A small Delta town that was once like Mayberry. Today its more like Twin Peaks


 

The lonely bridge into town: Isleton’s population has dropped more than 70 percent since its heyday in the 1960s, according to the city’s chamber of commerce president

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39 miles southwest of Sacramento lies Isleton,Ca.   Its located in the beautiful Sacramento Delta. The current population of the town in less than 850.  At one time there were three canneries in the area. The  majority of the employees were of Asian. 

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Isleton’s last stand

Tweakers, cop scandals and political feuding: how a tiny Delta town went from Mayberry to Twin Peaks

By: Graham Womack/Sacramento News and Review

The dilapidated trailer sat in front of the suspected drug house, transients living inside.

In Sacramento, such a problem might be addressed with a call to the police or city. But this was Isleton, which hasn’t had a police department since 2012 and where the beleaguered local government couldn’t do much beyond ask the property owner that the trailer be removed.

So one resident did the kind of thing that happens a lot in this remote Delta town on the southern edge of Sacramento County: He took matters into his own hands.

One night in the past couple of years, the resident backed up his truck, hitched the trailer to it and took off. The story goes that while the resident was pulling out of town, freaked-out methamphetamine users were bailing out of the suddenly very mobile home.

The trailer wound up on Jackson Slough Road on Isleton’s outskirts. When Gerry Zink, the city’s public works director at the time, got word of the trailer’s location, he hauled it to a gated area at Isleton’s sewage ponds so the tweakers wouldn’t retake it. Six months or so later, the trailer burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances.

Problem solved, Isleton style.

In a tiny city that’s been broke for years, crazy capers sometimes rule the day. Some of these schemes have crippled Isleton in years past. Today, the city is nearly insolvent, with dwindling public services and resources, standing on the brink of bankruptcy or disincorporation.

But old habits die hard.

Now, even the mayor believes that Isleton should just give up, call it quits as a city and relinquish all control—and its very identity—to the county. “We’re on the bubble,” said Mayor Mark Bettencourt. “How much longer do you want to run on that knife’s edge?”

He’s not the only one asking that question.

Located along a bending tributary of the Sacramento River, Isleton is a speck hanging on to a map for dear life and losing its grip. The city still has its loyalists, residents who glimpse new opportunity and remember the city’s storied past, when it was referred to as the “Little Paris of the Delta.”

But the years haven’t been kind to that memory and the small town stands at a crossroads: Suffering wounds both cosmic (the recession) and self-inflicted (we’ll get to those in a moment), the city of Isleton is a tweaker trailer being dragged to the dump.

Can its leaders stop feuding long enough to take the wheel?    

Isleton’s Many Deaths

The city’s two main drags are Main Street and Second Street, which jet off in opposite directions parallel to the levee as one comes into Isleton off Highway 160. They’re rowed with gold rush-era storefronts and clapboard homes in various states of disrepair: chipped, rotting wood; exposed and rusted metal sidings; warped, swollen garages; and lazy, leaning telephone poles. Eerily quiet, even on weekends, it’s as if some natural disaster has chased out most of the townsfolk.

Longtime city residents say it wasn’t always this way.

“Now it’s very quiet and almost seems like a ghost town,” said Jean Yokotobi, president of the Isleton Chamber of Commerce. “But in ’63, you still had a vibrant agriculture industry here. You had several canneries. You had ag workers. The population went up to about 2,500.”

1963 was the year that Yokotobi arrived. Those were the boom times. Settled in the 19th century, the city boasted one of the West Coast’s first Chinatowns. Now the city is more like Chinatown, the 1974 classic about humanity’s existential futility.

Isleton used to be the asparagus capital of the world, specializing in a white variation on the crop, which grew well in the city’s sandy soil. But then technology changed, and the industry retreated in the 1950s. In time, the canneries left, too.

It’s also been years since the Crawdad Festival drew thousands of tourists to Isleton on an annual basis. Started in 1986 by Ralph and Charli Hand, the couple began losing money on the festival and turned it over to the city in 2005. In 2006, with the city and chamber of commerce jointly hosting the festival, $12,000 in deposits went missing, according to a 2008 investigation by Sacramento County’s grand jury. The Hands reclaimed the festival in 2007, and took it out of town for good the following year.

Today, the Crawdad Festival operates in Tehama County.

“There was no choice,” Charli Hand told SN&R. “We didn’t have the money.”

Hand still runs a card room and real-estate office in Isleton, and hopes the city can rebound. “Isleton used to be just like Mayberry,” she said.

Locals say that a lot. But this is Mayberry gone bad. Or maybe this is just what Mayberry would devolve into in real life: Sheriff Andy Taylor contracted out, Aunt Bee persecuted by town gossip, Barney Fife a grand jury investigation waiting to happen.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the Isleton Police Department.

If the retreating asparagus and crawdads cost Isleton its cultural cache, they also leeched the city of crucial revenues.

The general fund shrank to a measly $1,285 in 2012, which in turn left the city vulnerable to bizarre gambits and seedy scandals. In January of that year, either the city or the state stopped paying the department’s workers’ compensation insurance. Stories differ on why this happened.

Dave Larsen, who was both the city manager and city attorney at the time, told SN&R that the state compensation insurance fund canceled Isleton’s policy due to accumulating back debt. Larsen says he tried to negotiate a payment plan with the state and a bailout loan from the county, but was unsuccessful on both fronts.

Others, such as current City Manager Dan Hinrichs, say Larsen mismanaged funds. The council fired Larsen in April 2012, and Larsen subsequently sued the city for wrongful termination and defamation; both sides agreed to a confidential settlement this year.

Hinrichs was appointed to replace Larsen just in time for a series of scandals.

First, Hinrichs recalls, a repossession agent called to ask about a cache of guns a previous police chief allegedly hadn’t paid for. Then, in early May 2012, Hinrichs placed interim police Chief Steve Adams on administrative leave, after Adams reportedly posted on Facebook that he wanted to tell the media of problems in town. A police officer had already resigned after allegedly getting caught having sex with his mistress in a squad car.

