20 June 2006

Estuary plan moves forward

After a long give-and-take process between developer Signature Properties and Oakland-based environmental and affordable housing groups, the long-awaited Estuary (Oak-to-Ninth) development appears to be moving forward. Only a city council vote next Tuesday remains, and once that happens, you can officially cross one more site (one touted by Ignacio De La Fuente last year) off the list.

I was excited by the Estuary site last year as well, at least until I understood the grueling process it took to get to the actual planning of the development. This included passing legislation at the state level to approve of the land sale and numerous hearings with the aforementioned community groups so that they could have a say in the plan. Issues such as the height and placement of buildings as they related to the view from the hills, the amount of public parkland, traffic, and the preservation of historic structures all came into play.

One of the keys to getting this deal done was Signature's willingness to pay for site cleanup. However, they got a huge discount in the land price as a result. The Estuary plan's size makes it a better comparison to a potential Wolff-Fisher development somewhere than anything else in the works in the Bay Area. Compromises were made by all parties to get it done, and it took a long gestation period (ongoing). One neat little concession is that Signature is going to allow around 15% of the housing to be termed low income and senior housing - but it doesn't have to build it all at the Estuary. It could shift some of the units to one of its other Oakland projects, though it would have to build more of them. Considering the prime waterfront location, this shift sounds likely.

19 June 2006

Dellums wins outright

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed in an election whose winner had a 154-vote margin. Ron Dellums is now Oakland's mayor-elect, and in a press conference at the Oakland City Center Marriott, he continued his message of hope that, unfortunately, lacked much detail. He argued that predecessor Jerry Brown's 10K plan was not enough, and that he wanted to have 100,000 new residents in the downtown area - though he didn't say when. And when I saw that Dellums will create task forces to study a variety of issues, I cringed. For Oakland's sake, I hope Dellums really follows through on his promise to be a galvanizing, uniting force for the city. Talk about public-private partnerships could set off some heated debate, as Oakland residents may not take too kindly to certain types of projects - of which a ballpark and ancillary development may be one. Note: An A's development simply won't be about throwing some land at Lew Wolff. Wolff has set the price that he's willing to pay for land - around 25 cents on the dollar. The question is, "Is this doable in Oakland?"

Dellums' speech apparently contained nothing about the local sports franchises, so it's hard to say where he's leaning. In the end, the A's future in Oakland may well depend upon whether or not Dellums believes Wolff/Fisher want to keep the team there. Hopefully, Dellums will recognize how much pride the team brings to the city, and that the team is worth the mayor-elect trying to "break his pick" to keep the team in Oakland.

15 June 2006

OUSD site finds a developer

Oakland Unified School District is on its way back to being on its own feet, with labor issues put to bed and money that will come in from the sale of OUSD's 8.25-acre mini-campus near Lake Merritt. According to new reports, a partnership of East Coast firms Terramark and Urban America have put together the winning bid on the property. They intend to build a mixed-use development containing 1,000 housing units and commercial space. The district needs to pay off an emergency $100 million loan the state lent a few years ago, so it's likely much of the sale price will go towards that debt. The price of the land is expected to be between $55 million and $70 million.

OUSD had originally intended to share the space with the eventual developer, but it now appears that will not be the case. At the bottom of the district's memo (first link above) is a mention of moving into or building new facilities somewhere, including downtown Oakland. Unclear is the fate of the five (mostly small) schools residing on the campus, though the memo states that La Escuelita Elementary will be kept in the area.

Long-time readers may remember that over a year ago, I declared the OUSD site unsuitable for a ballpark due to its size and unusual "J" shape. So it's not as if there were some major opportunity to build a stadium on the OUSD site. The link is more tangential - it's less one prime site on which a decent-sized "village" concept could be built, even if it weren't co-located with a ballpark And if you're looking to get something like that done in Oakland, you'll need to assemble some decent, easy-to-acquire land to make it happen.

One other thing - thanks to those who have been responding with the latest news on the Oakland mayoral race. It looks like the final tally won't be out until the end of the week, and so far everything points to a runoff in November. That could reduce a key advantage Oakland would've had even though Dellums couldn't take office until January. Now he'll have to throw considerable resources into a fall campaign instead of lining up a transition staff well in advance. However, we should still remember that as important as this political jostling is, it doesn't supplant the two most important factors: Is there a good site? and Who pays for it? Everything else, including transportation concerns, pales next to those questions.

