31 July 2007

Newswrap: Trading Deadline edition

If you've come looking for up-to-the-minute transaction news, you've come to the wrong place. In the world of stadia, there are a few items of note.
  • Detroit's city council is moving forward with plans to demolish Tiger Stadium, though it is unclear if any developer is willing and able to take on the task of redeveloping the northwest corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Legendary Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell has stepped in with plans to maintain and preserve important sections of the ballpark (with a third party). The concept includes a scaled down, 10,000-seat stadium and mixed use surrounding it. The field would be preserved for youth baseball use. Enough financial contributions have poured in to maintain the ballpark in its current state for the next year.
  • Washington Metro is considering a reduced "ballpark fare" to entice fans going to the new DC ballpark (opening in 2008) to utilize mass transit. According to the article, the fan mix is projected to consist of 49% that arrive via transit, 40% via car, and 8.5% via bicycle or on foot. The 49% figure is far higher than Oakland's 15-20% and even more than New York's 13-30%. The difference here is that the DC ballpark will have extremely limited parking at the outset whereas Oakland and New York already have 7-10,000 spaces in their respective vicinities.
  • The Twins are expected to break ground on their $390 million (and rising) downtown stadium on Thursday. There's still the outstanding matter of how much the land acquisition will cost, somewhere between $13.65 million (the county's pledge) and $65.38 million (the previous landowners' estimate). Opening Day is scheduled for April 2010.
I also wanted to address something in Barry Witt's article from last week:

While there's much to be determined about what would go into the village, a set of deed restrictions filed last month by Wolff, Cisco Systems and ProLogis - the real estate company that owns Pacific Commons and plans to sell the ballpark village site to Wolff - reveal uses that will be excluded.

Those uses include Goodwill stores, laundromats, card clubs, veterinary hospitals, funeral homes, porn shops, gas stations, massage and tattoo parlors, churches and beauty schools.

The explanation can be boiled down to two words: property values. Many of those types of establishments inhabit less monied neighborhoods. It's all in the interest of keeping potential housing prices high and profitable. Gas stations and churches don't quite fit the profile, and for those I sense the issue is space. There is an existing Shell station less than a mile away and two more just over the freeway along Auto Mall, so it's not as if the area needs additional petrol purveyors. As for churches, there's already a growing trend of new churches converting previously industrial land for their use, so perhaps they are the real trendsetters here.

30 July 2007

2nd poll results

12 days ago I asked the question, "How would the Piccinini group have been different?" Responses were fewer than the previous poll question, but the results for this one are nevertheless interesting.

  • Downtown Oakland ballpark - 18 (28%)
  • New Coliseum lot ballpark - 10 (15%)
  • Stayed in Coliseum indefinitely - 9 (14%)
  • Moved elsewhere in Bay Area - 11 (17%)
  • Moved out of Bay Area - 15 (23%)
No definitive answer here, and there's no accounting for motivation. Unlike the last poll, I can group the answers. So I did just that, with the first three options thrown into a "Stayed in Oakland" group, the final two a "Left Oakland" group. In doing so, the tally looks like this:

  • Stayed in Oakland - 37 (59%)
  • Left Oakland - 26 (41%)
Some might say that staying in the Coliseum indefinitely wasn't a realistic option, but I wanted to put it out there anyway to gauge interest. "Stayed in Oakland" would've won regardless of the third option's inclusion.

The voting trend during the week proved pivotal. Results were fairly even for the first 4-5 days, but gradually tilted towards "Stayed in Oakland" during midweek.

This week's poll question is pretty simple: "How big should Cisco Field be?"

26 July 2007

A's promise school

Linh Tat's article in the Argus addresses the school situation:

Besides opening an elementary school, A's officials said they are willing to consider offering a specialized technology or health program for students, tutoring, math and reading programs, internships and scholarships. A program recognizing Fremont's teacher of the year also was suggested.

"These are just our ideas that we would love to explore with you. . . . We really think there's a great opportunity to get creative," said A's official Keith Wolff, son of team co-owner Lew Wolff.

"Our commitment is to whatever the student population is (that's) created by the village," Keith Wolff said. "We're going to need to work with the district to serve them. That will be an obligation."

The A's project $10.7 million in developer fees will go to the district, but both sides acknowledge the fees won't be enough to build the school on their own. There are four questions that come out of this challenge:
  • Where in the village will the school be located?
  • How big will it be?
  • How much will it cost beyond the amount covered by developer fees?
  • When would it open?
With the A's and Cisco partnering with FUSD, it could become quite a desirable grade school.

To vote or not to vote?

Fremont Councilman Steve Cho is keeping up his call for a ballot measure to decide the ballpark village. The other council members and the mayor apparently disagree. In Chris DeBenedetti's article there are comments from both pro- and anti-development ex-pols.

So what's the issue here? Cho believes there are "concerns from Fremont citizens that cannot be completely ignored," yet he also believes if it came to a vote it would prevail in a majority. So it's not as if there is overwhelming sentiment against the project, far from it in fact. In a way he has marginalized the process that the city and the A's have crafted, which appears to be the real issue that some opponents are uncomfortable with.