The day after Adams went on leave, a different officer attempted to shoot a dog fighting another dog, according to a CBS13 report at the time. Hinrichs told SN&R that the officer missed, with the bullet ricocheting off a curb and striking a bystander’s leg. The department already lacked firearm training and was in danger of losing its state Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, so Hinrichs asked the sheriff’s department to take over, according to a May 10, 2013, news report.

Two weeks later, CBS13 quoted an anonymous source accusing Councilwoman Elizabeth Samano, a Larsen ally, of selling drugs. Speaking to SN&R, Samano denied the accusations and claimed they originated from a woman living near one of her rental properties, whose story she says was coached by Adams.

“He was able to befriend a lady who lived across the street who was willing to say whatever,” Samano said.

Asked if he could recall the drug accusations against Samano, Adams initially denied it. Pressed further, he told SN&R, “I heard allegations, but it was just from the public. I had nothing to base it on, nothing to go forward on, nothing.”

The Isleton Police Department was no longer functioning by September 1, 2012, which is when the sheriff’s department took over, CBS13 reported. Today, the city outsources its public safety for approximately $200,000 a year. About half of that is covered by a state grant.

Discount law enforcement had other costs, though. At a May planning commission meeting, one resident noted Isleton’s “nests of tweakers … [who] steal everything that’s not nailed down,” though another local resident claimed that crime had actually dropped by half between 2013 and 2015.

The sheriff’s department didn’t fulfill multiple public records requests seeking crime statistics in Isleton. According to statistics compiled by the California Department of Justice, only two violent crimes were reported in 2014, the most recent year for which data was available. That year also saw 23 property crimes, half as many as were reported in 2013.

But the Delta area is a hot zone for illegal marijuana grows, according to an August 23 grant acceptance request filed by the sheriff’s department, with the department uncovering 25 hidden grows last year in a 10-mile radius of dense cornfields. The department’s marijuana task force also seized 77 firearms and made 78 arrests, the form states.

Still, the city’s unsafe reputation persists.

Many Main Street storefronts are boarded up and vacant, as are the former police station and one bank. The city’s population is circling the drain at approximately 800, give or take. Today the general fund collects roughly $500,000 a year, compared to a city debt that has reached $1.6 million.

Residents Dave and Julie Amma aren’t optimistic that things will improve. When Dave Amma first met his wife a few years ago, he would tell her how great the city once was, how the Crawdad Festival drew 30 people to his home during those Father’s Day weekends. Julie Amma remembered hearing about how people hopped between five busy bars in Isleton.

“It sounds like everybody would have fun and gather and spend,” she said. “It sounds like those days are long gone.”

City officials are still willing to gamble that that’s not the case.

 

It takes a Village

Eighteen homes built several years ago stand empty and incomplete, facing each other across a barren divide. Some lack exterior staircases, with loose boards lying in dirt. Inside, the rooms are dirty, the floors unfinished. Red tags underline the shoddy state, three-story vessels in danger of being torn down.

Welcome to the Village on the Delta, Isleton’s latest hope and misstep.

Located on the town’s edge at the Highway 160 entrance, the subdivision is embroiled in litigation and a stalemate between the developer that inherited this project and the city that needs it to survive.

In the early 2000s, the city approved this 300-plus home development. Original developer Del Valle Homes started construction before the 2008 recession hit and the company went under. A different developer, KLD Ventures LLC of Roseville, assumed control in January 2013, but is struggling to get the first crop of 18 houses sold before moving forward with the rest of the subdivision.

The semi-built homes still need, among other things, staircases, sewer hookups and landscaping. The city has given KLD multiple extensions, but work has come to a standstill, say city officials. Additionally, as many as 15 of the homes have suffered additional damage since they were erected.

“We are also certain that there are squatters living in those houses,” Hinrichs wrote in an August 23 report to the city council.

That wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen at this site.

Before KLD entered the picture, the city allowed a marijuana grow operation to set up shop and begin cultivating inside the stalled subdivision.

On the heels of a recession that hit the small delta town particularly hard, around late 2010, Delta Allied Growers made Isleton an offer it couldn’t refuse. The marijuana growers assured city officials their operation was legally above board, and promised the city as much as $600,000 in revenue that first year, as well as jobs for 50 people. Isleton’s annual deficit hit $488,181 that year, so the prospect of digging out of that hole seemed like fortune finally smiling on the hard-luck hamlet.

Enter the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, which convened a criminal grand jury investigation into whether city officials violated state and federal laws concerning marijuana cultivation. The D.A. ended up not filing charges, but reported Larsen to the California State Bar Association for conflict of interest allegations.

In a report it released in June 2011, the grand jury concluded that “the city of Isleton was highly vulnerable to a seemingly lucrative proposal, and that DAG exploited that vulnerability.”   It wouldn’t be the last time.

Today, the city has its fiscal hopes wrapped up in Village on the Delta

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KLD faces ongoing litigation from its Sacramento-based lender, Socotra Capital, after allegedly defaulting on a $3.48 million construction loan from 2015 to make the requested improvements. In an April 5 letter to Hinrichs, KLD representative Sidney B. Dunmore acknowledged the “unanticipated delays,” but contended they had more to do with “funding issues” than “dereliction on the part of KLD.”

Be that as it may, the city has gotten tired of waiting for its long-deferred dream to be realized, of a housing subdivision that could double Isleton’s population and boost its plummeting tax base.

One house made it into escrow this summer, only to fall out, with the city unwilling to issue final permits or a certificate of occupancy. In his August 23 report to the council, Hinrichs wrote that the city would “red tag” the unfinished homes for a second time in about a year, indicating substandard work and at least the possibility of demolition. Posted notices also went up at the development site in recent weeks, threatening to auction certain lots outside Sacramento Superior Court on August 24, an action that Hinrichs said was postponed two weeks.

These threats appear to be empty ones.

Tearing down the homes “would be a terrible mistake,” Hinrichs wrote. Instead, the end goal is to have the finance company come in and take over completion of the houses. “It will be a hassle with these people, but that is not unusual when dealing with developers,” Hinrichs added.