08 June 2006

The New Landscape

While the A's ballpark future was not resolved coming out of Tuesday's primary, changes occurred that surely will affect future efforts by cities to attract the A's. At the end of the day, the lesson to be repeated ad nauseum was: Don't pin your hopes on an election.
  • As expected, Ron Dellums was elected mayor of Oakland with a majority, thereby avoiding a runoff. While he won't take office until January, don't be surprised to hear rumblings about his well-heeled supporters and associates working on big-ticket projects. Dellums has friends in both city and county government. What's not known is how nice Dellums will play with State Senator Don Perata's minions. Current mayor Jerry Brown always had an uneasy alliance of convenience with Perata that at times strained under both pols' visible agendas. That, and the reality of dealing with dirty, day-to-day business as a mayor in Oakland, will prove whether Dellums' vision for Oakland can translate into real action. As an outsider, I'd like to believe Dellums could really foster the city's growth, but he's going to have to make some very tough decisions about issues like police staffing and presence, affordable housing, big box retail, redevelopment of industrial areas, and the changing demographics of the city. In other words, I'm glad I don't have that job.
  • In San Jose, the ballpark effort was dealt an enormous blow with county voters' rejection of the overly broad Measure A. That's not to say that BART-to-San Jose would have been some great problem solver (the difference between opening day at a ballpark and the BART launch would have been several years), but it would have at least provided some relief along the 880 corridor. BART proponents now have to seriously think about either pulling back the cost of the $4.7 billion project or even scrapping it completely. There's talk of limiting BART to only Milpitas or Santa Clara, which could cut the extension's cost in half or more. However, that would limit the project's scope, reduce ridership projections, and force VTA to come up with a completely new justification for the extension. I'd be more optimistic about SJ's chances if the High Speed Rail initiative had any momentum behind it, but it's headed for a November election with scant support while competing with the governor's and legislature's other bond initiatives.
  • Fremont will be affected if BART-to-San Jose is either dropped or delayed. A note on the WSX extension page has the service starting to run in 2012 or 2013, which could be within a year or two of a ballpark opening. If the WSX extension doesn't happen and the ballpark does, there will be a real infrastructural issue for Fremont's government and citizens to consider. There is no direct, one-road route between the Pacific Commons site and Fremont BART, and the main arteries running in the area (Stevenson Blvd, Mowry Ave, Fremont Blvd, Paseo Padre Pkwy) could be severely impacted by increased bus traffic - that is, if fans choose to transfer between the BART station and Pacific Commons using a bus. For now, let's dismiss a rail or trolley-based option due to cost. How much will infrastructure such as transportation and increased police cost in the end? How big of a price is Fremont willing to pay to get on the map?
Think of how all of that comes into play in the A's ownership's decision making process. So many variables and dependencies make it difficult to valuate a potential site. The natural tendency is to move in the direction with the least resistance. That appears to be Fremont at this point, but as the Fremont plan gets fleshed out and citizens are better educated about the issues, it could become contentious. Then again, maybe not. No matter where I am (this week I'm overseas), expect comprehensive coverage here. And thanks to all of you who have written in with your support.

