31 May 2006

Meeting notices for Oakland, San Jose

"Choose or Lose" is having an organizing meeting Wednesday at 5:30. It will be held at the Uptown Bar & Nightclub in Oakland. The purpose is to nail down the date for the group's first tailgate rally and other upcoming events. Unfortunately, I won't be there because...
... I'll be attending San Jose's Ballpark Economic Study, which runs from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday night. The session will be held at SJ City Hall, Council Wing, Room 120. Will it be truly academic or will it be an eye-rolling extravaganza? I'll report on it tomorrow.

25 May 2006

A familiar plan

Barry Witt's writeup of the A's-Quakes announcement has much more detail than the press release sent out by MLS on Wednesday. I've been looking for something more descriptive to indicate what Wolff and Co. were really aiming for, and the piece provides it.

A quote from the conference call, which was only open to the media:
"We think we have a concept of financing that's a little bit hybrid between public financing and private financing,'' Wolff said in a conference call.

"If a community or a jurisdiction or a joint-powers group could provide us with a path to a site, with whatever infrastructure and approvals are necessary, that's probably the most contribution we think we need in order to get the soccer venue done.''

If that sounds familiar, that's because Wolff has used similar verbiage to explain what the A's want for a ballpark site. That means a site with space for a stadium and ancillary development opportunities, preferably at a discounted rate. In Fremont, that means getting light industrial land and turning it around for a profit by virtue of building housing there. That's not a given in San Jose, so "land" might have a more traditional definition than what's happening in Fremont. A deal could have a cheap ground lease for city-owned stadium land, along with the A's having rights to develop surrounding land for residential and commercial uses. And you know what that means:

Soccer Village

A soccer stadium could cost only one-fourth as much as a ballpark, so conceivably, fewer housing units would need to sold and less land would have to be acquired. Keep in mind that privately-funded stadia aren't set up to pay for themselves, so some other revenue stream would have to be secured to take care of the mortgage. The good news is that this kind of plan could be accomplished at just about any of the previously discussed San Jose sites, though other factors may come into play. These factors include parking requirements, mass transit availability, and NIMBY issues.

Wolff seemed to dismiss the idea of Fremont having both a ballpark and a SSS. While co-location has its advantages in terms of cost consolidation, there may not be enough land at Pacific Commons to accommodate all of the pieces needed to put the ballpark village plan in motion. For instance, Fremont has a residential zone type R-3-70, which allows for up to 70 residential units per acre. Typically, high-rise residential towers are required to achieve that density. Fremont residents may not protest much to 3-4 story buildings like the ones going up in the middle of town, but in a place mostly bereft of high-rises, such a development plan could face significant opposition due to it straying from the scope of existing development. The most glaring example of this is Oracle's HQ complex in Redwood Shores. If zoning restricts the density of housing development, the plan would be expected to have the residential component take up a much larger share than high-rises would.

I look forward to the concepts 360 architecture is drawing up for the soccer stadium. Will they be somewhat generic and not site-specific like the August concept, or will they already have a site in mind and base the concept on that site's constraints?

24 May 2006

Choose or Lose event wrap-up

A late work-related appointment forced me to arrive late to the "Choose or Lose" event earlier tonight. Organizer Robert Limon assured me that I didn't miss anything. Two mayoral candidates were present: Nancy Nadel and Arnie Fields. Also on hand was OUSD board candidate Chris Dobbins, a teacher who started the Green Stampede Homework Club tutoring program. I counted 40-50 attendees, not bad for a nearly impromptu event.

Nadel had the most time at the dais, repeatedly fielding questions about City Hall's perceived inaction in keeping the A's. One-by-one, A's supporters pointed to the team's legacy and how the A's are woven into the fabric of the community. Nadel painted herself as "realistic," replying that the council was looking for either a site that could accomodate both a ballpark and ballpark village housing, or separate sites for each. She also warned finding a site was not easy because of the city's "built up" nature and the reluctance to use eminent domain. Near the end of her time on stage, she gave a rather ominous statement (paraphrased) to the keep-the-A's-in-Oakland crowd, "If you polled Oakland residents, you'd find that you'd be in the minority." This caused a bit a grumbling in the gallery, which gets me wondering - what if Oakland residents were polled? What would the results be?

Arnie Fields was next, proudly wearing an A's cap. He supported keeping the A's at the current Coliseum, with development around it spurred by a shuttle that operated between the BART station and the plaza between the stadium and arena. The shuttle would have its own guideway that would run parallel to the existing BART pedestrian bridge. Golf carts or similar vehicles would operate on this guideway, and it would be run by a community group, ideally including local youths. Fields would also support a waterfront (JLS) ballpark plan.

Two videotaped statements were made by Ron Dellums and Ignacio De La Fuente. Dellums repeated the "Don't break your pick" quote attributed to Lew Wolff in a previous conversation. He felt that the door an opportunity to keep the A's was "open, but not wide open." IDLF slyly said he's optimistic that the A's and Oakland can get a deal done "if the A's are sincere." Now that's a qualifier if I've ever heard one.

The best ideas seemed to come after the event officially ended, when Limon, several of the bleacher drummers, and other attendees had a little pow-wow to discuss future actions. Another rally-type event is tentatively scheduled for sometime in late June. Ways to raise the movement's media profile were discussed. The group piled on Nadel. I mentioned the ill-fated Broadway Auto Row proposal. The group's sense of frustration with local government was palpable. The good thing about all of this is that there is a movement afoot, and that it doesn't merely consist of putting up banners. It looks like pressure will be applied to pols and local media, though it will take some resourcefulness to come up with concrete plans and proposals. The bittersweet irony of the rally's location came to me as I left for the BART station. Across Telegraph Avenue sits the old Uptown site, once considered the great hope for an urban ballpark in Oakland.

23 May 2006

A's-Quakes announcement on Wednesday

Updated: The Merc's Dylan Hernandez wrote an article on the MLS-A's deal. The A's bought a three year option on the Quakes, contingent upon a new SSS (soccer-specific stadium). MLS prefers that the team start playing when a new stadium is ready, which probably wouldn't be until 2008-09 at the earliest. Long-suffering Quakes fans would obviously prefer a 2007 launch.

