You are here: Home » Blogs » Is the NBA the New RDA?

Is the NBA the New RDA?

Lots going on in Sacramento these days.

Basketball fans around the country know that the NBA's Kings desperately want to flee to Anaheim. The capital's aging arena and small market won't cut it for the financially strapped owners, the Maloof brothers. The City of Sacramento has been trying to build a new arena for years -- most likely as the centerpiece of a massive redevelopment of downtown rail yards. That project appears to be falling through, so for the past few months the city, led by former NBA star-turned-mayor Kevin Johnson, has been trying to convince the team to stay. 

These attempts are appearing increasingly fruitless. Last week officials in Anaheim announced plans to raise $75 million to renovate the Honda Center and give the Kings some seed money. The Maloofs have also, reportedly, staked a claim to the name "Anaheim Royals."

So there's that. Meanwhile, followers of California politics may be aware that state lawmakers have been musing over a budget. No big deal there. 

Oddly, these two negotiations have something in common. No, Dems and GOP lawmakers are not going to settle the budget over a game of shirts-and-skins at the vacant Power Balance Pavilion (nee Arco Arena). Instead, among other tactics, the City of Sacramento is invoking the California Environmental Quality Act as grounds to block the team's move. 

As it happens, CEQA reform is included a (nearly unintelligible) list of demands that GOP lawmakers want the Dems to concede to in exchange for approval of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax plan. Presumably, Republicans want to loosen CEQA's rules. The City of Sacramento wants to do just the opposite, at least as far as the Kings are concerned. 

According to an article in this morning's Sacramento Bee, Assistant City Manager John Dangberg is arguing that the departure of the Kings would harm Sacramento's economy and therefore lead to blight. Not only would Power Balance Pavilion go largely dark but, presumably, so would many local businesses that depend on the spillover effects that come from an NBA team. The Bee article notes that this line of argument has been used to oppose big-box stores like Walmart, on the grounds that they drive out local businesses. 

I find the Walmart argument appealing, at least aesthetically if not legally. I'm no so convinced that it applies to a basketball team.

As much as I'd like the Kings to stay right where they are -- I don't think that the Los Angeles area needs two NBA teams (three, if you count the Clippers) -- I have to call Dangberg's bluff. Holding a team responsible for the physical health of a city is a bit beyond the pale. On those grounds, Sacramento cigar stores might as well sue Arnold Schwarzenegger for moving back to Los Angeles. 

Certainly cities have reason to promote local businesses and reap the external benefits. But accommodating a team is a voluntary exercise. CEQA surely cannot obligate the Kings to spread their largesse to any particular city, no matter how integral to the community they have become. Moreover, cities have countless ways to combat blight. The success of a bar or sporting goods store cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the Kings. 

The row over the Kings stems from the outrageous emphasis that cities have placed on major-league teams and the even more outrageous sums of money that cities have spent to attract and keep them. Sacramento probably considers the Kings an investment. But here's a newsflash to Sacramento and every other city that has built a stadium or agreed to sweetheart deals: sometimes investments go sour (especially when they involve sports francises). You win some, you lose some. 

While it's easy to look at a scorecard and see which team wins, analyzing urban development strategies isn't so straightforward, as we've found in another recent, and related, debate. In fact, one of the Sacramento's more outlandish arguments perfectly underscores the ambiguities surrounding Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate redevelopment. 

The city claims that moving the team to Anaheim will create blight in Sacramento. Fine. But what about blight in Anaheim? It stands to reason that Anaheim's built environment will benefit from the Kings' presence. Therefore, we're looking at a zero-sum game.

It's the very same zero-sum game that skeptics of redevelopment have been crowing about the past few weeks. There's simply no way to prove that a benefit in one local area is not offset by a detriment in another local area -- or vice-versa. For Sacramento officials to overlook Anaheim's windfall is just as diningenuous as it is for supporters of redevelopment to overlook the possibility that development would still occur in the absence of RDA support. 

Maybe, though, Sacramento is on to something. Regardless of whether the Kings should be shackled by CEQA, if pro basketball is so good at fighting blight, then California might not need redevelopment agencies at all. It just needs a 400-team basketball league. 

--Josh Stephens