KLD representatives and a company attorney didn’t return phone messages seeking comment. Adham Sbeih, CEO of KLD’s litigious lender, Socotra Capital, told SN&R his firm remained optimistic regarding the development.

But not everyone is pulling for the project. “I just think they were not built to complement a historic

Flat Broke and Frantic

DeJack’s Country Store is one of the few businesses left open in town. The shop is more like a bodega or mini-mart, with a small selection. Some locals make the drive to the Costco in Lodi to stock up on provisions and only patronize DeJack’s if necessary. On a recent trip, the store’s owner, Jack Chima, introduced himself as a member of the planning commission and explained there would be no council meeting next door that evening at City Hall, as the city’s website indicated.The website hadn’t been updated in years.

 

Glenn Giovannoni serves on the planning commission, owns a local storage business and could be Isleton’s next mayor. Giovannoni and three other candidates are running for the city council in November: incumbent Councilwoman Pam Bulahan; longtime volunteer firefighter Dean Dockery; and resident Paul Steele, who, according to photographer Victoria Sheridan’s website, organized the Spam-throwing contest at the Isleton Spam Festival in 2014.

The five-member council will appoint the next mayor.

“I was raised in this community so I have a big heart for it,” Giovannoni said. “I’ve always thought Isleton had great potential—and it still has great potential.”

There are people still fighting for Isleton’s survival as a city, but they have different ideas about what could reinvigorate the town.

Samano wants a focus on small businesses and a ban on franchises. Chima would like to attract a manufacturing concern to headquarter in Isleton, to distribute goods throughout the region. Giovannoni and Yokotobi want a renewed emphasis on cultivating a tourist economy, while Hinrichs envisions developing an artist community, similar to Sausalito’s, and is excited by a couple relocating from Oakland to start a beer-tasting room on Main Street.

“Open your business here,” Hinrichs pitched. “You’ve got cheap rents. The crime problem that we have—it’s not 100 percent [taken care of], but it’s under control. I’m told by the deputies that the crime’s no worse here than it is anywhere else in the Delta.”

Still, one can’t help notice what’s missing here.

Across the street from DeJack’s, the Isleton Fire Department has just one paid employee, a part-time chief who also works for the contract paramedic service in town, Medic Ambulance. The city is able to keep an ambulance in Isleton by letting its medics crash for free at the fire station.

In June, local voters approved Measure B, a half-cent sales tax estimated to raise $91,000 to make the chief full-time, purchase much-needed equipment and maybe hire another part-time employee. City officials have also discussed placing another half-cent sales tax on the November ballot to bolster the general fund.

But these are patchwork fixes for a much deeper problem that not everyone thinks can be solved. Zink, the former public works director who retired last year, called Isleton “a pretend city.”

“I talked with the mayor,” he said. “I told him why I left. That was one of the reasons. You never had enough tools, you never had enough equipment. It was always inadequate what you had to really go out there. You need another couple people, but the funds aren’t there.”

The mayor agrees.

“We’re doing them an injustice right now with the levels of services that we’re providing,” said Bettencourt, who isn’t running for re-election in November. “I believe the county can provide a better service.”

That’s easier said than done.

A Sinking Ship

 

Inside a drab, white conference room located beside City Hall, consultant Ken Dieker said he had good news for Isleton’s elected officials: It would actually cost too much money for the poor city to declare bankruptcy or disincorporate.

“You absolutely are on the razor’s edge of being able to survive,” Dieker told the city council and a small gathering of residents on July 9. “Absolutely. But you’ve made progress.”

With a general fund deficit shrunk down to a manageable $13,000, Dieker counseled Isleton’s finest minds to stick it out and rein in unnecessary spending.

Almost on cue, that’s when things fell apart once again.

Councilwoman Samano asked how the city’s estimated debt of $1.6 million figured into this rosy projection. Dieker couldn’t immediately say.

Commissioner Chima wanted to know whether the deficit amount could change before the budget was finalized. Dieker figured a swing of $5,000, perhaps $10,000.

Commissioner Giovannoni, calling the numbers soft, walked out on the presentation, returning later.

After the meeting, Bettencourt acknowledged his colleagues’ skepticism. “They don’t believe what we’re telling them,” he told SN&R.

Mistrust is a given in Isleton, where years of mismanagement and infighting have fostered an air of straight-up dysfunction. But the stakes have rarely been higher.

While Dieker reiterated the grand jury’s 2008 conclusion that disincorporation would be a costly, time-consuming process, the jury did recommend the city explore that option if it couldn’t provide necessary services to its residents.

If it couldn’t get its act together, in other words.

Perhaps Isleton’s biggest cheerleader, Yokotobi thinks that day won’t come without an irreversible reckoning. “I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere unless it disincorporates,” she said. “We need new blood in here.”

But disincorporation is no quick fix, no magic bullet. It would mean representation by a handful of officials who live outside the area, primarily Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, whose district encompasses six unincorporated areas and four cities, including Isleton.

“The problem is Don Nottoli, who’s done a great job of representing our area, he’s only one of five votes,” Hinrichs reflected.

Nottoli says he and his colleagues want to help, in whatever form that’s possible. “There certainly is a willingness by our board to, I think, not just … help the city get on its feet, but stay on its feet,” he said.

That aid has had its limits, though.

The county has declined Isleton’s loan requests for years, Hinrichs said. Here, things are always precarious, the next fight never that far off. Prior to the July 9 council meeting, Hinrichs told SN&R he was going to publicly censure Samano for creating a hostile work environment. He backed down, and ended up reading a general statement that didn’t name her. Councilwoman Bulahan, a rival of Samano’s, kept echoing what Hinrichs said while Samano sat stone-faced.

Given the stakes, it was a weird meeting. The city is on life support, and its caretakers can’t stop bickering. That kind of drama is why Bruce Pope retired. The city manager before Hinrichs and Larsen, Pope checked out in 2011.

“There’s a lot of conflict for the city,” Pope said. “You have people coming to council meetings, coming to my office screaming and hollering, fire department out of control. … I don’t need this kind of stuff. Semiliterate assholes.”

