Billboards were central to an alleged covert side deal made between Sacramento and the new owners of the Kings basketball team. Could such an agreement between San Diego and the Chargers sweeten a stadium deal?
As San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and county supervisor Ron Roberts run up the public's tab in their frantic bid to keep the Chargers in San Diego, a trial in Sacramento is revealing the kind of massive hidden costs taxpayers here may ultimately find themselves on the hook for.
The Republican mayor began his campaign of back-door public subsidies to the new stadium effort in January by announcing that his so-called Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group, populated with key Faulconer political donors, would not require any tax money, and therefore could conduct its business behind closed doors, keeping the public in the dark about its doings.
The shadowy arrangement drew the attention of, among others, Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani, who questioned the role of lobbyist Jason Roe, a private political consultant to Faulconer, in the group's decisions.
"What legal and ethical issues are raised by Mr. Roe's dual role as an apparent de facto Task Force member and as a registered lobbyist for the Delaware North company, which is bidding to become the new concessionaire at Qualcomm Stadium and, potentially, at any new stadium in San Diego?" he wrote in a February 17 letter to Faulconer.
Backers argued that Roe was contributing his services to the task force free of charge, and hence was actually benefiting the public, but Fabiani had another take.
"Putting the legal and ethical issues aside for a moment, what sense does it make to have someone who is your chief advisor on political matters, and who advises a potential stadium vendor on business matters, play any sort of role with the 'independent' Task Force?"
Faulconer’s no-tax-money pledge ended in April with the announcement by the mayor and county supervisor Roberts that they would require $500,000 in public funds to hire a gaggle of lawyers and consultants to carry on their crusade.
Matt Awbrey, a Faulconer PR aide, maintained that the infusion of public funding did not represent a flip-flop by the mayor because the hired hands "do not report to the Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group. These experts will vet the financial recommendations the group makes when they are released in May."
This Tuesday, the city's legal team was reportedly in New York pitching the NFL on Faulconer's plan to run a hurry-up environmental analysis prior to calling a quickie public vote sometime in December or January, an approach earlier rejected by Fabiani.
Meantime, in Sacramento, officials are being questioned about that city's Kings basketball arena, set to cost the public at least $255 million, and maybe much more, reports the Sacramento Bee.
A group of citizens has sued the city, charging that Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and staff concealed the true cost to taxpayers of the arena, including parking and the giveaway of coveted rights to build six giant digital billboards alongside local freeways.
"The plaintiffs contend the city quietly and fraudulently added those assets and others as deal sweeteners to compensate the Kings’ investor group for overpaying for the team," according to the Bee’s account.
"In total, the plaintiffs’ group estimates the city gave the Kings up to $200 million more in value than the publicized $255 million investment."
Last year, Sacramento changed its billboard ordinance to accommodate the sign portion of the giveaway.
"The legal carve-out allows the Kings to offer team sponsors prime advertising space in front of hundreds of thousands of eyes daily on freeways throughout the city," noted a May 15, 2014, story in the Bee.
"City leaders said the city is not abandoning its efforts to keep a lid on the number of billboards in the city," the report continued. "The city ordinance will continue to require other companies to take down at least one billboard for every new billboard."
With the Kings’ arena scheduled for completion in October of next year, most observers believe it's unlikely the case against Sacramento Democrat Johnson will significantly disrupt the project, key financial beneficiaries of which are the three sons of La Jolla's Qualcomm billionaire and Democratic funder Irwin Jacobs.
As reported here in May 2013, Qualcomm chairman Paul Jacobs and his wealthy brothers Jeff and Hal acquired a big chunk of the team in a group headed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé.
The new Kings owners then funded a political action committee that hired none other than Chris Lehane, the longtime business partner of the Chargers’ Fabiani, to head off a referendum drive to put the proposed basketball arena on the ballot.
Superior court judge Timothy Frawley, who is also hearing the current case against the arena subsidy, held in February 2014 that the petition had not been properly drafted and struck down the election effort.