A small blurb in
Mychael Urban's beat article for and a report from both point to an announcement on Wednesday in which the A's involvement in Earthquakes v 3.0 will be made official. Details are scarce, which leads to some potentially wild speculation about the respective futures of both the Quakes and the A's. Some possibilities (none of which are confirmed):
  • Quakes play at Spartan Stadium starting in 2007 (under new management for the next couple of years), until Spartan is either replaced or revamped (with the A's help).
  • Quakes play at a new Fremont stadium near the A's future Fremont ballpark.
  • Quakes and A's share a stadium (unlikely due to demands by both MLS and MLB).
  • Quakes play at a new stadium at the Diridon South site.
  • Quakes play at a new stadium in Santa Clara, either at Mission College or near Great America.
  • Quakes play at a new stadium in the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.
  • Quakes play in Oakland?
In all of these cases, the Quakes' interim home would probably be Spartan Stadium while another facility is spec'ed out and built (there is no current development process underway for a soccer stadium).

A conference call held by MLS commissioner Don Garber is scheduled for Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. PDT.

Feeling Minnesota

A good amount of incoming e-mail about the Twins' new ballpark plan prompted me to write something about it. Until yesterday, I hadn't found anything interesting about the "circa-1996" type of financing plan:
  • The Twins' share is $130 million, one-quarter of the current estimated cost.
  • A Hennepin County sales tax hike of 0.15% will fund the remainder.
  • The ballpark will be located in the "Warehouse District," across I-394 from Target Center and next to HERC, the local garbage burning plant.
  • Other development is expected occur around the ballpark in a village concept called "Twinsville."
  • The $522 million total does not include a retractable roof. Such a roof could cost upwards of $100 million extra.
The lack of a roof brings to mind repeatedly cold Marches every season, though the novelty of outdoor baseball (not seen since the Met closed almost 25 years ago) should bring out plentiful crowds for at least the first few years. An interesting solution for the cold may come from HERC, which generates large amounts of heat when operating. There may be a way to pipe hot water from HERC into the stadium for heating the concrete seating risers. As heat is transferred, the water is cooled and returned to HERC to be reused. Building such a complicated system into the stadium design could prove quite costly, but it's an idea worth tossing around at the very least.

I figured the roof would be one of those "oh well, can't do anything about it now" signs of resignation, but it looks like the ballpark site's proximity to HERC may end up being a sort of double-edged sword. The site happens to be downwind from HERC. That prompted a smell study to understand if exhaust emanating during the summer months would cause problems. While the results of the study appeared to indicate that smell shouldn't be a problem, proof will come when games are actually played there. This bears a similarity to Fremont's Pacific Commons, where the ballpark is situated a couple of miles east (downwind) of the local garbage dump. I've eaten lunch around Pacific Commons many times and haven't smelled the dump myself, but I admittedly don't have a very sensitive nose.

21 May 2006

"Choose or Lose" forum on Tuesday

Robert Limon, a local community organizer and documentarian, has put together a unique event incorporating a mayoral forum and an opportunity for advocates for keeping the team in Oakland to voice their opinions. More details are in the press release:
Oakland Mayoral Candidates “Choose or Lose” the A’s at unique forum
Public invited to meet the next Mayor of Oakland, and express their opinion for documentary film.
OAKLAND, CA - Choose or Lose the Oakland A’s is a new community project based on giving EVERY Oakland/East Bay community member a chance to voice their opinion whether they “choose or lose” the A's. Bottom line: The Oakland community needs an outlet to express their perspective to keep the A's in Oakland (or not). This project kicks off with a Mayoral Community Forum on Tuesday, May 23, from 5:30-7:30 PM at the Uptown Bar and Nightclub, 1928 Telegraph (at 19th), in downtown Oakland.
“My friends and I have been frustrated that it is the 11th hour and we are very close to losing the Oakland A's, and our voices are not being heard by our leaders. My opinion, I think having a world-class championship sports team in our community is a fantastic community resource and asset that benefits our business and property values. I want to see a common sense solution invented by the brilliant minds of Oakland citizens and leaders to facilitate and implement the construction of a new stadium in Oakland. Now it’s YOUR turn to express your opinion on the future of the A’s in Oakland”, says Robert Limon, a lifelong Oakland community member and A's fan.
“Twenty years ago the SF Giants were threatening to leave San Francisco. Imagine how life would be for the SF Bay Area if they had left. Imagine the embarcadero and all of the positive economic developments that would not be there today had the Giants left,” said Bob Fratti, owner of the Uptown and host of this Mayoral event.
Show up and hear for yourselves as the next Mayor of Oakland states, for the record, if they “choose or lose” the A’s, and what they WILL or WON’T DO. Community members will also have the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates and express their own perspective to keep the A's in Oakland (or not). The community can participate in a documentary film where they will have 30 seconds to say their “Choose or Lose” the A’s message. No matter how it turns out, we all will know that our voices were heard.
Please advertise and cover this Mayoral Forum and Community event. Any and all assistance will be greatly appreciated. The event will begin promptly at 5:30 and will run until 7:30 PM at the Uptown, 1928 Telegraph Ave downtown Oakland. For more information, contact Robert Limon at 510-501-5811 or
I will definitely be there.

19 May 2006

Brace yourself

From Chris Metinko's Contra Costa Times article:
"I think there is something we are not being real about," Councilman Larry Reid said this morning at a meeting of the agency that runs the coliseum. "I think we need to plan and plan now for the A's leaving."
Before the usual back-and-forth starts, let's focus on the Coliseum Authority. It's a joint powers board made up of individuals representing Oakland and Alameda County. Their scope is limited, as is their domain. While the individual board members can come to the table representing their specific City or County districts, they're really working for the Coliseum in this capacity. Reid is unique in that his district includes the Coliseum.

The Coliseum complex's size is about 100 acres. On its borders are branches of a slough, commercial property that is soon to be developed, train tracks, and light industrial buildings. The Authority is already strained due to the staggering amount of debt raised to finance renovations to both the stadium and arena. It's extremely unlikely that the finance types from the City or County will approve additional debt.

