BEE: Sheriff's arena plan...


Staff member

Sheriff's arena plan has everyone buzzing

By Mary Lynne Vellinga -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Monday, September 20, 2004

On Wednesday morning, Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas presided over an unusual meeting in his downtown office.

The topic had nothing to do with crime fighting. Instead, the county's top cop was pitching his proposal for a ballot measure that would open 10,000 acres of North Natomas farmland to development, and use part of the profits to build an arena for the Kings. In attendance were about half a dozen developers, including Blanas' close friend and campaign contributor, Angelo Tsakopoulos, and their lawyers.

Blanas emerged from the meeting pleased. He had obtained an agreement from the owners of 6,200 acres to kick in $50 an acre - or a total of $310,000 - to fund initial work on his plan.

"That's big news," the sheriff said afterward.

In the weeks since he publicly unveiled his proposal, Blanas has been the talk of the town.

Some people hate his idea and question why the county sheriff is meddling in land-use issues.

Some oppose the development it would foster, noting that the flood-prone fields in northern Sacramento County are fertile ag land and habitat for endangered and threatened species.

Others say it is a creative idea that deserves study, and that the affable Blanas is an ideal spokesman, even if land-use planning falls outside a county sheriff's area of responsibility.

"What you see here is a very aggressive elected official who is stepping into what I suspect he views as a vacuum and trying to assert his leadership," said Grantland Johnson, a former Sacramento County supervisor and state agency head who lobbies for the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

"What one thinks about that probably depends on where one stands."

To hear Blanas tell it, he's just a devoted Kings fan who couldn't sit by while his team left town.

After the city of Sacramento fumbled the issue of replacing Arco Arena with a downtown facility, the Sacramento County sheriff says, he became convinced the Kings would leave unless something was done.

During a shared ride to the airport to embark on separate trips to Europe, Blanas said, he told Tsakopoulos about his idea to privately finance an arena through development.

"When I told him, he almost jumped out of the car," Blanas said.

Distantly related through marriage, Blanas and Tsakopoulos are close friends, and Tsakopoulos has lent Blanas at least $73,000 during his campaigns for sheriff. Tsakopoulos is one of the major landowners in the area under discussion, controlling about 1,400 acres.

Blanas said the two hammered out more details when they met a few weeks later in Greece for the Olympics. The result: A proposal the sheriff maintains is a potential victory for the Kings, sports fans, developers and the environment.

Under the scenario, county voters would be asked to approve opening about 10,000 acres of unincorporated Natomas to annexation and development by the city of Sacramento.

A roughly equal amount of land along the Sacramento River and the Sutter County line would be designated open space.

In return, property owners inside the development area would agree to contribute 20 percent of their land to a foundation, which would sell it to pay for an arena.

In today's land market, such a donation could fetch $600 million, according to real-estate experts.

For landowners, the carrot would be getting to develop sooner rather than later. Although the city and county of Sacramento have earmarked the area north of the city limits for development, the contentious process of amending the city's general plan and annexing the land could take years.

Voter approval could speed the process considerably. Based on recent sales, landowners who paid anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $50,000 an acre could sell it for $300,000 an acre in today's frenzied market once the area was approved for development, said Dave Jarrette, a partner with the Roseville commercial appraisal firm of Giannelli, Jarrette, Waters & Holland.

After the arena was built, the foundation would lease it to the Kings. Lease payments would go to charity.

Blanas' proposal does not specify a location for the arena. It could go downtown, even though the financing would come from Natomas.

In addition to Tsakopoulos, other major landholders affected include developer Enlow Ose, Richland Planned Communities, Brookfield Development Corp. and Didar Bains, a major Sutter County landowner.

Natomas landowners declined to discuss the proposal on the record, saying Blanas has been designated their spokesman. Some say they are intrigued but wonder whether such a complicated scheme could work.

A bevy of lawyers employed by the property owners is trying to provide answers. At this point, the attorneys are not even sure such a multifaceted proposal could be distilled legally into a ballot measure. "Everyone's trying to see if you can put flesh on this body," said one lawyer familiar with the proposal.

The Blanas group has yet to produce a map showing which property would be developed and which would remain open. It has yet to reach the holders of about 3,800 acres. And it has yet to obtain public encouragement from the family that owns the Kings.

"I work for Joe and Gavin Maloof, and their position is very clear: We're not engaging in any(more) discussions about a new arena," said political consultant Richie Ross. "They're discussed out."

Blanas is hopeful, nonetheless. "Did you ever hear that expression: Build it and they will come?" he asked.

His idea has attracted prominent backers, including Sacramento City Manager Bob Thomas, who has been pushing for a development plan for the Natomas Basin.

"Everybody's looking for details, and a lot of the details haven't been developed," Thomas said. "But, conceptually, I think it's a very strong proposal that deserves consideration.

