Originally posted at Cal Watchdog.
By Katy Grimes.
There was no fast break at a recent court date concerning a suit by Sacramento activists opposed to tax subsidies for a new arena. The activists are Issac Gonzalez, James Cathcart and Julian Camacho.
CalWatchdog.com attended the Dec. 19 hearing before Judge Eugene Balonon, who was expected to decide the case one way or another. Instead, the judge postponed the hearing date out to Jan. 9, 2014.
Just before that date, the plaintiffs and their attorneys, Patrick Soluri and Jeffrey Anderson, hope to be deposing the defendants, Mayor Kevin Johnson, City Manager John Shirey, Deputy City Manager John Dangberg and other city officials. The deposition dates are on Jan. 6, 7 and 8.
“I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel where we can actually start engaging in some serious discovery to obtain evidence to support the allegations we have made,” said attorney Anderson after the hearing. The attorneys said they are trying to force city officials and staff to reveal an alleged secret deal.
“We believe that will develop additional evidence that we can then take and do further depositions of other city officials and other document request,” Anderson said.
The lawsuit accuses the officials of making a secret deal with arena investors to provide an extra $80 million of public money to help an investors’ group beef up an offer against a Seattle group vying for the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team. Instead of a $258 million subsidy, as the city claims, the city allegedly was really going to deliver $338 million for the arena, according to the lawsuit. In the lawsuit’s wording from its May filing:
“Rather than risk a groundswell of public opposition that would be generated by accurately disclosing the combined subsidies for the arena and purchase of the Kings franchise, Mayor Johnson, Mr. Shirey and Mr. Dangberg determined that it was more politically expedient to simply misrepresent to the taxpayers the true value of the city’s subsidies.”
The entire case file is available at Sacramento Superior Court services.
In response, Mayor Johnson, a former NBA player, the other plaintiffs and their attorneys insist the information the petitioners seek is “undiscoverable, privileged information.” According to a search on the Court website, they claim the discovery “is not permissible.” And they insist:
“Respondents have also objected to the two deposition notices served on a member of the Sacramento City Council, Councilmember Kevin McCarty, and the City’s Economic Development Department Director Jim Rinehart as the entirety of Mr. McCarty’s deposition … because these depositions seek to inquire into privileged matters that are not within the scope of permissible discovery.”
Solura said of the judge’s ruling on the depositions, “It informed the city that these stunts and tricks to prevent us from getting to discovery will simply not be tolerated anymore.”
The court documents tell the other side, that of the mayor and the other respondents, who maintained:
“Despite the pending demurrer, Petitioners began conducting discovery, but later conceded that their proposed discovery would not assist them in alleging a ripe claim. In light of this irrelevant discovery, respondents were forced to seek – and obtain – a stay of discovery pending its demurrer. A short time later, this Court agreed that the Petition did not raise a justiciable controversy but granted Petitioners leave to amend.”
The court case also is competing on time with an initiative aimed at forestalling the arena. Gonzalez is the campaign manager for the group, Voters for a Fair Arena Deal. Reported the Sacramento Business Journal of the signatures the group gathered, “ ‘The overwhelming majority should be approved,’ Gonzalez said, pointing out another group involved in the effort, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, initially said they’d collected over 40,000 signatures, but the total submitted only ended up around 34,000. ‘There was an exhaustive scrubbing going on at the end.’”
The groups working for a ballot measure used a validation service before submitting the 34,000 signatures and think their valid signature percentage will be high, according to a recent Sacramento Business Journal story.
However, reported the Bee, ”So far, the council has only tentatively approved the financing plan, and a vote on issuing the bonds won’t come until next spring. What isn’t known is whether the subsidy issue will come to a public vote in June.”
The City of Sacramento’s approval of a term sheet on the arena deal “constitutes the illegal expenditure of public funds,” according to the lawsuit. Despite the city calling the term sheet “non-binding,” Gonzalez et al. argue the city has already “committed monies to the hiring of consultants and other services.”
Mayor Johnson and city officials approved the $447.7 million arena deal at the Downtown Plaza in March, insisting it was a public-private partnership, with the private contributions amounting to only about one-third of the deal.
The lawsuit also alleges the public subsidy will enrich the Sacramento Investor Group, at the expense to taxpayers. The Sacramento Investor Group purchased the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise.
In response, the mayor and other backers of the arena cite a city-sponsored study saying the arena will bring $7 billion in economic benefits to the city over 50 years. “That includes spinoffs such as sales at restaurants and hotels, as well as $6.7 million in taxes,” according to a Sacramento Bee story.
Sacramento’s publicly funded arena deal has been billed as “the largest redevelopment project in city history” in Sacramento, as CalWatchDog.com explained in an article.
Voters in 2006: ‘No’
However, for more than 13 years, there have been numerous attempts to gain city approval for a new, publicly subsidized arena. Sacramento voters even turned down two ballot measures in 2006 that would have approved a public subsidy through a ¼-cent sales tax.
In 2011, Johnson formed an “independent” non-profit group to develop the new arena. The “Think Big Sacramento” group conducted a bold public relations campaign to push the publicly subsidized arena plan.
But Johnson’s group turned out to be so closely linked to the Sacramento Kings organization, the Fair Political Practices Commission fined him $37,500 for his failure to report more than $3.5 million in “behest” payments from the Kings. According to the FPPC, “[T]hese payments are not considered campaign contributions or gifts, but are payments made at the ‘behest’ of elected officials to be used for legislative, governmental or charitable purposes.”