At this point, the biggest chip they have is not in the form of a venue, it's the land surrounding those venues. Think of the complex as a candy bar with three pieces that can be broken off. As the Home Base (Coliseum South) property is developed and infill residential starts to encroach on the Coliseum, there will be pressure on the decision-makers to figure out a creative way to relieve the tax burden on County residents. The south parking lots could be the first to go as they're converted to some sort of mixed use village. The north lots would be next. In twenty years, the Coliseum could look vastly different from its current form.

For a recent example, check out Atlanta's Turner Field, where parking has almost disappeared due to development. Today's post on Anaheim highlighted how the city is trying to create a vibrant, "urban" entertainment center anchored by Angels Stadium and a new NFL stadium.

The issue here is what will the powers-that-be do with the land when the time comes? The leases for both the A's and Raiders end at about the same time, and both are looking for extensions just in case they can't get new digs ready in a few years. Say one-third of the land is redeveloped to help pay off the debt. Who gets the other slice? What would be built on it? The use of multilevel garages would no doubt negatively impact Raider Nation's habits. So would building a ballpark on the north lot. If the lots were kept as is to satisfy the Raiders' requirements, the A's would be shut out of the chance to build on the existing land, forcing a land deal elsewhere. And what of the Warriors? They can't be completely ignored in this, though their requirements are fewer than those of the A's and Raiders. The pols will have to choose, and it's not going to be pretty. I touched on this dilemma in February.

Why would the A's be the team to leave? It could be because the Authority doesn't have much invested in keeping the A's right now, whereas they have Mt. Davis and the Arena redo on the books. It could also be a matter of Wolff not really trying his hardest to keep the A's in Oakland. It could be that the Raiders and the Authority have some unannounced plans for the future of the Coliseum. Whatever the case, the A's have the easiest exit strategy of the three tenants in the complex, and it's clear that Wolff is taking advantage.

Anaheim ballpark housing drawing interest

An article in Thursday's Orange County Register describes the high demand for new condos being built near Angel Stadium in Anaheim. The first of these developments, Stadium Lofts, has 4,000 inquiries for its 390 units. It's aroused so much interest that Stadium Lofts switched from being an apartment (lease) complex to a condo (buy) complex.

For Anaheim, a city that has typified Southern California suburbia, the interest in this infill housing has to be encouraging. Many interested parties like the area's walking distance proximity to Angel Stadium. Developers caution that as more housing is built in the area, demand should drop, though that should be to market levels. Nearly 8000 units are planned for the Platinum Triangle area, some of which should open later this later.

One thing to note about these plans: One part of the A-Town project will have 2,681 units on just over 40 acres, many in high-rise towers. That's a good benchmark for the Fremont project, since housing and parking could end up duking it out for available space.

18 May 2006

SJ's PG&E bill: $30.8 million

And so the price tag goes up on the Diridon South site acquisition. Not that it wasn't expected to expensive. But to put it in perspective, in Barry Witt's Merc article the city is spending $17.6 million on three acres. The PG&E substation site takes up only 1.25 acres. Unfortunately, it is a crucial 1.25 acres, since it provides extra width to fully accommodate a ballpark, even a smaller 35,000-seat design.

If the land were not acquired, the ballpark could be reconfigured with a short right field porch a la AT&T Park. The substation provides power to Willow Glen and portions of downtown, so it can't be eliminated. It would have to either be moved to the south end of the fire training center on the other side of Park Ave, or it would have to be reconfigured to run north-south along the railroad tracks that front the western border of the site. Due to restrictions in the types of equipment that have to be used and arranged, and the need for vehicular access, the reconfiguration can only go so far. Depending on what the available land would be, this may be the best option because at $21.6 million it's cheaper than the full relocation, and the land to the south would remain available for a park.

Regardless of how the PG&E substation is addressed, it would have to be the last acquisition to complete the site due to its substantial cost. Should the A's stay in Oakland or move to Fremont or elsewhere in the East Bay, the site would be made available for housing, based on the original Diridon/Arena plan. Soccer supporters had rallied to get the site considered for a new Earthquakes' stadium, but that would require a different EIR to be drafted.

16 May 2006

Now I think I get it

Tonight's post comes from Section 241 (Plaza Reserved), in the upper tier. More noise measurements, though I'm certain the results are getting skewed by the suites that hang over these seats, creating some solid reverb. In any case, here are some results:
  • Typical ambient noise without drums: 72 dB
  • Typical ambient noise with drums: 75 dB
  • Typical batter intro: 83 dB
  • Melhuse grand slam: 102 dB
  • Swisher 2-run bomb: 96 dB
I had recently bought a 12-pack of Diet Pepsi that happened to have those specially marked cans offering Plaza Reserved seats for $5. I figured I needed to get a set of noise measurements from dead center, so here I am. To my surprise, a group was occupying the choice seats, and the ticket guy nearly laughed when I asked for "anywhere in the front-row, sections 240-242."

When I found that my seat had already been taken, I decided to move up a few rows and stretch out. Beneath me in the better seats were a few hundred folks, all in a large group. They all came early and got their oh-so-ironic Big Hurt jerseys, and they were quite an enthusiastic bunch. Many of them went back and forth from the East Side Club, where beer and food were available.

Then it dawned on me: group sales has to be a big reason for the third deck closure. In the past groups were relegated to the BBQ Plazas or Terraces (AN Day), the Skyview Terrace suites, luxury suites, or simply a bunch of seats that were in a contiguous set (Fremont Day). The advantage of these seats over the third deck is the rather lavish staging area immediately behind them, the East Side Club. ESC has been underutilized because of its location and the fact that the A's usually didn't sell those seats except when demand was high. For group sales, it makes a ton of sense because it provides amenities that aren't available anywhere else in the stadium, coupled with inexpensive seats. If you've gone to one of these company gigs, you know that the location doesn't really matter a whole lot - you're not trying to impress clients with a suite or club seats, you're trying to boost morale among your employees.

By closing the third deck, the A's could provide a fairly compelling option that fills a need that new stadia address automatically: the party deck. The group seemed to be having a good time (it doesn't hurt that the A's are up 12-2 going into the 8th inning). It will certainly help their marketing operations, since they'll have a decent gauge of how well they sell to small, medium, and large groups. Busch Stadium and Petco Park have capitalized on this by building in such accommodations. At Busch, the Cards elected to build fewer luxury suites and more party suties to cater to groups. At Petco, an entire floor of the Western Metal Supply building can be rented, or it can be split into two or three suites.

