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There is no good evidence that Sacramento opposes an arena subsidy

There is a brewing sentiment that Sacramentans actually oppose arena subsidies. It's unsubstantiated.


Since the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 to approve a term sheet with the investor group ready to build an entertainment and sports complex downtown on Tuesday, there have been a couple of pieces asserting without decent evidence that Sacramentans actually oppose a public subsidy for an arena.

It began with Chris Daniels of KING5 TV in Seattle. We've critiqued Daniels' slanted work before; he's clearly reporting that which his audience -- Seattle residents, Sonics fans -- want to hear. I don't think it's malicious. But when he's talking about Sacramento-based issues, it's typically been inaccurate or vague enough to be misleading.

The Sacramento News & Review also published a couple of critical pieces in this week's issue. These guys know Sacramento politics, the situation and everything else. But they also used some bad evidence to assert that despite overwhelming support for the proposal at the City Council meeting (a dozen speakers opposed, four dozen in support), Sacramentans actually oppose the subsidy.

Nick Miller wrote about the deal for this week's issue. Full disclosure: Miller has 'hired' me to write a couple pieces for the weekly in the past, and I think he is a very good editor. Here's what he said about the issue at hand:

Many Sacramentans' beef with the new Kings arena proposal is, again, the city subsidy to pay for construction. They altogether disprove of a public dollars being used to pay for an arena; as SN&R contributor Cosmo Garvin has reported in the past, a telephone poll last year by EMC Research found that 51 percent of those queried did not want a public-private arena partnership.

This poll also said that 41 percent of voters would vote to re-elect Kevin Johnson in the June election, and 46 percent would vote for a different candidate. KJ won the election by 35 points. This was a poll designed to show opposition to KJ on behalf of groups to his left (labor, liberal activists). As no one from KJ's left that was a legitimate contender ran for the office, the results obviously weren't encouraging for KJ opponents. Cherrypicking the arena results from that poll -- something I've still never seen fully published -- seems like a pretty iffy piece of evidence in the argument for a public vote given how the rest of that poll shook out in reality. The poll was looking for KJ opposition, found a slight bit and was destroy in the only poll that matters (the election). It apparently found slight opposition for an arena vote, too. We're only left to wonder how that would have shaken out, but the rules of logic can give us a hint.

Miller also cites Neil deMause of Field of Schemes, who opposes all public subsidy for arenas and stadia. You'll be shocked to learn that he opposes the Sacramento subsidy. I cannot stand cereal. Would you like to hear my review of Corn Flakes? It's awful! Would you like to hear my review of Raisin Bran? It's terrible! Would you like to hear my review of Cheerios? Disgusting! Would you like to hear my review of Fruit Loops? Inedible! Did all of that add something to your understanding of the situation?

Over in the Bites section, the erudite Cosmo Garvin suggests the following:

But a lot of things have got to go right; otherwise, this thing blows a hole in the general fund.

Current parking revenue that will be leveraged for the capital to build the arena is $9 million annually. The city's 2012-13 budget is $1.06 billion. If for some reason the city lost all $9 million of that parking revenue -- something totally impossible thanks to protections in the deal -- the size of the hole that would be blown is 0.08 percent of the budget. So not even a pinhole. The general fund is $368 million. Parking revenue represents 2.4 percent of the revenue. If there is a shortfall, it would be likely be much, much smaller than $9 million. It's real money no matter how small the amount, but to imply that financial doom would follow from this deal is exaggeration. And while I know lots of people like to suggest that buildings like this don't spur additional tax revenue, the particulars of the location and problems in this situation belie that.

Garvin continues:

Bites doesn't get the impression that the public is clamoring to get this deal done. Past polls done of city residents have indicated everything from apathy to antipathy for public participation in any arena scheme. If you count measures Q and R from 2006, it's safe to say voters flat-out hate arena subsidies.

If the voters hated the idea so much, they would have not re-elected by 35 points the mayor who made this project the centerpiece of his first term.

Again: one released poll from Sandy Sheedy completely mutated reality to get opposition to the 2012 arena deal. EMC hasn't released its numbers on the arena subject from early 2012, as far as I can tell, and conclusions drawn from its research on KJ were proven disastrously wrong mere months after the poll. And Q & R were abandoned by basically everyone involved -- including the Maloofs -- weeks before the vote. It's not remotely safe to say that voters in Sacramento "flat-out hate" arena subsidies. It's a pretty gross overstatement lacking either evidence or decent skepticism of the existing data.

If the voters hated the idea so much, they would have not re-elected by 35 points the mayor who made this project the centerpiece of his first term. If they hate it, they can get a referendum onto the ballot and get it approved by voters. They can also produce something like Initiative 91 in Seattle that sets clear ground rules for arena subsidies. Given the lack of apparent support for opposition to the arena deal -- seriously, you turn out 13 people to City Council? -- I'm pretty confident that there is not a big public backlash against this project. Frankly, it's a little tiresome to see smart writers herald an opposition movement that does not appear to actually exist in any visible form.

In California, if the voters don't like something, they can block it from happening via referendum. This state makes it extremely easy to take something to the ballot box. If there's really a groundswell of opposition to this plan, prove it. But until then, forgive me for remaining unconvinced Sacramentans don't support this plan.