Thursday, November 02, 2006

initiative 91 (i-91)

the 17 point scale endorses a no vote on initiative 91 (i-91)
isn't it odd that we still use the endorse verb when encouraging others to vote no?

what is i-91?

if passed, i-91 would require the city to receive "fair value" in any lease deals with for-profit sports organizations (fair value is approximately 4-5%).

before i explain why this well-meaning initiative is dangerous and baaaad, let me offer two less relevant bits of insight. first, please recognize that i'm a political squirrel. in other words, the political corner of my brain is small and rather undeveloped. moreover, i spend most of my time running around looking for peanuts (i.e., doing the deed of life), so i rarely pause to nurture what little understanding that i may have. therefore, don't expect a flawless, bullet-proof argument. second, despite my political naivete, i feel that most of the propaganda against i-91 takes the wrong approach. the standard i-91 polemic tends to stress the fact that a yes vote is a big blow to local area sports. although this is true, i think it's a shame that i-91 rebuttals don't do more to appeal to non-sports fans. yes, a no vote is essentially an angry kick in the colletive seattle sonic groin, but if someone is a sports fan, i presume that they're already voting no on this initiative. thus, it makes more sense to begin by addressing the issue asportically.

i think i'll begin with a quick history lesson. i-91 was designed by citizens for more important things (CAIT). the organization is the brain-child of nick licata, and although licata is a HUGE supporter of this initiative, he's since moved on to bigger and better things (another organization name?). he currently serves as the seattle city council president, where he was recently the only member to stand against the city's head-over-heels support of the costly underground option for the viaduct. licata's consistent: he's against spending money, period. and although i agree with his viaduct position, he's been an idiot when it comes to sports (several months ago, licata remarked that the sonics had "close to zero" cultural impact on seattle, a remark that i lambasted on the 17 point scale).

since licata's absence, CAIT has been managed by chris van dyk, a non-seattle resident that appears to have less marketing prowess than his predecessor. that is, while licata's legacy is one of creativity (give him credit, he dreamed up a rather clever and effective organization name), CAIT's website is currently an irritating mess of random fonts, colors, and blinking lights that resembles a do-it-yourself effort by some poor child with attention deficit disorder. in any case, after examining CAIT's actual contributions to the pacific northwest, it seems clear to me that their name isn't quite accurate. they really aren't for anything. although, they may hope that by slaying professional sports, money will be diverted to education, social services, and other "more important things," CAIT makes no contributions to this effort. with this in mind, i've decided to refer to them as citizens against important things (thus the CAIT; if you're a fan of their platform, you might prefer citizens against less important things or CALIT--either way, my acronyms sound a lot better than CFMIT).

but perhaps i'm remiss in substituting my own name for CAIT. the name CFMIT actually suggests one of the fundemental flaws of CAIT's position. (now remember, i'm a squirrel; i don't really understand how what i'm about to say relates to i-91.) often the money that's earmarked for sports teams is not even accessible to "more important things" like education and social services. in other words, when voting for initiatives that purport to save money on things like sports, it's important to realize that there is no a direct cause and effect at work--a vote for i-91 will not result in more money for first-grade teachers or potholes on 15th ave.

alright, now that i've discussed the players behind i-91, let's look at the issue from a non-sports fan viewpoint:

did you see that noun that i used? players? well, think about this. a yes vote on i-91 is a strike against language. by approving anti-sports legislation, we risk the slow decomposure of words like player and strike. with no seattle context for these words, their rich meaning would dissolve. in twenty years i'd be forced to say something vague like "the people behind i-91" why didn't they include this in the voter's pamphlet?

i-91 is a strongly anti-government initiative. i'm for small government, but it seems odd to have citizens legislate minor budget considerations. i-91 yanks the control of day-to-day financial decision-making out of the hands of our leadership and binds their hands in making deals with propspective tenants. i think the seattle pi says it best: "although the sentiment behind the restrictions is understandable, we tend to think voters elect councils and mayors to make the best decisions based on the facts at hand. attempting to legislate complex financial formulas will limit the city's flexibility and may discourage creativity" (9/06). our city council may suck, but let's not make them suck more by making their job impossible.

seattle owns the key arena. if i-91 passes and the sonics say "see ya'," this could be a whopper of a problem for our city. the restrictive business climate that will result from i-91 will make it difficult to fill the key with a long-term tenant. concerts and other events are sometimes held at the key, but they can hardly make the key profitable. and in addition to continued operating expenses, the city is still paying off the initial costs of key construction. so, without a tenant to help recoup these costs, that means a larger cut from andrew c taxpayer.