You may remember this rendering from a few months ago:

In both the LF and RF corners, below the luxury suites, are what have to be party suites. Why put those there? If you were here tonight, you'd see why: the upper tier of Field Level sections 101-103 and 131-133 are completely empty. Just as apartment buildings get converted to condos, it makes sense to convert these seats into a more sellable space. Such is the nature of a party suite or deck.

15 May 2006

Anaheim beats A's to the punch

Lew Wolff's concept of a ballpark village is about to look less innovative as housing giant Lennar and the city of Anaheim are about to embark on a massive mixed development project immediately to the west of Angel Stadium. According to a fresh-off-the-wire press release, the development will encompass 54.1 acres with up to 3,813 homes and nearly 200,000 square feet of retail/commercial space. The release claims that the project will be "Orange County's LARGEST urban redevelopment and FIRST downtown American ballpark community!"

The first thing that hits is the name: A-Town. I feel mildly offended since the Angels have been using the "A-Team" moniker informally for some time, yet there's only one true team called the A's. In actuality, it's a clever, ambiguous name. People can associate the project with the Angels or Anaheim, which could be convenient if Angels owner Arte Moreno follows through on his off-in-the-distance threat to move the team (which is highly unlikely).

The devil is in the details. To build the project, 54 acres of light industrial land called the "Platinum Triangle" is being cleared out and rezoned. Does that sound familiar to anyone? In this case, the Angels aren't involved in getting the project built. They apparently aren't partnering with anyone either (based on reports I've read so far) so they wouldn't see the proceeds, as the A's would for their ballpark village plan.

In essence, the project is simply infill housing with a "ballpark" brand affixed to it. The City of Anaheim has other infill projects in the works. The towers being built near AT&T Park make mention of their proximity to the ballpark, but don't use it as a chief selling point. Padres' owner John Moores bought much of the land surrounding Petco Park to build his hotels and condos. A-Town has some interesting similarities to what Wolff has envisioned. Conceptually, it's not as thorough since direct links to the team aren't there, but it should provide a reference point for those looking to keep track of such projects.

Merc poll: SJ residents say no to public funds for baseball

Among other election-related items, respondents to a recent poll commissioned by the Merc were asked how they felt about the city spending public money to bring MLB to San Jose. The results were negative in a landslide: 53.6% were against the idea, while 32.1% were for it.

The San Jose effort has been marred by three specific issues:
  • The Gonzales stench. The decidedly unpopular mayor (26.7% approval) publicly campaigned on behalf of the city over a year ago at spring training (the misspelling incident). He tried to have a ballot measure for a ballpark scheduled for November's general election (bad move, quickly dismissed). He now believes that his successor should figure out a way to avoid a public vote. That won't happen even if City Hall were scandal-free.
  • Dissent in the ranks. Baseball San Jose is made up of numerous civic and business leaders. Sometime after the Selig visit in September, the group became somewhat fractured as there was no consensus built about how to further pursue the A's. Some wanted to keep a low profile in keeping with Bud Selig's typical M.O. Some wanted to directly challenge the Giants and MLB. Others wanted to retreat and regroup - waiting for an opportunity to arise when efforts in Alameda County failed. BBSJ's website went dark and so went the best outreach arm the effort had. Few BBSJ members showed up at the publich outreach meetings. Any chance they had to shape the dialogue with the public was lost. On the political side, there are two mayoral candidates (Michael Mulcahy and Dave Cortese) who happen to be BBSJ leaders that are campaigning against each other. They may be splitting the pro-baseball vote, with Cindy Chavez getting a small portion as well.
  • No sizzle, no steak either. The city has been hamstrung by its inability to engage directly in a dialogue with the A's. Sure, San Jose leaders see and talk to Wolff frequently (because he is one of them after all), but the territorial rights issue has effectively put up a soundproof glass wall between them and the A's. As long as there is no dialogue, no substantive ballpark plan - with ancillary development - can be debated. It's unknown what the public's share would be beyond the land acquisition. It may very well be that if the poll respondents were answering a question more along the lines of, "Would you support the acquisition of land for a baseball team as long as there were no other public expenditures to get a ballpark built?" it might be a completely different result. The city has its hands tied because it can't explain the economic side of a ballpark concept.
Does this mean that the San Jose ballpark plan is dead? No, because things can change rapidly. San Jose is stuck being "Plan C" (if Oakland were "Plan A" and Fremont "Plan B") and there's very little it can do about it. Should the Fremont plan move forward and result in a ballpark, the San Jose effort (at least the $700K spent on the EIR) would be rendered moot. At least they'll be able to recoup redevelopment's land grab by selling off the property for housing. Should Fremont collapse and if Oakland and the A's aren't able to put a workable proposal together, San Jose could move to the forefront. Some would argue that was Wolff's plan all along. Considering the bullet points above, I have to respectfully disagree.

14 May 2006

Fremont website recognized + Wolff speaks

Chris De Benedetti of the Fremont Argus wrote about the A's Baseball to Fremont website and the effort behind it. There's a comment from Cindy Bonior, head of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce:
"It's been a slow process because the city warned us the A's are obligated to work with (Oakland)," Bonior said. "We're looking to be more vocal. We're just waiting for the right time."
For those who were wondering why we took so long to get the Fremont site going, that's a big reason.

Wolff also showed up in the booth at today's A's-Yankees game to talk stadium and development. He also said there's no news, but he gave insight into how long it would take to develop the ballpark.
Kuiper: What has made the Fremont site so attractive to you?
Wolff: One of the things is the size of the land. As you know, land is scarce. We had a friendly welcome in Fremont, we had one in Oakland too... The economics of the ballpark village will pay for the ballpark... We're going to need a lot of help from the city and the county.

Fosse: How long will it take to get started?
Wolff: It'll take a year to design it and get a building permit. I'd say that it'd take two to two-and-a-half years to start building. It might take a year-and-a-half to get it built... There's an environmental impact report on the site already. If we can get a revised report (instead of a new one), we can take six months off the time required.

Fosse: Talk about the luxury suites.
Wolff: We'll have 40 4-person suites at the 15th row. We'll also have regular suites. The suites will be packed with technology.