Forget it, Jake. It’s Isleton.

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Mayor Kevin Johnson Done!


In an E-mail to the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said he would not seek a third team.

In recent months the Mayor has been in the center of controversy.  From, lawsuits to unsubstantiated charge of sexual harassment by a former city employee.

A nearly 20 year old incident involving a young girl in Phoenix has resurfaced. The website Deadspin interviewed the woman now 36.  National news agencies and websites  are questioning his actions as President of the National National Conference of Black Mayors, questions  concerning the mayors and his wife Michelle Rhee non profit organizations.

Some believe the website Deadspin is responsible for the Mayors troubles. Others, site his lawsuit against Sacramento News and Review. Nationally, many journalists and bloggers believe the Mayors suit is without merit and is supporting the SNR.

The Mayor could face other legal challenges in the coming months.

Bad News for KJ (click link for story)

https://sacratomatovillepost.com/2015/10/13/get-kevin-johnson/

In an interesting move: The SacBee says Councilwoman  Angeligue Ashby  in planning to announce her intent to run for Mayor this afternoon?   Coincidence?

Computer says NO!

CityFella

Downtown Sacramento: 10 Thousand New Units Again?


New Apartments in “Township Nine” 

Last week, Mayor Kevin Johnson launches his “Think Downtown” housing initiative for Sacramento’s central city.

By Cosmo Garvin/Sacramento News and Review

( Original Title: Does Mayor Kevin Johnson’s new downtown-housing plan actually bring new housing to the central city?)

The mayor’s policy initiatives are always branded to the hilt. This one is no exception; the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency has agreed to foot the bill for a public-relations campaign led by 3 fold Communications.

A lot of marketing can make it difficult to tease out the actual substance of initiatives like these. But at bottom, the mayor’s housing proposal looks like a slightly downsized restatement of the vision city leaders have been kicking around for a long time.

The gist is that the mayor wants to bring 10,000 housing units to the central city in the next 10 years. (Central city meaning that area of town between the American River and W Street, the Sacramento River and Alhambra Boulevard.) Johnson also wants to put policies in place that will make building downtown housing easier. And he wants to sell central-city living to suburbanites.

What isn’t mentioned by the mayor and his surrogates is the fact that there are already 10,000 housing units or more planned for the central city.

In fact, the current plan for the downtown rail yards alone includes 10,000 to 12,000 housing units. That plan dates back to a pre-Johnson time, when Sacramento’s stated goal was to become America’s “most livable city”  and when city leaders and developers dreamed of soaring condo towers downtown.

Of course, that was before the recession. It was before the rail yards changed hands again, before we had to make room for a soccer stadium. Today, folks around City Hall say 5,000 to 6,000 homes in the rail yards is more likely.

But nearby Township Nine is under construction, planned for 2,500 units. Add in the ancillary development around the Kings arena, another 500 units. The Sacramento Commons project at Seventh and N is proposed for 1,000. Start adding in smaller projects Ice Blocks and the Midtown Whole Foods (with apartments on top), and 10,000 units doesn’t seem so bold.

So why the PR campaign? And why do developers need incentives to do what they already plan to do?

“Just because 10,000 or 20,000 units are proposed, doesn’t mean that’s what will get built,” says Bill Burg, president of Preservation Sacramento.

“City processes can be annoying and frustrating. There’s a lot of red tape,” says Burg, and that can put developers off.

So, as the mayor’s initiative gels this summer, look for efforts to streamline the permitting process and make development easier. (There’s a reason that Region Builders was tapped to lead the steering committee for the mayor’s housing initiative.)

There are few folks more committed to promoting the central city than Burg. He’s been a one-man marketing campaign, evangelizing grid living for years and talking about the “58,000.” That’s the number of residents the central city used to have back in 1950. Today, it’s around 30,000.

But Burg says we also need to be careful about what kinds of incentives the city gives developers, and what rules it throws out.

Burg is concerned that the mayor’s initiative will be presented fully formed with little input from community groups (a criticism aimed at many of the mayor’s policy initiatives). And he worries about streamlining the development process too much. “Is the process just going to get rid of rules that—though they may clog up the process—also protect neighborhoods?”

For example, the controversial Sacramento Commons project would add hundreds of units, but would also demolish 200 existing historically important garden apartments, in what Burg calls the “missing middle ” range of affordability.

He says new housing shouldn’t come at the expense of historic buildings and affordable housing that exist now. “We could double the number of people living downtown now and not have to demolish a thing. We definitely need more housing, but there are ways to get it right.”

The mayor has called for 6,000 “market rate” units, which would be attractive to wealthier residents, 2,500 of affordable “workforce” units, and 1,500 units for the very poor.

Affordable-housing advocates have said that they are cautiously optimistic about the mayor’s plan, but there will almost certainly be debate about the meaning of “affordable,” and how much is enough.

A recent article about the mayor’s housing initiative, printed in the Sacramento Business Journal, cited a study by the Midtown Business Association showing that 73 percent of housing in Midtown is affordable, and only 27 percent is market rate. But readers weren’t told that the study looked only at apartment buildings with 15 units or more.

A lot of numbers will be thrown around as the mayor’s housing initiative moves forward. It’s important to look beyond the marketing and the talking points and ask what the numbers really mean.

For The Love of Sports …… Sacramento is just another city that sells its soul for a Sports Franchise


 

Americans are passionate about sports.  In some small towns the most valuable building in the community is the local high school stadium.

This is NOT a National Football League stadium.  Its is the Allen High School football stadium, home of the Allen Eagles.   It can hold 18,000 people or more than a fifth of Allen Texas’s population.  It cost 60 million dollars to build.

As the Allen School district was facing a short fall ,resulting in over 80 layoffs,  construction continued.   The Stadium opened in 2012 . The Allen Stadium is currently the 3rd largest in Texas.

Across the country, cities have sold their soul to host a Professional Sport Franchise.

Flimsy financing ,ultimately seeping into the city’s  General Fund resulting in cutbacks in basic needs of the community.  Often long after the franchises have left town for greener pastures.


