Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Visionaries" and OPM

Two local leaders are heading down paths that do not seem well grounded in reality.   The first is Sacramento’s Mayor, Kevin Johnson.   Johnson would like to revitalize the downtown of the city by getting a large project done in an area called the rail yards.    At one time this was a busy part of the city but since rail transport has declined, so has the need for a big repair facility.  For all the time that I have lived in Sacramento, this has been a big, toxic site next to down town.  And with the right vision, the area could be a big deal.  

Johnson’s first shot was to bring our lackluster basketball franchise to come to the area.   Unfortunately, the thugs who own the team thought it was guaranteed that the city would supply most of the cash for the new arena that they wanted. Sacramento's voters have been pretty clear on that notion.  The political class (he has a group called "Think Big" that is made up of leaders from the area.) of the area put together a plan which mostly did not use any (new) public money.  After about two years of drama, the deal blew up this spring.   The Maloofs (the owners) said they would take their franchise and leave.  For most of their history in Sacramento they have been one player away from being a competitive franchise.   From my perspective it will be good riddance if the franchise leaves.  I am not sure any other city would benefit from their move but it is clear we might.

The Bee’s story described the Mayor’s next gambit which would be to attract a baseball franchise – presumably the Oakland A’s, whose AAA franchise (the Rivercats) currently plays in West Sacramento.  That would be a $500 million deal and would most likely mean an end to the Rivercats.   Were the A’s interested in moving to Sacramento, the logical way to do it would be to enlarge Raley Field.   And according to most people, the stadium was built with that possibility in mind.

It is unclear how many fans the A’s would attract to the 80+ home games a year.  In the last two years, attendance at the Rivercats has been on the decline – although they continue to play great baseball.  A good part of that could be the economy.  Those bumps notwithstanding, the Rivercats are considered to be the most valuable franchise in minor league baseball.    A true vision would include the region not just a way to clean up the rail yards.

About a half a mile away, at the State Capitol, another “vision” was being debated last week – the first increment of a proposed $100 billion high speed rail train between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. (Oh I know, the supporters have said this will cost only $69 billion - but these were the same fools who said it would be about $10 billion when they started to push it.)  The plan sounds fantastic.  Get on a train in San Francisco or Sacramento and get off in central LA in a couple of hours.  But there are a lot of problems here.   First, while some of the funding is coming from federal sources (we all know how well the federal budget is), a large portion of it will come from bonds sold by the state.   The first increment, which would build a section from nowhere to nowhere, will produce some jobs but not riders.   Indeed outside experts have suggested there is a lot better route to use.   But our “visionary” governor (who once proposed a state program in space travel) wants to proceed apace.

In both cases the plans are constructed with OPM – other people’s money.  In both cases the economic assumptions of the projects are absurd, at best.  Both represent a desire by elected officials to make that one big play.  In reality, growth and development comes from consistent incremental steps.   Both officials could spend some time trying to simplify the path for development in the state.   One problem with chasing after rainbows is that you never seem to be able to catch them and their attendant pot of gold at one end. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Raley Field was not built to be enlarged to MLB standards.