[this letter was first published more than a year ago, when yet-another-failed arena scheme was being stealth-promoted by the City Council to put the arena at Cal Expo, thus destroying the last large urban public commons left in California. Today, the matter has shifted ground to downtown and another developer. But the manipulations of the City Council, developers and Sacramento’s 1% to circumvent the public interest and put the future of Sacramento at risk is no less in evidence today than it was back then. More so, since this scheme not only risks existing public assets, but also intends to put the only dependable revenue stream Sacramento has, its parking concessions, at risk as will – for the next 50 years! All this to promote a very doubtful investment in sports and entertainment which are matters for private-investment and really outside of the purview of the public services and interests which are the real and only business a city should be attending. Sports and entertainment are good things. But they are not something municipalities should be wagering the future of their cities on.]
TO DAVID STERN
February 17, 2010
[Note: This is being published as an Open Letter to Commissioner Stern owing to the fact that a specific address for Mr. Stern or the NBA Board was not readily available, online or from other sources.]
To: Commissioner Stern and Board of Directors
The National Basketball Association
Commissioner, Board Members,
We wish to bring some matters to your attention regarding NBA efforts to get a new arena built in Sacramento. I doubt you are familiar with The CEAV Project or the real concerns of CEAV and Sacramento residents about the site of an arena in Sacramento and the role of the NBA in this matter. We felt you should know that we find recent actions of the NBA, in its position vis a vis a the Kamilos Company and Cal Expo, and your encouragement of plans that would open public lands at Cal Expo to private development, highly objectionable, not only to the people of the Sacramento region, but throughout the State of California as well.
We find the behavior of the NBA and the Kamilos Development Company to interject themselves into an orderly, fair and open process, to be entirely reprehensible and counterproductive to methods which the people of Sacramento have accepted as the approach which best reflects their own interests and wishes. That process, created by our mayor, established the Sacramento First task force to consider a variety of proposals on arena location and design. In the first instance, You participated in upstaging the announcements from City Hall with your decision to back a single candidate, long before the other plans had even been considered. In the second instance, the NBA-backed “Convergence” plan inserted itself into the City Council’s regular agenda (via the maneuvers of two City Council members) and spent considerable time at that meeting advancing your own agenda to the detriment of the other candidates and outside of the Sacramento First protocols to which the other candidates adhered.
We don’t wonder that you are not familiar with the history of this process or the real concerns of Sacramento’s residents. You don’t live here, you haven’t observed, first-hand, how such matters have been handled in the past; despite the fact that the NBA has been a principle party in manipulating these processes for several years. You may be convinced, for example, that the avoidance of new taxes is the principle concern of our residents. It is certainly one of them. But you may be entirely unacquainted with the fact that our city has been subject to many decades of abuse and heavy-handed politics and persuasion in matters of development and planning and, that those issues are of equal, if not greater, importance and concern to our residents.
It was an unusual and decidedly refreshing moment for our citizens when Mayor Johnson advanced the idea of Sacramento First as an undertaking that was to consider arena issues in a completely fair, open and public way. We were skeptical that the mayor’s task force would actually hold to those ideals, but we were at least willing to put our various objections aside for the moment and to support the attempt to conduct the City’s business in the uncommon manner of including the pubic in the process. And, we would have continued to back that effort, had it not been for the NBA’s clear attempts to manipulate that process to its advantage. By what rationale does the NBA elect to support any one plan during the time that Sacramento is considering its own best choices? To add insult to injury, the NBA then elected to unfairly and unethically manipulate the process further by appearing before the City Council and promoting its agenda in ways that were clearly outside of the schedule and regular business of Sacramento First. Our Mayor was upset and more than a few of us insulted by the suggestion of Mr. Kamilos that the “Convergence Group” simply showed up at that meeting, ahead and beside any other proposal initiatives, simply because you group was “on the agenda…as a courtesy,” as if none of you had anything to do with their being on that agenda.
Our Mayor was kind when he stated that he “understands” that the candidates wish to promote their own proposals. However, do not be surprised if the people of Sacramento are not so understanding or forgiving. The NBA, by its precipitous conduct, has not only revealed that the machinery of ‘back room’ government is as active as ever; it may have jeopardized the arena project altogether. Moreover, it may have done greater damage by returning the people of our city to their original cynicism about city government and its workings. That would be a tragic consequence, one that could not be repaired so easily; not even by a big new arena or even a winning team.
If this were an entirely innocent mistake, then perhaps the NBA’s coming forth immediately and admitting that mistake might, partially, recover matters. However, the NBA has a history of such manipulation in our community, dating back several years in its pursuit of failed projects with Cal Expo. It is the matter of your relations with Cal Expo that are of greatest concern to The CEAV Project; and ultimately to the people of California. ‘Gag rules’ in your “Letter of Understanding” with Cal Expo; negotiating though committees that circumvent the Bagely-Keene Act and other California ‘Sunshine laws’; generally attempting to frame the matter as a purely local one, despite the fact that it concerns environmentally sensitive public commons belonging to all the people of California , are but a few of the ways the NBA has shown its contempt for the public interest and the people who live here.
The NBA cannot claim naiveté and disclaim responsibility. If nothing else, you certainly were aware that that Cal Expo is on state land, chartered to Cal Expo in the public interest. Any ‘swap’ or arena placement that would open that land, in part or whole, to private development would foreclose on the statewide public interest in that property. It was incumbent on your organization to assess the impact of your plans on the public legacy before you courted Cal Expo, or permitted Cal Expo to court you. Certainly, after March 2009, when we presented the CEAV proposal to Cal Expo and offered a copy to John Moag, the NBA was responsible for investigating the matter and considering the adverse and destructive effects its plans might have on other potentials for that land.
We have never been contacted by the NBA on this matter. Nor do we know of any other environmental or public interest organizations which have been so contacted and in which those or related issues have been discussed. Did you, for instance, consider what would happen when the matter leaks beyond the confines of the Sacramento region, as it will, and the people of our state begin to consider whether they wish to turn over the last major piece of urban public commons in California to private development for purely local, narrow interests? (CEAV’s arguments and opposition to doing that can be read at http://www.ceav.us and http://www.stopcalexpo.wordpress.com).
We suspect that the citizens of our state will not be very happy with how this matter has been pursued or with intention to cede potentially high-value, public interest assets to private mixed-use ambitions. Even if your ‘land-swap’ plans should prevail, we expect the matter will not be realized in the three or four years that the “Convergence” group so rosily, and unrealistically projects. Given the public and legal opposition that is likely to arise in response, it seems more realistic that any implementation could be a decade, or more, from that projected date.
The real tragedy of the NBA’s manipulations is that, even if you do not succeed in advancing the Kamilos plan, your actions put at risk the possibilities of having an arena built in Sacramento altogether, in any location. As mentioned above, you have interfered with a much larger matter to which Sacramento residents are sensitively attuned. We have been treated contemptuously by our politicians and developers in the past. We have been stung with a number of failed large-scaled projects. We know what ‘performance-based infrastructure’ means and how many communities have been ruined by its glib promises. We can see the results of back-room deals and hidden agenda, all around us. It is not hard to imagine that the maneuvering of the NBA and Cal Expo will so sour the people of Sacramento and the state to such deals that we become entirely disillusioned and opposed to any sports-arena or other large-scale entertainment offering in the future. In short, that the NBA has poisoned the well and no one – fan, citizen or investor, will ever wish to drink from it again. That, indeed, would be an unfortunate consequence of NBA actions and a real tragedy for all.
The CEAV Project