07 June 2006

Primary returns

So far, we're seeing resounding defeats for initiatives and candidates for the pro-San Jose and pro-Fremont groups, while Oakland appears to have a definitive winner (which may or may not portend well for future ballpark efforts):
  • Oakland mayoral race (99% of precincts reporting): Dellums - 50.2%, De La Fuente - 33%, Nadel - 13%.
    This race has been changing overnight. Dellums started out in the lead, but had 44% of the vote - well below the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff. Now, with virtually all but the absentee vote counted, Dellums may avoid the runoff after all. Rumors have swirled around a group close to Dellums working up a proposal for the A's to consider should Dellums win the primary in this manner. How far is Dellums willing to go to keep the A's? On the flipside, does he believe the A's want to stay?
  • San Jose mayoral race (100% of precincts reporting): Reed - 28.3%, Chavez - 23.5%, Pandori - 17.9%, Cortese - 16.4%, Mulcahy - 10.8%.
    Reed is known as the fiscally responsible Democrat and should not be expected to support any kind of major subsidy to a sports franchise. He has supported the ballpark study and the Diridon South site acquisition, but he won't blindly support a bad ballpark deal. Chavez is considered more friendly towards the prospects of the A's and Quakes, though with "sunshine" reform being proposed, she shouldn't be expected to rubber stamp a bad deal either, mystery of the Quakes subsidy in December notwithstanding.
  • Santa Clara County Measure A [1/2-cent general sales tax increase for health care facilities, transportation including BART] (99% of precincts reporting): Yes - 42.3%, No - 57.7%.
    Without the sales tax hike, BART extensions to both Warm Springs/South Fremont and San Jose would be doomed for the forseeable future, especially since the projects did not previously qualify for federal matching funds. Without BART to either Warm Springs or San Jose, arguments in favor of ballpark proposals in those areas would become significantly weaker.
The upshot: Oakland, which only a month ago appeared to be almost resigned to losing the A's, finds itself in a much better position because it has a clear winner. This is especially true if Dellums and his team can get a ballpark-based urban renewal proposal going and if Wolff is willing to talk. Even more interesting is what approach Dellums will take becoming mayor, especially because he's not known as a "small details" kind of pol that being a mayor usually calls for. How will he work with City Council Pres De La Fuente (who'll maintain his old job) and the rest of the ever-present Perata machine? What staff changes will he make when he takes office? Will he look to exert pressure on joint-powers groups such as the Coliseum Authority?

05 June 2006

Those hidden ballpark costs

If you've ever been to a major sporting event in the Bay Area in the last several years, you'll have noticed in most cases a sizable police presence. This is true regardless of the size or reputation of the venue. Police and traffic control are costs either borne by teams, municipalities, or a combination of both.

It's also not a surprise that like many other cities in California, Fremont is in a serious budget crunch. In Chris De Benedetti's recent article, Fremont City Manager has flatly stated that the city is in no position to fund additional infrastructure for a ballpark/ballpark village. So who would pay for this infrastructure if the deal were to go through? Don't discount the idea that in bringing the A's in, city leaders are pushing Fremont residents to rethink current infrastructure-caused service blows, such as the burglar alarm policy.

One more thing - Tuesday's election day! It could be potentially very important for the A's future.

01 June 2006

Hope runs academic in San Jose

To my surprise, last night's San Jose Ballpark Economic Study session was not the eye-rolling extravaganza that I had expected. The city has, in fact, clearly decided to work with a consulting firm that isn't usually involved with sports franchises or the sports industry. That firm, bae, specializes in infill-type development such as TOD (transit-oriented development) and military base reuse (they've worked on both Alameda NAS and the Oakland Army Base).

The refreshing thing about the methodology that will be used is that the public isn't going to hear grandiose proclamations about "5,000 jobs" or economic revitalization because, in fact, we all know better. Focus will be largely on displacement of existing businesses, effects on surrounding neighborhoods, opportunity costs - topics that can't be easily summed up in a short press release. Ironically, the city's decision to move towards a spin-free study is symptomatic of the flagging fortunes of the Baseball-in-San Jose effort - if things were moving along more positively, the city might have had more motivation to push for a "positive" study instead of a "neutral" one.

Crowd turnout at the meeting was also a good indicator of the city's direction. The prospects of a soccer stadium were repeatedly brought up, despite the fact that no soccer booster groups such as SSV were present. Inquiries came up frequently enough that it appears the effects of a soccer stadium (which has a different business model) could take up a decent portion of the document. (The study's being paid for, might as well cover all contingencies, right?) For those readers out there that are soccer partisans, be forewarned: the neighborhood associations are smart and resourceful. Approaching a stadium proposal in the wrong manner (without vetting it through the NA's) is one sure step towards failure. That said, in the past SSV has been much better than the city at outreach efforts in the neighborhoods.

The hope here is that when the study is finally published (with proper amounts of feedback framing the discussion), we may finally have a locally produced and focused document that can't be written off as a simple propaganda piece. It could prove beneficial for future discussions about stadia and neighborhoods.