okay, let's say that you're frustrated with high ticket prices and player salaries (more on that later). i could say any number of positive things about the sonics and you'd still believe that professional sports are the scourge of humanity. screw the sonics, you say. fine. but what about the little guy? the lesser known thunderbirds, an amateur hockey team, currently rent space at the key arena, but under the i-91 restrictions they wouldn't be able to make enough money to satisfy the lease. let me quote from deputy mayor tim ceis: "besides being an absurd premise -- how do you create a lease based on a formula? -- if the initiative passes, we can't do a lease for the storm, the t-birds hockey team, or any other new venture, such as pro lacrosse, that lack a track record." listen to the deputy, do you want to see the end of professional lacrosse before it even begins?

professional sports teams like the sonics offer plenty of jobs to low-income workers. i-91 would remove those jobs. see the next section.

whoah, i just found this report. it reminds me a lot of my work at northwest research group. anyway, the report concludes that the key (i.e., the sonics) generates jobs and income for thousands of people locally, and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year from outside the local economy. here are some numbers from 2005:

a. the key arena creates more than 3250 jobs in the queen anne area, including nearly 600 that work directly for the key. most of the key arena jobs are seasonal or part-time and benefit low-income service industry workers. together, these workers received somewhere between above $100 million in income. that's 100+ million taxable dollars.
b. the spending of KeyArena visitors and businesses creates $350 million in business activity; state and local governments receive $13.3 million in tax revenues as a result of this business activity at KeyArena.
c. 43% of key visitors come from outside King County and would not have made the trip if not for the key; this results in $165 million in business activity and $7 million in tax income.

there is a great deal of debate about the economic value of professional sports. i'm no economist, but my common sense reaction is that sports teams are extremely valuable to our city. wander down queen anne hill on a game night and you will detect a buzz of activity that is absent when the sonics aren't playing. that's the buzz of dollar signs. also, some of seattle sports players live locally; that means that at least some of their exhorbitant salaries are funneled back into the local economy, either through spending or taxes. finally, pro sports offer a lot of intangible monetary rewards that are hard to measure. for example, professional sports give our city national exposure that may draw new residents and businesses and thereby richen the cultural and economic viability of our city.

it may seem silly that a bunch of guys in baggy shorts or tight pants can create community, but, whether you like it or not, sports are the best kindling that we've got for passionate community. in an earlier post i said, "i have many fond memories of the sonics, especially as a kid; some fans have thirty years of memories" (including a national title--something that no other seattle franchise has attained), and every game represents another opportunity to build memories. but it gets better. sports offer an opportunity for us to build these memories together. remember the 1995 mariners? the 1996 sonics? the 2005 seahawks? these sports teams brought our city together. professional sports are unique in their ability to cut across social, political, economic, and age barriers. thus, a vote for i-91 could bring a serious blow to seattle community.

let me quote from art thiel of the pi: "as to the larger question of the importance of things, seattle has invested heavily in arts and culture with no shot at tangible economic returns. the city's contribution to benaroya hall is about $37 million. the mccaw hall tab was about $43 million. the dun for seattle art museum's new sculpture park opening in january is about $7 million....personally, i would prefer to live in a place that aspires to more than filling potholes and removing garbage, even if i never attended another sports event, art exhibition or music performance."

i'm worn out by this list. check out the sonics website. they have an entire section devoted to community service. when steve and i attended the seahawks game, the crowd raised more than $80,000 (i think) for the boys and girls club. sports radio kjr 950am raises more than $60,000 a year for literacy (and some other charity) from listeners and local sports figures. seattle sports and their fans play a key role in the community. so, let me close with an excerpt from jay holzman's letter to the seattle times (i had to modify the pronouns a bit, but it think it works now):

"like society, professional sports teams have their thugs. but the sonics and storm are overwhelmingly filled with good people who do more for their community than our inept city council, nick licata, and citizens for more important things will ever do, both directly and indirectly.

"how much equipment have they [the city council, nick licata, or CAIT] donated to schools? how many incentive programs and fundraising projects have they sponsored for kids? how many courts have they built in parks and schools around the northwest? when cleveland high school had uniforms stolen, did they buy them new ones? have they built an addition to the ronald mcdonald house? have they opened a health and fitness facility in minority areas of our city (donaldson fitness)? have they raised more than $10 million for cystic fibrosis in the past few years (Detlef Schrempf Foundation)? how many kids' lives have they made happier and better by visiting them in the hospital when they're sick, or just smiled and talked to them at just the right time? when a team is on a roll, can they get hundreds of thousands of strangers in a whole region and people of different races and ages to celebrate, unite, interact and feel connected? didn't think so."

vote no on i-91.


andrew said...

post script:

i found some more information about $$$, more particularly that $$$ that we currently spend on pro sports would NOT go to "more important things."

check this out: