Back in January, you wrote a letter that called out Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer asking why he is engaged in activities that are "clearly and measurably detrimental to our State's job and revenue base." Talk about that and why you decided to get involved shortly after the Seattle deal was announced.

That was a little bit of a shot across the bow. We just wanted to make it clear that we were going to fight for our asset here - our team, our economic opportunity ... we didn't really pursue it hard, but it was out there, and then I really focused my time specifically on assisting the mayor and the city in winning the competition. And then the trip back to New York and then, of course, in the last month, we were focused on getting this legislation passed.

Tell me a little about that trip to New York and what those meetings were like.

It was high stakes. I took the red eye, you know, and arrived and even without much sleep, the adrenaline was flowing. I made the case with Mayor Johnson that I'm the first Pro Tem of the Senate from Sacramento in 125 years, and I wanted to assure the owners that this not only a significant priority for our city and our region, but for the state as well. This is the capital city. I told them I was committed to responsible CEQA reform in a way that would not allow this project to be unduly delayed, and I think it helped and played a role.

I knew when we walked out of that room that day that we had a great chance.

Your bill, SB 743, protects the arena project from being stopped by litigation for pretty much everything other than things related to public health, is that the main gist of it?

That is the gist of it. There are some provisions to expedite timelines for judicial review, but that is consistent with what we are doing for a number of other big projects as well. The thing that is really significant about the bill that applies to the Kings is the limitation on the ability to stop the project cold because that is the fear, and we know we're on an aggressive schedule and we do not want to lose what we have worked so hard to win.

Is this something that all major development projects have to deal with?

The CEQA issue is a very difficult one because CEQA, in my view, is a great law and the challenge is that the same law that has been used to protect some of California's most important natural treasures, has also been used, at times, to hold up good projects. So it's not all or nothing. In this particular instance, there is clear evidence that there are people who want to throw a wrench into this incredibly important opportunity for the community I represent, and the state I represent.

Can you expand on the bill's language that helps the city of Sacramento utilize eminent domain for this arena project? [See Macy's]

That's really a technical change because it doesn't change the eminent domain law at all, it just allows the eminent domain proceeding to be done at the same time that CEQA review is done, otherwise it would have to be after.

I know this was negotiated into the bill later in the process, but can you explain the aspect of SB 743 that says patrons should drive 15 percent fewer miles to the new arena than the people who currently go to Sleep Train Arena?

One of the reasons why it was appropriate to provide this expedited treatment and to limit the ability to stop the project is because this is a very significant environmental project. The Sacramento project is the definition of what we call 'infill' ... we want to encourage development along transit lines, we want to encourage development in city centers, we want to encourage development where people can walk from work to entertainment, and from home to work. This project meets the definition - it is in the heart of the region, in the heart of our downtown, it's on rail and this should be a showcase project for the state.

Are you pretty confident that the governor is going to sign SB 743?

Yeah, never over-confident because I respect the office of the governor and that is his decision, but I feel good about it.

There continues to be individuals and groups out there who want to stop what Sacramento is trying to do with this downtown arena, and yet time and time again Sacramento continues to fight back. What does that say to you about this community?

We are a never say die community. We're fighters. We love this community. I'm not a native of Sacramento. I've lived here now almost 30 years and this community has provided me so many opportunities and it is such a wonderful place to live, and we're proud of our history and tradition with the Kings and with so many other things. And we're going to fight for this opportunity ... this whole story, it speaks to the great spirit and focus of Sacramento.

You have had a chance to interact with the new ownership group of the Kings quite a bit. In your opinion, how different are things going to be with this franchise now?

I'm very impressed with this group. They are smart, they are committed, they understand business, entertainment and community. We're very fortunate, they are all going to be a big part of Sacramento now.

I can't let you go without asking you what you think about the news of Shaquille O'Neal joining the Kings' ownership group.

[Laughs] On one hand, it's hard to ever forgive him for Game 7, but on the other hand, I think he's great and I think it's just another great boost for this community, for the team and for the whole story. I can't wait to meet him.

Alright, one more thing. Why is Buster Posey the only person you follow on Twitter?

MVP, that is all I've got to say.

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