Corporate Welfare dead on arrival Thanks to Sacramento voters

For the past ten years Supervisor Chris Norby has been warning citizens of the growing cancer of redevelopment abuse across this Nation. He formed the Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform MORR which was joined by it’s “grass roots” partner Californians United for Redevelopment Education CURE which together host annual conferences in CA where we distribute the latest edition of our book entitled Redevelopment the Unknown Government.The “unknown government” is right under our noses. “Out of California’s 478 cities, 386 operate redevelopment agencies which can incur bonded indebtedness without voter approval.” This unknown government currently consumes 10 percent of all property taxes statewide–$2.9 billion in 2004 and has a total indebtedness of $61 billion dollars which, for illustration, is equivalent to roughly half of our state’s budget.

Subsidizing professional sports stadiums is one example of said abuse.
The following good news is from Stephen Frank’s CA political News & Views newsletter and Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee. Larry Gilbert, OC Co-director CURE

Corporate Welfare Stopped by Sacramento Voters

Wednesday 22 November 2006
Stadiums have become “corporate welfare”. Convention centers have become slums. The taxpayer has become the developer of losing real estate deals. Truly, does a sports team mean more to a community than solid jobs and a good business climate? Should the poor have their sales tax money used to buy a billionaire a new house for his toys? The word is “Blackmail”, give us a stadium or we will leave. Actually, this started in 1958 in Los Angeles, Thousands of Hispanics lost their homes so the Dodgers could leave Brooklyn. Eminent Domain was used to transfer private property from the homeowners to a major corporation. Whether it is the theft of private property or the theft of tax dollars, government should not be the enforcer or the banker for corporate decisions. Stephen Franks.

Peter Schrag: The great new American pastime: Stadium chicken

By Peter Schrag -Sacramento Bee, November 22, 2006

On Election Day, as Sacramento voters were rejecting the pig-in-a-poke sales tax increase that the owners of the Sacramento Kings basketball team tried to foist on them, voters in Seattle were turning down a similar deal being pushed by the Sonics.

In both cases the threat, real or implied, was that if taxpayers didn’t come through for new or refurbished arenas, the jocks might/would decamp for friendlier places, leaving in their wake dispirited cities bereft of civic pride, national visibility and the rich income that fans bring with them. Maybe Seattle and Sacramento voters aren’t as bush as the arena promoters hoped.

In the days since, owners of the San Francisco 49ers football team, unable to wheedle a deal there, have all but announced their intention to move from what’s momentarily known as Monster Park to Santa Clara. Last week the Oakland A’s baseball team announced it was moving 20 miles south to Fremont. For the A’s it would be the fourth city in a half-century. It seems to come, if you’ll pardon the phrase, with the territory.

If A’s owner Lew Wolff follows the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim model — LAA on the out-of-town scoreboards — they’ll become the Oakland A’s of Fremont, or OAFs for short. Or maybe the San Jose A’s of Fremont. Try sticking that on a scoreboard. Given the already horrible traffic along Interstate 880 through Fremont and Milpitas at almost all daytime and evening hours, maybe they’ll become the Fremont Bottlenecks.

The selling point of the team owners seeking corporate welfare from taxpayers has evolved. At one time the pitch was that the extra taxes the locals were shelling out would pay for themselves in additional local business activity. But as in the case for convention centers, the evidence is hard to come by.

More recently, owners such as Wolff have promoted redevelopment deals that include not only a ballpark or arena, but offices, housing, hotels, restaurants, shops and all the rest — something for everybody, especially the developers. It’s as much about real estate as it is about sports. Wolff was a big-time developer long before he bought the A’s. He knows how to leverage taxpayer money for big-time projects.

But Wolff apparently hasn’t read the papers lately. He tried to get Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown to condemn a bunch of small businesses north of the ballpark, at the moment called McAfee Coliseum, and turn the area into a huge private development, including, of course, a play space for his team.

That would have been precisely the kind of eminent domain abuse that the country has been rebelling against. Brown said no thanks. Anybody who wants a lot of land for development probably won’t find it downtown. Whatever deal Wolff gets from Fremont, he plans to build a lot more than just a ballpark.

A decade ago, Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, one of the great pirates of the sports business, snookered Oakland and Alameda County into deals that the taxpayers are still paying for and that made what had never a good stadium for baseball into the awful one that the A’s are now preparing to leave.

This was the same guy who decamped (to Los Angeles) once before, extracted the taxpayer subsidies as his price for coming back and then sued the locals for failing to provide the promised sellouts that his lousy teams couldn’t attract.

Lately the come-on has been civic morale and community spirit. But hard evidence for that connection is as slim as it was for the link between major league clubs and economic boom. Does Oakland, with three big league teams, have more civic pride than Tucson, Des Moines or Austin, which have no big league teams? Miami, which has three teams, also has a high crime rate.

Of course none of this proves anything, which is precisely the point. The link between ball teams and civic morale is as ephemeral as the connection between air balls and backboards.

This fall, as the Sacramento arena debate was absorbing the attention of the city’s leaders, the Sacramento teachers union was busy tearing down what’s left of the school reforms that had been so hopefully enacted under Mayor Joe Serna Jr. a decade ago.

And as the A’s were winning their division title in the American League West, Oakland’s bankrupt schools were being run by a state receiver, and the city’s homicide rate put it in the running to become California’s murder capital.

The stadium chicken game has become routine. What’s remarkable in a nation as market-oriented as this one, with its broken medical system, its tottering transit network, its struggling public arts programs, is that the demand for taxpayer subsidies for megabucks private entertainment industries gets any public support at all.

If they wanted, the leagues could equalize revenues for small market teams. The taxpayers have more serious obligations than subsidizing multimillionaire athletes and fat cats in luxury boxes.

About Larry Gilbert