 

The City of Cincinnati’s Stadium Financing is called the worst in the nation.

( Click Link to see Story)

https://sacratomatovillepost.com/2013/04/01/the-worst-stadium-financing-deal-ever-is-still-crippling-cincinnatis-taxpayers/

 


 

The Pitch is Economic Revitalization.  Promising thousands of jobs. The Reality is once the building is completed these building often employee less then 50 full time employees.  The businesses near these large structures receive a fraction of business, because the building are open a few hours a week.  To disguise the buildings short comings city leaders often offer subsidies to businesses adjacent to the arenas and stadiums,further draining the cities coffers.


 

10 Cities, 10 Arena Deals (Click Link to See Story)

https://sacratomatovillepost.com/2013/06/01/did-sacramento-leaders-negotiate-the-best-arena-deal-for-the-city-a-look-at-10-nba-arena-deals/


 

The Sacramento News and Review is one of the few publications actually reporting about the Sacrament Kings money trail

The following was published 1/22/14

By
cosmog@newsreview.com

Recently released public records reveal Kings arena subsidy ‘sweetener’ request and paper-trail cover up

The lawsuit won’t change anything. But at least it will have produced information that ought have been disclosed to the public a long time ago.

One by one, the lawsuits against the city’s Kings arena project have fallen away. But one suit challenging the legality of the city’s $300 million-plus arena subsidy has quietly been working its way through the court for more than a year.

It’s hard to imagine at this point that a judge would do anything that would substantially affect the project, or make much of a difference to taxpayers who are on the hook for it. Still, as Bites has remarked before, these suits have a way of bringing important facts to light. Facts that should have been made public a long time ago.

This suit, brought by lawyer Patrick Soluri—on behalf of residents Isaac Gonzalez, Jim Cathcart and Julian Camacho—alleges that the city has been dishonest about the structure and purpose of the Kings arena deal.

“This is such an important and basic issue,” says Soluri. “Did the city use the framework of the arena deal to subsidize the purchase of the team? If they did, that’s fraud.”

Last year, Assistant City Manager John Dangberg and Mayor Kevin Johnson both took the stand and acknowledged that would-be Kings owners, including Vivek Ranadive, explicitly asked the city for a subsidy to help buy the team. The city’s financial help would make up the difference between the price Ranadive and company paid for the Kings, and the actual value of the team.

“Well, it was basically stated that [members of the Sacramento investor group] felt that the overpayment for the team might require the city to play a larger role in the financing of the arena because of the economics,” Dangberg explained to the court. Then adding, “We said, ’That isn’t going to happen.’”

But Soluri says that it did happen, and he says the city has recently turned over some important evidence showing that it happened.

In recent weeks, the city has dumped thousands of pages of documents on Soluri and his clients. “The vast majority of it is garbage. You’ll see the same document repeated hundreds of times,” Soluri said. A typical example: instead of turning over an Excel spreadsheet file, the city will print out the spreadsheet as 800 PDF pages.

But some of the documents are more illuminating. For example there’s an internal city memo that spells out what the Kings owners wanted: “Investor group wants $258 million plus additional City assets (land, entitlements, City loan forgiveness, etc.) to offset the difference in the purchase price of the Kings vs. their perceived value of Kings. They believe the difference is $150-$200 million. City is willing to invest the proceeds of the parking monetization. Investor group may want the 3,700 parking spaces at the Downtown Plaza.”

If those numbers sound familiar, it’s because that’s largely what the investors got. Soluri says other memos, notes and typed talking points show the city figured out, piece-by-piece, how to meet the ownership group’s demands, while publicly downplaying the value of the subsidy. One note, which Soluri believes is in Kevin Johnson’s handwriting, puts the value of the city’s parking garage under Downtown Plaza at $30 million to $40 million. “Can’t put in writing. Politically tough,” the note reads.

Another note from Johnson’s chief of staff Daniel Conway warns folks working on the arena deal not to leave a paper trail: “Dangberg recommended not sending out emails after the ad hoc meetings. He said we’d have to be sensitive about the info the email contained since they would just be fodder for PRAs.”

“PRAs” of course are records requests under the California Public Records Act. Bites is just going pause here a moment to marvel at the idea that Dangberg, who makes a base salary of $176,000 a year, believes he’s getting paid to hide public information.

Assistant City Attorney Matt Ruyak reiterated to Bites that the city’s significant financial help with the arena “had nothing to do with the purchase of the team.”

“The ownership group asked. And we rejected that request,” Ruyak added.

But what’s the difference, really, if the city calls it a “subsidy” or an “investment”? When you add it up, the Kings owners got exactly what they asked for.

And if the city manager’s office and the mayor really did the righteous thing, why wasn’t Ranadive’s demand ever disclosed to the public? Didn’t the public deserve to know this information while judging the prudence of the city’s “investment”? (And why is the city manager’s office telling staff to shield arena information from public records requests?)

This lawsuit may not change anything about the arena deal going forward. It certainly won’t change many minds. Arena fans will see it as a nuisance; skeptics will say it confirms what they already knew.

But at least it will have produced some information that ought have been disclosed to the public a long time ago.

 

 

 

Coach Gate: Sabrina Rodriguez wants to restore her name and reputation (video)


Nicholas Grey and Sabrina Rodriguez 

The  Sacramento County Court was filled with media and fans of the popular Emmy winning reporter yesterday.    Sabrina Rodriguez did not enter a plea in Judge  Gweon’s courtroom. She is charged with grand theft, burglary and conspiracy to commit a crime.

She thanks her fans and released this video via the Sacramento Bee

 

A Challenge

 

Her Attorney Mark Reichel says she is completely innocent.    The Sacramento District Attorney  feels confident about the case, filled with incriminating videos and text messages between Gray and Rodriquez.   She has reportedly hired a consult to rebuild her image.    The first causality in rebuilding that image , was her  fiancee and alleged partner in crime Nicholas Grey.

