Sac State awaits rest of $10 million pledge from Alex Spanos

Billionaire developer Alex Spanos has yet to make good on most of the $10 million he pledged in 2004 to build athletic facilities at Sacramento State University.

Spanos, a philanthropist and majority owner of the San Diego Chargers football team, pledged the money to help build an Alex G. Spanos sports complex at the university campus named in his honor. The complex includes a refurbished Hornet Stadium for the football team, as well as baseball, soccer, tennis and other facilities.

But seven years later, only a fraction of the pledged money ever arrived, Capitol Weekly has learned, leaving the school in the position of completing the project with the Spanos funding apparently still uncertain. The school launched the project even though the Spanos funding had not been received. The school also conducted a successful fund-raising effort over the next two years, driven in part by the perceived magnitude of the Spanos donation.

“I have been told, by people who are in a position to know, that only a fraction of the contribution was actually made,” said Kevin Wehr, an assistant professor of sociology and the school’s union representative with the California Faculty Association, which represents instructors across the 23-campus CSU system.

One year ago, the Sacramento State Hornet student newspaper reported that John Kepley, a spokesman for school president Alexander Gonzalez, said that $25 million raised to fund the school’s new wellness center will instead be used to pay “ongoing costs associated with the Spanos Sports complex.”

Sacramento State officials confirmed that the full amount of the pledge had not been received, but said the pledge agreement with Spanos is confidential. Nava cited California law involving the Public Records Act, noting that a government organization can withhold such information, but must provide a written justification.

“We will not discuss donor agreements,” Nava said via email. “Confidentiality of donor agreements is allowed by law, including the newly passed SB 8. Protecting donor confidentiality is our sole reason for declining to discuss this or any other donor agreement.”

Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 8, authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, that will make these organizations subject to the California Public Records Act as of Jan. 1. But, according to Yee’s chief of staff, university employees must turn over the information if they have it now, even if it originated with an auxiliary.

A university official confirmed that not all of the Spanos money had been collected, but declined to offer details.  

“We cannot discuss donor agreements,” said Carole Hayashino, vice president of University Advancement at the school. “We respect the privacy of our donors and want to encourage future donors to support our campus and students. We fully expect to receive the funds pledged to the university by the Spanos family.”

Spanos’ spokesperson Natalia Orfanos said the pledge was “a donation, not a debt.”

“It’s confidential between us and the university,” she said. “There’s nothing nefarious. I am a graduate of that school and I loved it.”

Capitol Weekly has requested copies of the gift agreement, as well as documents showing how much of the money had been collected.

“That we can’t get into,” university spokeswoman Kim Nava said. “But it was a pledge, and we are paying our bills. I know there was a schedule for that. This was all signed in the gift agreement. I don’t know what was confidential and what’s not.”

Nava was asked if the pledge agreement included the intention to pay a certain amount on an annual basis or set a date by which all the money was to have been paid.

“We cannot discuss specific donor agreements, nor can we disclose any private donor information. However, what I can tell you is that Sacramento State has policies and procedures in place to properly document and accept every gift and pledge to the university.”

However, disclosure requirements are tightening up.

Yee’s bill requires auxiliary organizations affiliated with public universities in California to be subject to the Public Records Act, the state’s main sunshine law. The bill was prompted by a speech given by Sarah Palin at the CSU Stanislaus campus last year, in which school officials declined to release Palin’s fee, which turned out to be $75,000.

“If you’re making the request of a public employee, and the public employee has that information, it’s subject [to the Public Records Act] now,” said Adam Keigwin, chief of staff to Yee, who has authored several bills seeking public access to university-linked fundraising. State employment records show that both Nava and Hayashino, as administrators working for Sacramento State, are public employees.

Sacramento State has been on a push to improve and expand its sports facilities in recent years. The team competes in the Big Sky conference, considered a lesser Division I athletic conference. But the football scored a major win when they defeated Oregon State University, a member of the far more prestigious Pac-12 conference, on the road on Sept. 3.

Meanwhile, students’ tuition has gone up on all California State University campuses. Sacramento State in particular has been plagued by complaints about the cost and availability of student parking.

The money crunch made the Spanos pledge that much more important.

The school announced his pledge with great fanfare in 2004, including a tribute video to Spanos shown at a fundraising gala at the Capitol attended by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and first lady Maria Shriver.

The gift also apparently helped inspire others, leading to a record $16.2 million in fundraising during the 2005-06 academic year.

“Many of the gifts were in support of the Alex G. Spanos Sports and Recreation Complex. They included the first $1 million of a $2 million leadership gift from philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad to build the Broad Athletic Facility. The facility, which the university broke ground for in August, is the first phase of the new sports complex,” reported the Sept. 18, 2006 issue of the Sacramento State Bulletin, a newsletter that goes out to faculty and staff.

Traditionally known as “The People’s University,” the California State University system has about 412,000 students. But the cost of attending one of the 23 campuses has gone up sharply in recent years.

After state support was cut by $650 million last year, the CSU Board of Regents voted to increase tuition 22 percent for the current school year, to $5,472 a year, or $6,422 including fees.

In April, several dozen students held a sit-in in a Sac State administration building. This was part of a protest at CSU campuses across the state organized by the California Faculty Association.

At Sacramento State, there has also been an ongoing issue of the cost and availability of student parking. The cost of a semester parking pass has gone up nearly 50 percent since the 2005-06 school year, from $108 then to $159 a semester this year.

Returning students reading the Sacramento State Hornet newspaper were greeted with the Aug. 29 story, “Parking wars return to Sac State.” It detailed lots filling up before 9 a.m. and long lines to buy daily permits.


Ed’s Note: This story was revised at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30, to clarify Sacramento State’s position on keeping the Spanos agreement confidential, 6th paragraph.

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