: What will these 4-person suites look like?
Wolff: Behind it will be a private area for bathrooms and food. It looks pretty neat from the drawings we have... The 18 to 20-person suites require a (huge base). If you have a law firm or a family, the 4-person suite makes a lot more sense... Milwaukee is the worst at selling suites, and we found out that the type most in demand there are those smaller suites.

Fosse: Will it be "underground" or above ground?
Wolff: It'll be above ground. (Note: This is probably due to the location's low elevation - 27 feet above sea level - which makes it susceptible to tidal flows.)
What's unclear to me is why it would take so long after the the team gets the permit. There's no demolition or remediation that would need to be done on the site. It might take a few months to get it ready, but since it wouldn't be a sunken field, there wouldn't be a significant amount of excavation. I'll have to defer to the people in the know on this one.

If that timeline is right, the ballpark could open in 2011 or 2012 at the earliest. That would coincide with the A's desire for a Coliseum lease extension to 2013.
The San Diego Union-Tribune has an eye-opening report on how the sports industry cooks attendance figures. Sometimes I wonder if the multiple choice "You Guess The Attendance" bit done near the end of games is a matter of guesswork for the A's front office. The article lends credence to the idea, though I've been able to guess the Coliseum's attendance within 1,000 most of the time based on who shows up by the 4th inning.

11 May 2006

China Basin noise study

Two nights ago I hung out around the perimeter of AT&T Park. While I was disappointed in the numerous empty seats, the noise promised to be especially heavy for Barry Bonds as he attempted to tie the Babe. When Juan Pierre robbed Bonds on his shot to deep center, the circumstances were perfect. More on that in a bit.

Many of AT&T Park's signature elements make it a poor design for placement into a residential neighborhood. Chief among them is the open outfield design. Still, when San Jose looked around for a ballpark study, they went with AT&T Park design firm HOK. The sketches in the EIR had the ballpark oriented east-northeast (similar to the Coliseum's orientation), with large open spaces beyond the outfield walls. The resemblance is rather uncanny:

The grandstand shape (beneath the foul lines) is virtually the same. There's more space in right field for seating since there's no pesky body of water in the way, but otherwise it's a pretty good copy. That's good for skyline views, bad for containing noise. The noise contour sketch shows noise spilling further out past the right field fence as opposed to the left field fence. This may be due to the grandstand's shape. In the left field corner, the grandstand and the roof above the upper deck make a near right angle turn towards the foul pole. In right field, no such grandstand turn exists, allowing the noise to escape unabated. The SJ design has a two levels of seating beyond the right field fence, but it's not nearly as tall as the grandstand and doesn't have a roof. More noise would escape over the top of those seats during games.

To test the assumptions made in drawing up the contour, I monitored noise levels from three points outside AT&T Park. The top picture depicts those three points:
  • 1 - The promenade or knothole area along McCovey Cove. I was at the railing, approximately 200 feet from the center of the stadium.
  • 2 - The other side of McCovey Cove, near Willie Mac's statue. This location was approximately 800 feet from the center of the stadium.
  • 3 - The South Beach Harbor playground, near the funky sculpture that looks like a big red compass. This location is also approximately 800 feet from the center of the stadium.
The distances are important, because sound loss is based on distance. With every doubling of distance from a sound source, there is a loss of 6 dB. In reality the loss may be more like 3-4 dB because sound can bounce off the ground and other surfaces without being absorbed. Accoding to most documentation I've read, a drop of 3-4 dB is barely detectable. Keep increasing the distance and it adds up. A loss of 10 dB means that a sound is half as loud. Drop 20 dB and it's only one-fourth as loud. (This also works in the opposite direction, so a 20 dB gain equates to four times the loudness.)

Baselines were set around the perimeter of the ballpark. At the intersection of King and Third Streets (Willie Mays Plaza), ambient noise was usually 65 dB, though traffic or MUNI Metro trains could cause the meter to spike 10 dB or more. At point #1, the typical ambient noise (uninterrupted by the PA, music, or loud cheering) was 72 dB - the volume of a running vacuum cleaner. Below is a table showing readings taken at various times during the game. Margin of error is plus/minus 3 dB.

Notice how the readings from point #3 are uniformly, consistently lower than the readings from point #2 even though they're the same distance away from the source. The grandstand (and the attached ramp) appears to have really shown its absorption capacity, and that's only partial containment. Additional noise mitigation could be achieved by further enclosing the structure. I'm not talking about building Mt. Davis. It would be more akin to the outfield seats built in San Diego, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Sacrifices would have to be made regarding the skyline views. Is such a compromise worth it? Maybe not. Then again, if the final design resembles the 360 architecture concept, those outfield structures (hotel, party suites, condos) will reduce noise leakage just by being there. They'll also restrict the view - just by being there.

10 May 2006

Newhouse: Oakland needs to step up

The Trib's Dave Newhouse presents the City of Oakland with a challenge in today's column: Show us the site. And by "us" he doesn't just mean the A's or the media - he means all of A's fandom. Unlike his colleague Art Spander, Newhouse finds Wolff relatively trustworthy:
Lew Wolff's at the plate, and he wants your best pitch, Oakland. Or any pitch. Perhaps a mystery pitch, because he's plenty mystified. Anyway, it's up to you, Oakland. Wolff hasn't changed his stance.
Newhouse then starts to turn the screws:
Oakland talks, but like Loaiza so far, it doesn't deliver consistently or accurately. And Wolff, unlike his predecessor in the owners' box, is willing to foot the entire bill for a new park, which is a $450 million check minus the tip. He just wants some help with, say, environmental issues. And a good price on the land would help, too.
But if it can be done in Fremont, why can't it be done in Oakland? It can if Oakland would stop hurling junk and come in with a high heater that would not only brush back Fremont but also drive it out of the box.
Funny how Loaiza keeps coming up (my fault there). Credit goes to Newhouse for asking the question. There's an air of resignation in the East Bay, yet there are Oakland proponents that insist that there's a solution out there that for whatever reason isn't being publicized (Wolff's supposed reluctance to deal with Oakland is often cited). Rumors are floating around about two or three sites being considered at City Hall. And Ron Dellums may know of others that are working on their own plan. It's time to publicize. You can't get the public to rally behind something they know nothing about. If Wolff is challenging the city, then the city should challenge him right back.