She Likes the Bad Boy

Although she has publicly severed ties with fiancee Nicholas Gray, the two are linked. Rodriguez is accused of helping Grey shoplift at the Coach Outlet in Folsom in March of last year. The picture above was taken last June in San Francisco at the Nor Cal Emmy’s

“Click  the link below to read the original story”

https://sacratomatovillepost.com/2014/08/04/how-did-those-coach-wallets-get-in-there-cha0nnel-40s-anchor-sabrina-rodriguez-will-explain-on-august-29th/

Grey’ has quite a crime background, from manufacture of illegal marijuana concentrates, arson, drug dealing  to battery.  He loves crime, through the years he has boasted about his misdeeds.

Grey was arrested  last May in connect with an explosions at their South Sacramento home.   Rodriguez’s attorney, Mark Reichel, says his client “had no knowledge” of any illegal cannabis manufacturing going on at her home—even though marijuana plants were discovered in the couple’s garage, according to a source. (SN&R)

Unable to make bail, home for Grey is the Sacramento County Jail .   The next hearing for  Rodriquez is September 9th.

 

Smaller is Better? The New Kings Arena


The terms of  proposed Sacramento Arena has smelled from the beginning.   The smoke and noise generated by City Leaders,the local media-lead by the Sacramento Bee and a group of Kings Fans( who would mortgage Sacramento schools to retain the Kings) have drowned out common sense.

The Sacramento News and Review, citizens groups, and many bloggers have questioned the real financial cost and impact to the city.  No parking for shopper’s  for Macy’s( The city will not receive revenue from city owned parking lots during events at the Arena) and the remaining stores in the plaza during events at the Arena.  The city devaluing land (known in some circles as the Great Giveaway) prices for the billionaire owners of the Sacramento Kings as a part the term sheet.  The city says don’t worry, the general funds are safe, citizens will not be impacted.  Those of us who have seen the term sheet,says it doesn’t balance.

The Arena Hype machine says, downtown will explode after the Arena opens.   From LA, to Brooklyn, development around the arenas rarely happen without an additional subsidy from the cities. With the subsidies,success is very limited as these mega buildings are closed more than 80% of the time.

The greatest fear to city leaders and supporters of the Sacramento Kings , was a public vote.  Enough signatures where collected to force a vote, however, the language on the petitions was inconsistent and a judge through them out.

The old Arena was too small, and outdated said city leaders.  Renovating or rebuilding  in Natomas,the current location of Sleep Train Arena was never really a consideration.  Despite its superior location(with enough land to build two arenas next to the old one) and parking the new arena was going to be downtown.

The New Arena downtown,will have a much larger foot print and more amenities than Sleep Train, in addition to fewer parking spaces, the new arena will have two hundred seats more than the current arena.  When it opens in  2016, it will be as one of the smallest arenas in the NBA.  Proponents say, the smaller arena will have more sellouts. I’m not sure how much sense that makes, we’ll have to trust them.

Sacramento is my home and despite my views, I want Sacramento to succeed.  Let’s hope our leaders, are more successful than Brooklyn, Orlando, Memphis, Indianapolis and other cities with downtown arenas.

Sacramento Kings-Arena Deal: Seattle vs Sacramento (Seattle has the edge)


Its a stressful time for the  National Basketball Association board of governors.  Two cities, Seattle Washington and Sacramento California are vying for one  professional basketball team the Sacramento Kings.

The issue for both cities may come down to  which city is in the best position to build a new arena?

In 2006, Sacramentians voted against a measure  that would have built an new Arena.  In the same year, the owner of the Supersonic’s wasn’t able to get support from the Washington state government officials to provide funding to update Key Arena.

Key Arena opened in 1962. Key Arena was the first publicly financed arena in the area to be fully supported by earned income from the building. It was last renovated in 1996. 

An ownership group, led by Howard Schultz, sold the team to “Professional Basketball Club LLC‘ ” , an investment group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clayton Bennett. Bennett, approached local government to fund an 500 million arena complex.

 Bennett’s group notified the NBA that it intended to move the team to Oklahoma City.  In 2008, the rebadged Oklahoma city Thunder played it first game in the Ford Center now called Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The  Ford Center  opened in  2002 its located downtown across the street from the Cox Convention Center.  On March 4, 2008, the citizens of Oklahoma City passed a $121.6 million initiative designed to renovate and expand the Chesapeake Energy Arena and to build a practice facility for the relocated Seattle SuperSonics team which is now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder. Financing consists of a temporary 15-month, 1-cent sales tax that will be paid by Oklahoma City residents and shoppers beginning January 1, 2009.

Many people believe Bennett and the NBA mislead Seattle ,a city that had a strong fan base..

753 miles south in Sacramento.  The Maloof’s, majority owners of the Sacramento Kings were shopping the team and settled on Anaheim, California  the home of  Disneyland and the Honda Center.

The City of Sacramento  fought for the Team and was granted a year reprieve  The City had  to have plans for an Arena in place  or the team would be allowed to move.   At the eleventh Hour the Maloof’s pulled out of the deal, siting fuzzy math.

A Plan in Seattle

Last September, the City of Seattle  reached a tentative agreement to build an arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood.   By January 1st  2013,   Hansen and his investment team  reportedly spent over $55M on land related to the arena project.      The location is near  Safeco Field where he Seattle Mariners play baseball and  Century link Field where the Seattle Seahawks play football.             

The new Arena would house an NBA and Hockey Team .

MO-NAY

Private investment 290  million dollars.   The proposal stipulates the City finance the arena by issuing bonds of up to $120 million in addition to bonds issued by the County for up to $80 million.

 The Investor Group is responsible for any shortfalls in Arena tax revenue, and is obligated to protect the City and County General Funds from any exposure to Arena-related debt obligations.

To supplement this guarantee, the Investor Group will fund a reserve account equal to one year’s worth of City/County debt service payments, and will increase the reserve amount any time the Arena does not generate at least double the revenue necessary to pay one year’s debt service. Furthermore, the Investor Group’s equity investment in the Arena and NBA franchise will serve as collateral against the City’s contribution.

