Two articles in today's Sacramento Bee provide great examples of the difference between Seattle's arena proposal and Kevin Johnson's playing to win campaign.
"But county officials say they have not had any detailed discussions with the city this year about a county contribution - and Supervisors Don Nottoli and Phil Serna expressed surprise at a recent city staff report that says "the county has agreed to contribute" funds.
"To say we've agreed, that's a stretch," Nottoli said."
Although they don't offend me, many people denounce flashing billboards as a blight. State and local politicians seek to regulate them, and extract donations from owners such as Clear Channel, which has given $1.7 million to California campaigns since 2002.
Critics sue to block them, and some highway safety experts believe they cause drivers to take their eyes off the road, which of course is the point.
They also are huge money-makers, as Clear Channel made clear in its latest annual report to investors. Because of its expanded use of electronic billboards, the company said, its billboard revenue rose by $26.5 million in 2012, accounting for 16 percent of the company's overall revenue increase.
Clear Channel covets three sites on Sacramento city-owned land along freeways. But to help make the Kings deal happen, Mayor Kevin Johnson and the city offered various sweeteners to the rich guys who want to buy the team including revenue from three billboards to be constructed on city property, plus three others at locations to be named later.
Clear Channel didn't react well, contending, in essence, that it had exclusive claim to the sites, a contention city officials dispute. The company also lashed out at Anderson by severing its relationship with him, though he had no hand in the billboard discussion, Assistant City Manager John Dangberg said.
In a letter to Sacramento City Attorney James Sanchez, Clear Channel contended that the company was "the successful bidder in connection with a Request for Proposal - Digital Billboards Multiple Sites issued by the city of Sacramento in 2009."
The company added that it had been "given the right to exclusively negotiate with the city the terms of the construction and leasing of multiple digital signs on city property."
However, the company noted that Sacramento's term sheet setting forth the Kings deal suggests that what it believed to be its locations were given over to the team's prospective new owners.
I don't think anybody is implying that the county is unlikely to support the Arena or that billboard rights are a magic bullet that will prevent the deal. Both those issues are likely to be resolved but each provides a great example of the myriad of details that have the potential to be major stumbling blocks for their projects. Any similar problem, or more likely the combined complexity of several small issues presents a chance, however small that the deal promised will not be delivered on.
They will use some form of property tax at a county level to fund the arena. The NBA has to consider even a slim chance that after the direct threat of Seattle has been dismissed county residents could choose look at declining budgets elsewhere and say "The city has made the promise, they are the ones getting all the downtown benefits. We should let them figure out how to deliver on those promises.
Their dispute with Clear Channel illustrates problems that directly result from putting this together on the fly. The fact that they did not have time to confirm whether they had legal control over an asset but chose to include it anyway should be cause for concern. Demonstrating to the NBA that they may not be able to deliver on a variety of promises made.
Sign rights, land assembly, bonding capacity and a host of other details have small chances of derailing their project. None of those things are as certain to be problem free as they are in Seattle where a harsh public vetting process and more detailed preparation has resulted in detailed studies and contractual agreement to the details of the project. With a 35 year commitment to the region and billions of dollars in both franchise and national television revenues at stake the league has to the cumulative risk that any one of those hundreds of things could alter the timeline or final details of project approval in Sacramento.
I wrote an article last week pointing out to the inactivity on this issue over the last year as valid criticism for Kevin Johnson and his ownership group. With Chris Hansen's efforts in Seattle obvious and ongoing you have to ask yourself why the mayor chose to simply abandon efforts to finalize specific terms for county support of this project instead of sitting on a general concept of agreement.
A lot has been made of time favoring Sacramento because it allows them to build their emotional case and PR campaign. I would argue that the emotional case has run its course. You can only say "Playing to win" so many times before people are going to want questions answered. These articles show how time and scrutiny will benefit Seattle.