09 May 2006

Fremont website/survey up + The missing argument

The A's Baseball to Fremont website is up, folks! There isn't much there yet, but there are links to a survey and a bulletin board. As more information becomes available about transportation options and the plan itself, the site will be the place to go for information. Also, please take a look at the site's mission statement. There is no blanket endorsement of the A's moving to Fremont yet, and there won't be until greater detail is released. Note on the survey: 59 responses came from a single Comcast IP address (yes, I get that information). I haven't blocked anyone out because I'd like to see all survey feedback, but any abuse of the survey will be handled quickly and vigorously. So far the tally among mostly Fremont-based respondents is 60% positive, 40% negative.

An article in today's CoCo Times compiles feedback from fans, pols, and economists on the A's possible move to Fremont. Ignacio De La Fuente gives his usual unproductive statement, while Larry Reid all but starts up the moving vans - which is sad, considering Reid was the guy who said he'd stake his political career on the August plan.

Andrew Zimbalist opines that the A's departure from Oakland wouldn't have a significant impact on Oakland's economy. This is probably true, since the only money the city got from the A's was the small, yearly rent check. If the impact of the A's departure were compared to the prospect of an A's stadium in downtown Oakland, it could be significant. However, that's not a black-and-white issue either, since any positive impact in Oakland would have to be weighed against public costs (funding if necessary) and opportunity costs (what could be built in its place). I have to give credit to Wolff for not trotting out the "economic development" argument much during his quest. The only time he really used it was during his Coliseum North presentation. Statements about the Fremont deal have had little to do with benefits; they've been more about paying for the ballpark.

06 May 2006

Oakland mayoral candidates talk up the A's

Dave Newhouse's new column in the Oakland Tribune profiles the three mayoral candidates with respect to their stance on the A's. Newhouse stays away from giving an endorsement here, and I don't blame him. While all three express their interest in keeping the A's, none of them given any details as to how it would be done:

De La Fuente believes a site can be found in Oakland. He has two or three in mind that he won't disclose. But he's confident the A's will sign a lease extension, which gives Oakland more time.

After talking to Wolff, Dellums said, "I found him a very honest, refreshing, candid person. What he said to me was, 'Don't break your pick on this one. You've got other priorities.' I thought I heard him very clearly."

Very clearly: Ground won't be broken on a new ballpark in Oakland.

However, Dellums added there is a group "working very diligently" on a new location in Oakland now that the downtown site and the 66th Avenue site across from the Coliseum Complex appear buried in the dead stadium file.

The only place I can see it being done in Oakland is the Broadway Auto Row site, but maybe I don't see something that makes more sense because I'm not an Oakland resident, and therefore not as familiar with the city as some. Of course, if Broadway Auto Row is a legitimate site, Nancy Nadel will have to be won over.

I mentioned on an AN diary that it couldn't hurt Ignacio De La Fuente to appeal more openly to A's fans in Oakland. Though the A's have trumpeted the notion that Oakland is not out of the running, the timing of the A's plans has allowed certain circumstances - development sites disappearing - to grease the skids out of town.

Complaints, comments pile up for SJ EIR

Extending the comment period for San Jose's Ballpark Draft EIR to last Thursday fairly allowed for a much greater amount of time for neighborhood residents and interests to properly review the document. Again, the traffic and parking estimates were roundly assailed as unrealistic or incomplete given the nature of event traffic. If you're interested in understanding the tenor of these comments, I refer you to the recap of the first outreach meeting.

Now it's come out the the Sharks have expressed concerns about the ballpark plan. From the Saturday Merc's Barry Witt article:
A consultant for the Sharks wrote that the report "does not demonstrate that the baseball stadium can be developed without causing significant negative traffic or parking impacts on HP Pavilion.'' Among other complaints, the Sharks questioned a conclusion that wider sidewalks near the ballpark would help keep large numbers of people walking toward games from tying up vehicle traffic.
This may be the Sharks' way of saying "This town ain't big enough for the both of us." It could also be a way of the Sharks' trying to get concessions out of the ballpark plan. Look at the graphic below (taken from the EIR, click for a more expansive version) and you'll see why.

The dotted gold line represents a boundary 1/3mile away from the ballpark site. If you've frequented HP Pavilion, you'll see that the parking that exists there is the exact same parking that would be claimed for the ballpark. As the SJWC lot is developed, parking there would be at least temporarily impacted, making it difficult in the near term to fulfill the city's obligation to provide at least 6,650 spaces within 1/2 mile of the arena. The numbers on the map also tend to be misleading because not all parking lots and garages are used the same. Adobe, for instance, doesn't allow event parking in their existing garages because of security concerns. If Adobe goes ahead and builds another set of office towers on the SJWC east lot, how can Pavilion management and the city convince Adobe that it's safe to allow event parking?

Should the city proceed with plans to redevelop the area between the arena and the proposed ballpark, even more parking would be reduced. The parking lots immediately to the east of Diridon Station are generally full during the weekdays because of commuters taking Caltrain and downtown workers, who use the lots as cheap all-day parking (they get a free shuttle that takes them downtown).

Complicating matters even further are the possibility that Diridon will become a major transit hub in the future. The station already services Caltrain, ACE, Amtrak, and VTA light rail. A BART station is planned for the area, and should high speed rail become a reality, Diridon will serve as either a terminal or hub station. Add all of that demand up and it would seem absolutely essential for additional parking to be built - not just for a specific interest such as HP Pavilion, but to properly accommodate all of the different services that are supposed to be built there in the next 10-20 years. That's not even including the ballpark's several thousand spaces or the requirements of high-density residential that could be built in the area.

San Jose desperately needs to have open, frank discussions with residents about its plans for Greater Downtown. The infrastructure that's currently in place is not going to cut it, and if city leaders want to build more infill housing, greater commercial opportunities, or entertainment options like a ballpark, it can't be assumed that existing resources will even come close to satisfying the needs of each project.

One thing that might be a saving grace for San Jose could the influx of mass transit options. The expected impact of greater development would eventually dissuade many from driving downtown. While redevelopment and planning officials referred to this, they didn't give many details. It would make sense for city planners to allot for 3,000-5,000 additional spaces (that's 6,000-10,000 total) on both sides of Hwy 87 to properly accommodate increased demand for commuters, downtown workers, entertainment seekers, and residents. This can't happen until a Greater Downtown development document is discussed and written.