"It achieves a permanent urban (growth) boundary that is consistent with the plan that both the City Council and the Board of Supervisors adopted. It achieves the idea of financing an arena, hopefully downtown, at no public expense, and it produces a revenue stream that would be a great funding source for the arts and youth sports."

Others view the plan - and the sheriff's involvement - in a darker light.

"It is appalling that the sheriff is using his position as the county's highest law-enforcement officer to lend legitimacy to this scam on behalf of Natomas land speculators," said James Pachl, lawyer for Friends of the Swainson's Hawk, a conservation group.

The Sierra Club, the Environmental Council of Sacramento and Friends of the Swainson's Hawk have opposed the city's plans to annex and develop more farmland in the Natomas Basin.

Pachl said the promise of 10,000 acres of permanently protected open space might be an exaggeration, considering much of the land not targeted for development lies within the airport's buffer zone or is protected by the Natomas Basin Conservancy.

Critics note the similarity of Blanas' plan to a proposal by Tsakopoulos to donate land for a private university in Placer County. The land is situated far west of Roseville, and local officials acknowledge it could open thousands of acres of rural land to development - much of it owned by Tsakopoulos.

For former Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin, Blanas' idea also calls up memories of 1986, when developer Gregg Lukenbill and his partners offered to build Arco and an adjacent baseball/football stadium - but only if the city opened then-rural North Natomas to development.

The City Council approved the plan over Rudin's objections. Lukenbill built Arco but never completed the stadium. Though his development plan never panned out - flooding concerns delayed growth for more than a decade - North Natomas is now home to about 30,000 people.

Natomas has changed a lot since the mid-1980s, Rudin said, and further development might make more sense. But she wonders what developers are going to want from the city of Sacramento in return for their gift.

"It looks like it's a creative idea, but there's a lot we don't know," she said. "I don't know what sacrifices the city will have to make."

The Bee's Mary Lynne Vellinga can be reached at (916) 321-1094 or
i'd somewhat feel bad for blanas if he actually did come up with the plan, because there's not a snowballs chance anyone believes it. however, aside from the environmentalists, i haven't heard any objections.

it's gaining momentum, and looks like this finanace plan has a good shot, assuming the lawyers can all make nice. i'm just skeptical about the $. i will believe $600m when i see it.
I'm sure it was hatched by Tsakopoulos. I think he even admitted as much a few weeks ago in the Sac Biz Journal. Honestly, nobody in city hall would have dared touch this one after it went down in flames a few short years ago. Blanas is probably a good candidate to roll the ball forward. Not much risk on his part.
There are no secrets about this deal. It's using the Kings new arena as carrot to get some favorable re-zoning for some land now instead of much later. They give up some money to the non-profit org, but they probably save more than that on lobbying money alone. Those who are against are the zero growth people and those who might not be included in the re-zoning. The Sierra Club types will have some money to oppose. But with the Kings arena in the mix, it will likely pass public vote anyway.


Don't Make Me Use The Bat
Staff member
Well...that's creative at least. Back dealing business politics. But creative.

Kind of sad when the county sheriff of all people is taking it upon himself to lead an effort to get an arena built because nobody else will. :rolleyes:
it's not that nobody else will, but it's about who his friends are.

don't be fooled, it's not lou's deal. it's not like blanas would have "took it upon himself" had he not been friends with a powerful landowner looking to make a killing off some of his personal real estate.

and it's not like cohen has just been sitting on his hands, but yea. i know what you're saying though, as far as that's concerned.


I like turtles
I agree that it's a valid idea and it deserves some consideration.

Interesting, I never knew ARCO was never completed.
Bricklayer said:
Well...that's creative at least. Back dealing business politics. But creative.

Kind of sad when the county sheriff of all people is taking it upon himself to lead an effort to get an arena built because nobody else will. :rolleyes:
Sounds like he has a political agenda, to me.

It's nice that he is taking an active interest in the Kings, specifically keeping them in Sacramento. They have one of the best fan bases in all of sports, and most everyone in the area is a Kings fan, I'd assume. But when the county Sheriff starts doing things like this, I think there's an ulterior motive.

But that's probably just my suspicious self...
Of COURSE there is an ulterior motive, but let's get real here. No one is going to donate an Arena out of the goodness of their heart, we can rule that possibility out from the start:) We can also rule out the Maloofs building it themselves (why should they? from a business perspective, it makes no sense for them financially, not when other cities will build one for them with NO cash outlay) We may have the 'Best fans in the NBA', but as all the polls have shown, Sacramento is not willing to consider tax increases to keep the team, shooting down (in polls) even ideas like taxing hotels and rental cars. The city council has been ineffective, at best, in putting together a plan that even begins to address the financial aspects, someone has to do it (or rather, I hope someone has the creativity and foresight to do it)