The Key Arena remains in place and the Arena group agrees to modernized the 51 year old building.

Critics and Lawsuits 

Parking: Many locals are concerned when there are events at Safeco Field and the Arena.

Traffic : They are  worried that increased traffic would harm operations at the nearby Port of Seattle.

(Investors have also agreed to put $40 million into a fund to pay for transportation improvements in the Area.)

Some applaud the investors, however many feel  $40 million is a drop in the bucket.

Last October, The International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers filled a lawsuit.  The lawsuit alleges that city and county officials ,working with investor  Chris Hansen approved agreement to build the arena in the industrial Sodo neighborhood  without first completing an environmental review as required under state law.  The International Longshore and  Warehouse Union is concerned that adding a third stadium to the area south of downtown would choke freight traffic and cost jobs.

The union’s  Local 19, representing workers at the Port of Seattle sued saying an environmental review should have preceded any agreement.(3)

In February .The Judge threw out the suit .  King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North held that the agreement between the city of Seattle, King County and an investment group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen does not violate state environmental law.  He said the agreement technically set out a framework for a future deal, but didn’t commit the city or King County to building an arena south of downtown.”There isn’t a binding decision here,” North said.(4)

In March, the Union appealed the ruling . They believe the court failed to acknowledge that the memorandum of understanding between investor Chris Hansen, the city of Seattle and King County is in violation of the state environmental protection act.(5)

A second lawsuit was filed in January of this year.  Alleges the  Arena deal violates Initiative 91. The measure approved by Seattle voters in 2006 said the city must make a profit on any sports facility investment . The new arena plan calls for $200 million in public money, to be repaid through arena revenue.

In April, King County Superior Court Judge Laura Middaugh ruled  that the case was filed too soon, and that it could be brought again if and when the arena deal is finalized. The complaint argued that the arena plan violated a Seattle law that bars the city from investing in sports facilities unless it makes a profit.

Scrambling in Sacramento

Last month, the City of Sacramento  voted 7-2 a non binding deal  that set the ball in motion  towards an Arena.    The City would contribute  $258 million towards a new arena to be located in Downtown Plaza.   The last minute deal at Downtown Plaza was assembled  in  72 hours before the council voted on it.

MO-NAY

Private Investment 189 million.  The city’s contribution is $258 million towards the $447.7 million arena .The city says it can raise $212 million by setting up a nonprofit corporation to borrow against future revenue generated by its downtown garages.

The balance  would come from giving the Burkle group parcels of city owned land worth an estimated $38 million.  Sacramento’s parking operation generates $9 million a year in profit – money that would flow to lenders once the bonds are sold.    But officials have a plan to “backfill” that sum and keep the budget intact.  Much of it would come from ticket surcharges, a slice of parking revenue and a minimum of $1 million in arena profits guaranteed to the city.

Sleep Train Arena
The investors group will own  Sleep Train.   There aren’t any reports of  plans to refresh or modernize the 25 year old Arena.

Critics and  Lawsuits 

Stockton, California is one hour south of Sacramento. That cities bankruptcy is a sobering reality for Sacramentians who saw an decrease in Police and Fire personal last year.  Stockton built an Arena Ballpark Complex in 2006.

Sacramento Bee Editorial Council  said, Building an arena at Downtown Plaza – not the railyard as in last year’s deal – would reduce the number of parking spaces. So the new agreement is likely to include new elements, possibly the sale of city-owned land and joint real estate development. Those new proposals are the one that need the most serious vetting.  They should get several days at the very least to scrutinize the terms and to hear from their constituents. It’s unfortunate that three public forums – Thursday evening, Friday and today – are being held without any specifics to discuss.

Local Policy Group “Eye on Sacramento’s President  Craig Powell says  “There are serious risks to the taxpayers of Sacramento if this deal moves forward “Funds would be diverted from other priorities and opportunities, and if the revenue from parking and the hotel tax comes up short the city would be forced to dip into the general fund.”   Powell also noted the long history of failed economic development projects intended to revitalize Sacramento’s downtown area, citing at least $500 million invested in downtown over the years as a “very well-known debacle.”(2)

Stop Taxpayers Opposed to Pork or STOP  leaders have recently announced their renewed intention to launch an initiative campaign to require a public vote on any public subsidy of an arena. They have also been interviewing campaign consultants, petition gathering firms and professional fundraising consultants in recent weeks. They are also evaluating the option of pursuing a referendum of a council’s decision to approve the proposed term sheet. Both an ordinance initiative and a referendum would require them to secure the signatures of approximately 23,000 registered city voters (10% of registered city voters, in the case of a referendum, and 20% of the number of voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election, in the case of an ordinance initiative). A referendum, which would overturn a “legislative act” of the council, would require that the requisite signatures be secured within 30 days of the effective date of the legislative act, while an initiative requires that the necessary signatures be obtained within 180 days of commencement of signature gathering.(7)

Neil deMause, co-author of 1999 book Field of Schemes, blogs about sports-arena and stadium deals“ said The only way the city could magically pay for everything using parking revenues … is if the arena itself more than doubles the amount of money the city earns from each of its downtown parking spaces<(8)

At the council meeting Kings fan ,Jeffrey Anderson  said Mr. Mayor, your attempts to pull off an upset win could adversely affect this community for decades,” who asked the council to put the plan before voters or he would file a lawsuit to stop it. (6)

A  resent poll conducted by Tab Communication showed 80% of Sacramento voters want to vote on the new Arena. (9)

On April 2,  A Group “Coalition for Responsible Arena Development filed a notice of intent to Sue .    The notice says a lawsuit will allege that the approval of the term sheet — which was approved by Sacramento’s City Council on March 26 — violates California’s Environmental Quality Act.  The notice goes on to say that a lawsuit “will also be based on unlawful gifts to public officials and misuse of public funds for private benefit.”  The group alleges that according to the term sheet, the city will be provided a luxury suite, suite tickets and preferential parking during arena events. James Cathcart, treasurer of Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, told KCRA 3 he supports the group’s threat to sue.