I haven't gotten into the traffic problems. I'll let Marc Morris's traffic comments handle that. And the residents of the Shasta/Hanchett and Delmas Park neighborhoods are rightfully concerned, though I still believe that there are mitigation measures for them that can significantly reduce impacts to them.

04 May 2006

Another try for the Olympics

Yesterday San Francisco made the list of five finalists for the US Olympic Committee's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The others are Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Notably absent is New York City, winner of the 2012 bid that eventually lost to London. USOC officials are scheduled to visit San Francisco for two hours on the afternoon of May 18, after first visiting LA in the morning. BASOC has a press release touting great business support throughout the region.

The debates that surrounded the last organizing effort at times highlighted how fractured and territorial the Bay Area is. There was criticism that the too many venues were centered in Stanford, not in San Francisco. The idea of bringing BART all the way around the Bay was also heavily debated, just as it still is today with the BART-to-San Jose effort. Plus there's always a question about whether or not hosting the Olympics is just a gigantic pork barrel project.

What should be interesting is how the SF bid will look once it's available to the public. Many things have changed since November 2002, when NYC narrowly beat SF in what shouldn't have been considered a shocker (post-9/11 patriotism), but was a shocker nonetheless. Among the changes:
  • Stanford Stadium, which was going to be rebuilt as the centerpiece Olympic Stadium, is being converted to a much smaller, 50,000-seat, football-specific venue. It could be a great soccer stadium for the Games, but it won't handle much else.
  • Where would the new Olympic Stadium be built? Would it be the 49ers' new stadium? The Candlestick Point/Lennar development could be shaped to fit a Stadium/Olympic Village concept.
  • Baseball and softball have been, for the time being, taken off the Olympic competition list. That would render AT&T Park and a future A's ballpark useless, unless both were used for other field sports such as soccer or field hockey, or unless the IOC were petitioned to bring the sports back into the fold.
  • An extensive plan was in place to develop Moffett Field into the Olympic Village. Since then Moffett has been split into multiple uses: consolidated military housing run by the Army, Air National Guard post, expanded NASA center, Google-plex. Would the Olympic Village even be feasible at Moffett at this point? And could someone figure out what to do with Hangar One?
  • The 2012 bid had beach volleyball at Edwards Stadium at Cal. Since we're conveniently located on the Pacific, how about having beach volleyball on, I don't know, an actual beach like Santa Cruz Main Beach or Ocean Beach in SF?
  • The tennis venue would not be at an existing facility, such as Taube Family Stadium at Stanford. A new complex would be built at Mission College (not sure how this would go over with my parents, who live in Sunnyvale less than a mile from the site).

Not to belabor the points, but the keys to this bid have to be the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Village. It would be best to place them in areas that are easily accessible by mass transit (BART or the very least MUNI or VTA light rail), yet are also easy to secure. Either Candlestick Point (if someone can figure out how to keep the place warm at night during the summer) or the Coliseum complex could be good candidates. Either way it would be expensive. A track stadium does not have preferable design characteristics for a NFL stadium, so it would have to be designed to temporarily accommodate the Olympics and permanently handle football. However, it would appear that such construction would be the only truly significant project to undertake, which, relative to what's been done at previous Olympics in Atlanta and Salt Lake, would be peanuts. Many of the area's venues have been built, recently renovated, or are undergoing renovation. This includes Stanford Stadium and Maples Pavilion on the Farm, and Memorial Stadium and Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.

That leaves the transportation problem. Several issues abound there - even if Santa Clara County Measure A passed in June, there'd be a big scramble to get BART up and running by the time the Olympics began. Caltrain would absolutely have to be electrified to make it efficient enough to provide the number of Peninsula trips that would be required. There'd be a few venues spread out in places like Napa and Sacramento, but those are for more genteel pursuits like equestrian events or niche water sports like canoeing and kayaking. How would the region deal with the traffic? Would BART run 24/7? Caltrain?

The Olympics' possible effects on the A's? Probably nil.

03 May 2006

A traffic snapshot

Before I left work today, I went to 511 and took a quick snapshot of the East Bay traffic scene. The typical choke points were heavy as usual, except for greater traffic near the Coliseum due to tonight's game (click the pic for a larger version).

SFGate A's blogger Vlae Kershner picked up on the snake-mongoose vibe between me and drummer510 through our traffic-related posts from a couple of days ago. That makes this snapshot a good illustration of where the problem doesn't lie. 880 South from San Leandro on down is pretty clear, with an expected slowdown at the 92 interchange and another one at Mowry Ave in Newark. 680 south has a couple of short bad spots near Danville and Walnut Creek, while everything from the 580 interchange south is smooth sailing. 238 is acting like 238 does, so a detour from 580 along Fairmount/Hesperian would be in order.

From the South Bay, 880 is remarkably clear coming towards the ballpark (the pink "X"), while 680 has its usual backup as it approaches Mission Blvd/262, a few miles before the Sunol Grade. 237 eastbound is in better shape than usual. And from the Peninsula, both the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges are fairly congestion free, at least until they reach 880.

Periodically, I'll take other snapshots of this reverse commute and of the journey into Downtown San Jose.

02 May 2006

A's SuperStation: A Missed Opportunity

With all of the upheaval happening in cable and broadcast television, it can be difficult to keep track of the casualties. Take for instance the once-fledgling networks, UPN and WB. Both thought they could be the next FOX by following the FOX blueprint of making shows for specific target audiences. In UPN's case the audience was blacks, followed by sci-fi. For WB, the target was the under-30 crowd. The failure of both experiments was finally made clear as parent companies Warner and Viacom announced a joint venture that would bring the best of the two networks together. The new network will be called CW, a nod to its Warner and CBS/Viacom roots. Its target audience will once again be young people, evidenced by its holding onto UPN's WWE franchise and several WB dramas.

Most of the stations that will make the switch to CW are currently WB affiliates. This is not the case in the Bay Area, where current UPN station KBHK-44 will be the local CW affliate. Moreover, FOX's recently announced and also youth-oriented My Network TV will appear on stations around the country formerly occupied by UPN/WB. The Bay Area is an exception in this case too, as KRON-4, once the proud local NBC affiliate, will carry My Network TV's limited (and based on KRON's existing programming, anti-KRON) lineup.

