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Breaking Down the Cal Expo Governing Board

If Cal Expo does become the preferred site for the NBA's attempt to get a Sacramento arena deal done, a new set of folks will become involved. We as viewers have been familiarized with the city and county politicians and bureaucrats involved -- and those folks aren't going away. As I said in a comment on my previous Cal Expo post, public funding in some fashion will still be necessary: The Maloofs still aren't going to dole out $300 million (at minimum) for a new building; the state very well cannot build it for a private business; and the NBA is not in the business of building arenas for its wealthy team owners.

But as I said, there's a new party involved: The state. In terms of Cal Expo, the state is represented by the Cal Expo governing board, a set of nine governor-appointed folks from throughout the state who vote on Cal Expo business. The day-to-day operations of the grounds is left to the general manager, Norbert J. Bartosik. But on big decisions, the board makes the call (in theory, at least).

Of the current nine board members, seven are from the greater Sacramento area. Cal Expo, again, is a state property: Unlike other fairgrounds throughout the state, such as the Dixon May Fair, Cal Expo isn't a regional facility. Its purpose is to serve as the state's exposition grounds, and of course its main event is the annual State Fair. So whereas regional facilities have boards consisting entirely of locals, the Cal Expo board has members from throughout the state. (Honestly, I was surprised so many came from the Sacramento area.)

Here's how it breaks down: two are from points distant (Huntington Beach, Los Gatos); one is from the near Bay Area (Vacaville: inside the Kings' sphere of influence, but not exactly right next door, as I can attest);  two from Yolo County (Davis, West Sacramento); three from the suburbs (Folsom, Loomis, Elk Grove); and two from Sacramento proper (Carmichael, Fair Oaks).

The geography favors us hopeful Kings fans -- I can't imagine five local folks obviously interested in regional entertainment creating a wall -- but it's faint consolation. As of now, I know nothing of the politics of these folks. I'm slightly familiar with fairground politicking from experience in a previous life, but Cal Expo's board is foreign to me. Who holds the power? How 'me-too' is everyone? Is there a clear opponent on board? How competent or incompetent are any of them? How progressive is the board on entertainment matters? How protective of the fairgrounds are they?

We do know something about the board, though. There are two ex-officio members -- members who don't get to vote on matters, but attend meetings and generally have their say. Ex-officio members aren't always powerful. But they aren't always insignificant... especially when the ex-officio members have some perceived outside power, like say... positions of elected office and clear ambitions for state or Congressional office.

Pictured are your two ex-officio members. On the left: state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, who represents the western half of Sacramento. On the right: state Sen. Dave Jones, who represents the eastern half of Sacramento.

Steinberg, you'll remember, was hired by the Maloofs last summer to represent the team in negotiations. That didn't end so well, but Steinberg has been mentioned since as an ally for the Maloofs in arena dealings and (I would say) is still considered Sacramento's favorite politician.

Jones, you'll remember, led the anti-arena efforts last summer (despite insisting it was a completely decentralized, bare-bones volunteer effort). Jones used the general (effective) strategy of painting the Maloofs as selfish and Sacramento as in dire need to everything but an arena. He invoked the homeless, the levies, the children. He didn't fight fair, but damn did he whoop the Maloofs' ass (with an assist from the Maloofs themselves, of course).

So these two guys -- polar opposites in terms of the publically-funded arena debate -- are ex-officio members of Cal Expo's board. This is where, if some important matter regarding the arena comes before the board, politicking comes in. Which one holds more sway over the board? Which one can more effectively argue his case to the others? Which one has the power to affect the course of this (still rumored, for all purposes) project?

I know I'm crossing my fingers for Steinberg... feel free to make your own decision.

(Photo from Sen. Jones' website.)