One Sacramento  Neighborhood Associations is planning to vote next month. They may join another group to gather signatures to get an the arena vote on the ballot.

Seattle or Sacramento ?

Both cities have a strong loyal fan base.  Both cities have resisted taxing themselves for professional sports.   Fans of  both cities have experienced  anxiety of not knowing if their team will be around the next season.   Both cities have successfully fought the retain the names of their teams .  And both cities were mislead by the teams owners.

These truths makes this vote more than a relocation.  Both cities are fighting , they have done every thing  the NBA has asked of them.

If the vote was based on emotion alone, Sacramento has the edge.   The small market  team , who’s fan  filled the seats year after year win or lose.  The city that suffered with the  professionally unpopular Maloof family.   One of the investors Vivek Ranadive, could help the NBA expand its fan base outside the  United States.

Sacramento, had to scramble.  The Arena plans are nearly a year behind Seattle.  Local investor Chris Hansen lives and works in Seattle.  He knew the  position citizens when it came to taxes.

In 2006, Initiative 91 passed in Seattle with over 70% approval.

The  ordinance prohibit’s the City of Seattle from Providing or Leasing Facilities or other Goods, Services, or Real Property to Professional Sports Organizations at Below Fair Value, and Providing A Method to Enforce this Restriction.


While Seattle’s operating budget isn’t expose, many feel the 200 million dollar  bond violates  Initiative 91 .  Seattle and King County sell $200 million in bonds and pay the money to Hansen’s group, which puts in the rest. He builds an arena. For 30 years, his group has full use of it and 100 percent of the profits from it. Seattle and King County keep the title deed, which means that on the arena, the state, county, city, transit district, port and public schools collect a real estate tax of zero.

Of the two lawsuits , this one has the meat.

The Longshoremans suit,regarding environmental reports and increased traffic is the long shot.    There will be a  few events that will take place at Safeco field and the New Arena at the same time .  However those days will be rare.   As for increased traffic, Safeco field hold over 47,000 vs 18-to 20,000 for the arena.

Traffic will be one of many issues in Sacramento.  Unlike other downtown arena s, the proposed site is in the center of a shopping mall.    Because the arena deal is less than two months old ,business owners have not met with the city.

But the principle issue in Sacramento, its the money.  Unlike Seattle, its operating budget is exposed.   Many believe the cities contribution is significantly higher than 258 million dollars.

Plans to generate revenue from parking garages and ticket surcharges are very optimistic with estimates based on the Kings glory days when they where in the playoffs.   The overall plan is very fragile.  If one fails, the city budget  will have to make up the difference.

After Stockton

There were many critics of the Railyard Arena Plan last year.   Unlike this year, there was less ground noise.   Last year 16 policemen were laid off and the city saw an double digit increase in gun violence.   Sacramento’s police force has  lost more than 300 sworn officers and civilian staff members and more than 30 percent of its budget since 2008.    Sacramento is  the second lowest staffed big city police force in the nation.  More layoffs are planned with the 2013-2014 budget.

Last year Stockton,  laid off 25% of its police force and Sacramentians saw the aftermath on TV.   Assaults on police officers doubled in 2012 from a year earlier.

The growing noise in Sacramento is “Not Stockton” .

(In 2006, Stockton opened a new Arena and Baseball Park Downtown neither are profitable for the city)

Last year before the Maloof’s eleventh hour withdrawal, there was a small opening for the Arena in the Railyards.

The Noise is not lost on the leaders of Sacramento.     Perhaps as a signal to the NBA, California  Senate President ProTem Darrell Steinberg announced Wednesday,released details of his effort to overhaul California’s environmental law, including provisions that reduce the likelihood that urban infill projects like Sacramento’s proposed downtown arena would be subject to lawsuits that could stall construction.

SB 731 would “accelerate the pace at which a Downtown Sacramento sports and entertainment complex would proceed through the environmental planning process.”

Notably, however, Gov. Jerry Brown said last week he will not push this year to reform the state environmental quality act, although he has said the law is cumbersome and needs retooling at some point.

Steinberg, a supporter of Sacramento’s proposed downtown arena project, issued a press statement indicating he has been working on statewide environmental reform for some time, but that his bill is applicable specifically to the Sacramento arena.

“I introduced these concepts in this bill before the question of the Sacramento Kings’ future returned to news headlines,” said Steinberg. “Nonetheless, the story of economic development, planning laws and the Sacramento Kings are inseparable because a Downtown Sacramento Arena meets the very definition of an ‘urban infill’ project, which California has historically been very serious about promoting. It is my intent to continue that tradition with these far-reaching reforms to California’s environmental planning laws.”

Sacramento Bee (4/24/2013)
There are some who believe Chris Hansen wants the Kings and 200 million dollars wont stop him.  For over a year he has been buying land in SoDo, some believe his vision is greater than the Basketball team.  Rumors that he wants to transform the area near the stadiums into an entertainment center with housing.and the key to that vision is the Kings.  There are several Fortune 500 companies in the Seattle Region, 200 hundred million dollars would not be an obstacle.
The new owners of the Downtown Plaza, recently said they were committed to a planned arena. The question is are they and the other investors willing to build without public money?
Advantage Seattle

CityFella 

Sources:(2) Editorial : Council ,public deserve time to vet arena deal (Sacramento Bee-3-23-13)(3)Longshore union files  suite over Sodo site for arena.-Seattle Times-October 18, 2012(4) Judge Blocks longshore workers Sonic’s Arena Lawsuit -(Seattle Times-2-22-13)(5) ” Longshore Union to Appeal  Seattle Arena Lawsuit-( Bellingham Herald 03-04-13)  (6)”Sacramento Backs Kings Arena Deal (ESPN GO.COM3-27-13)  (7)  Report on the arena proposal ( Eye on Sacramento.com 03-13)  (8)Sacramento vs Seattle: Tale of  two Kings arena deal ( Sacramento News and Review 3-28-13) (9) Voters want to Vote for downtown Arena(Sacramento press.com 04-25-13) (10) Group threatens lawsuit to block Sacramento Arena(KCRA 4/2/13)