So what's to become of KBWB, the current WB-20 (formerly KOFY)? Parent company Granite Broadcasting had its earnings call today, and it announced that KBWB and WDWB-Detroit will be sold to a consortium of investment groups (including at least one hedge fund) for $150 million. KBWB and WDWB were supposed to be sold last year to a group that included several Granite shareholders, but the CW announcement effectively killed the sale so no network would be affiliated. In 1998, former station owner James Gabbert (does anyone remember the subliminal message scandal from several years back?) sold KOFY for $170 million to Granite, which immediately changed the call letters to KBWB. According to WDWB's Wiki entry, Granite is in danger of default (though it's not clear if the default is for either station or both), so it makes sense that the deal was for cash.

This looked like a unique opportunity for certain Bay Area investors if they felt emboldened by their $54 million equity gain (hint hint). There were several advantages for the A's if they acquired or partnered in acquiring KBWB:
  • They'd be able to finally quell criticism about poor signal emanating from KICU-36. KBWB's transmitter is on the always centrally located Mt Sutro, not in Fremont (KICU's current locale) or near Loma Prieta (KICU's former locale).
  • In future arrangements, the team would have full control over how many games could be on KBWB, as opposed to either FSN Bay Area or Comcast Sportsnet. The A's would finally have their own broadcasting megaphone, which should automatically give them some leverage over the regional sports networks (RSN's) and cable operators. They could also exercise a "convenient" revenue agreement between the team and station, the kind KTVU-2 and the Giants supposedly enjoy.
  • The entry price could be extraordinarily low, especially compared to the $700 million Young Broadcasting paid to buy KRON.
  • The A's would avoid the subscriber-carry problems that come with starting up a RSN.
  • The A's would immediately have a larger audience for advertisers than with a cable network relegated to digital-only, as CSN and FSN+ currently are.
  • An agreement could be put together starting in, say, 2011, in which Bay Area broadcasts would be handled by KBWB while Sacramento and the Central Valley would have broadcasts on CSN.
  • Control over the station would allow them to do more brand-building exercises, such as game replays or capsules (FSN did these a while back), or extended or more frequent pre-game shows. AN TV anyone?
  • In 2004, Granite invested in a DTV setup to replace the station's old analog equipment. That means the station is able to do HDTV out of the box, and they'd have the potential for two additional digital channels (AN TV anyone?). More HD broadcasts of A's games can't be a bad thing.
  • Should the A's really go after a MLS franchise, they'd immediately have a local broadcasting platform that MLS would kill for.
  • By including the station in the A's ownership group's holdings, franchise value could go up significantly, perhaps as much as it would once a new ballpark is up and running.
  • Success gained in the local television market should lead to the radio market opening up nicely for the A's.
Obviously, there are caveats to such an acquisition. Programming an independent station outside of the sports programming tends to be a crapshoot these days, with the virtually unlimited number of syndicated shows - especially crappy shows that really don't deserve to be in syndication. There are existing broadcasting agreements that would have to expire before the A's could get really aggressive with their own network. They'll have to hire industry veterans that know how to run stations - they could keep KBWB's staff intact. The A's have a long road towards proving themselves a worthwhile ratings performer on TV. And a "free" TV station wouldn't net the handsome subscriber fees a cable-based RSN would. The price would have been $75 million for the KBWB. It's easy for me to judge when it's not my money, but $75 million doesn't sound like a large amount when one considers the potential above.

Think about it. Wouldn't this have been a great way to enter the media market and solidify the A's presence? Would it not be a huge paradigm shift, moving from being a team with little leverage over its broadcasting future to one with potentially enormous leverage? If the A's were surveying the market, they should have been aware of the possibilities. Did they show any interest? I intend to find out.

01 May 2006

Fremont's traffic situation

When news about the Pacific Commons location came out weeks ago, one of the chief complaints was related to traffic. The idea was that a Fremont-based ballpark would only exacerbate existing commute problems. However, I am here to tell you today that most of that claim is wrong.

Before I go further into "why" it's important to understand how the commute through South Fremont compares to others in the Bay Area. Throughout the dot-com boom era, the routes from Alameda and Contra Costa Counties into Silicon Valley were nearly unbearable. With the bust came relief for many commuters, enough that no part of the East Bay-South Bay commute is on MTC's Top Ten list. That's not to say the area isn't congested - it definitely is - but the picture of gridlock many have painted simply isn't there. It should continue to get better as additional improvements are made in the area. Among these changes:

  • Widening 880 between Mission Blvd (262) and 237. A revamped 880/237 interchange has helped to get commute traffic better separated from Milpitas local traffic, but it's the widening of 880 that will have truly significant effects.

    The diagram above shows the existing bottleneck on the left. Three lanes to handle converging traffic is a recipe for delay. Once widening is completed, 680-based/bound and HOV traffic will be separated from the existing north/south flow. Of course, that relief won't be fully realized until the...

  • Completion of the 880/Mission Blvd interchange. Scheduled for opening in 2008, this new interchange will solve two big traffic problems by providing a direct route for 680-based/bound traffic and by offering a separate exit ramp for local traffic, which according to ACTA, accounts for 45% of the area's congestion. Clearly, the original designers of the interchange had no idea that so much development would spring up around South Fremont.



    There will still be an issue in routing HOV traffic from 880 to 680, but solutions for that issue are in planning stages as well.

The 880/Mission construction project also causes a southbound bottleneck in the afternoon. Once completed, this should be eliminated since traffic is not particularly heavy at that time and in that direction. Along the 880 corridor, the 880/92 interchange would be the one remaining bottleneck. On 680, traffic should be fairly smooth, except perhaps for the area near 580 and Stoneridge.

The end result would be that if you're driving to Fremont from elsewhere in the East Bay for an A's game, you shouldn't be adversely impacted. If you're coming from the South Bay, you'll have to contend with an existing commute backup, but one that will be made much more bearable with the improvements that should be completed well before a first pitch is thrown in a Pacific Commons ballpark. If you're coming from the Peninsula, you'll still have to contend with a bridge.