Why would any citizen's concerns be completely ignored? The council as a group has shown its displeasure over certain aspects of the plan, such as residential makeup and the school site. There were pointed land use questions that came from Anu Natarajan and Bob Wieckowski. Lew Wolff actually met with Gus Morrison, though Morrison's concerns weren't allayed. If there is some feeling that the plan is not getting the scrutiny it deserves, it wasn't on display from the comments the council and the city's community development director made. We're talking about Fremont, not Oakland, San Jose, or San Francisco, where big machine politics are the order of the day. Fremont can't count on Don Perata or Carole Migden to grandstand or ram legislation through the state senate.

Then there is the question of what the public would be voting on. Is it simply a land use decision? A vote to accept the team? Redevelopment agency bonds for infrastructure? School bonds? Would it end up being 1, 2, or 5 separate issues? And what would happen if one or more failed while others succeeded?

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention what happens when these issues get to a vote. There's something called the 10:1 rule, in which proponents of a stadium plan typically outspend opponents 10:1 in campaigning. In Texas it's even higher. Why? Because usually there is a big tax-free bond measure at stake to finance the stadium. That's not going to be the issue here since it will be a privately financed stadium. Proponents trot out legendary retired players and coaches to shill for the project. Opponents complain that they don't have the funds to compete. Whether or not the issue passes, hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars are spent and the truth frequently gets lost in the hubbub. That doesn't invalidate the idea of having a vote, but it does highlight circumstances. At least in California, we tend to be a little more level-headed about these issues than other states.

Lew Wolff isn't interested in a vote because he thinks the project is far too complex to be left in the hands of a single up-down measure. So do the mayor and the council outside of Cho. Opponents often ask what the proponents are afraid of, that it wouldn't pass if it got to a vote. But we're not talking about your typical stadium subsidy issue here, are we? I've already had to go onto different message boards and respond to e-mail from people who are armed with a lot of misinformation. I'd like to know that all voters are fully up to speed on all issues, that they have read the probable 1,000-page EIR and its comments, that they've reviewed the alternatives. Unfortunately, that isn't realistic. So what would voters base their opinion on? Emotion? Prejudice one way or the other? Whether they're a baseball fan or not? That's definitely not how it should be decided. It's hard to weigh cost-benefit from a single ballot measure unless the concept is egregiously bad (or amazingly good).

I applaud Councilman Cho for wanting to act as the conscience of the council. But honestly, he's jumping the gun on the ballot measure idea. It would be preferable to have the plan's details get worked out, and if there is a bond measure some other major issue that would directly affect taxpayers then it absolutely should be voted on. Until then, let's keep focused on the task at hand, which is fleshing out the details.

25 July 2007

The stuff not in the paper

Chris DeBenedetti's Argus article is first out of the gate, followed by Barry Witt's Merc piece. Of course, there are only so many inches in the papers, so I'm here to fill in the blanks (TV links: KTVU-2, KGO-7). (Update 5:34 p.m.: The archived webcast is now online.)

The A's and the city packed a lot of content into an hour, yet they're merely skimming the surface. What wasn't covered in any real depth? Here's a list:
  • Transportation, other than acknowledgment of the previously planned train station and shuttles.
  • School site options (admittedly the least analyzed issue)
  • Affordable housing (except that the city-developer guidelines dictate that affordable housing should have no distinction by location - i.e. segregation)
  • Infrastructure and public services planning
  • Retailer possibilities for the ballpark village
  • The 40-acre parcel which may hold additional parking, the train station, a school, or other infrastructure
What did they touch on? Quite a bit, actually:
  • Parking: 10-11,000 spaces around the ballpark. More on that later.
  • Residential planning: This looks to be a contentious issue, as it's likely we'll have the bottom-line oriented developer pitted against the city's progressive, New Urbanist leanings. Councilwoman Anu Natarajan took the biggest swipe at the plan, suggesting that the planning team should've gotten the city involved earlier. She said that the superblock-type residential development in the 115-acre townhouse area had very little variety in terms of densities. She even disclosed that a few years ago she worked for SF-based planning and design behemoth EDAW, who is working for the A's on this project.
  • Phasing: Unlike the 5-6 year projections in the economic impact report, it looks like housing will be more gradually built. At a pace of 300 units per year, it's expected to take 7-10 years to complete the entire residential portion.
  • Mixed use outside the village: Both Natarajan and Vice-Mayor Bob Wieckowski had previously suggested that the A's have a little more flexibility in the plan to keep some amount of commercial space, specifically office space. There appears to be a unified stance to keep the townhouse section from looking like a typical suburban subdivision.
  • Outreach: Valley bigshot Jim Cunneen is heading this effort, which I've been told is going to get moving quickly.
  • The ballpark: I hope to get cross-section graphic that Keith Wolff used during the presentation, because it actually appears more aggressive than the original simulation. Should they follow through the ballpark would most certainly take on Fenway-like intimacy.
  • Minisuites: They would be located 15 rows from the field, with four 6-person suites sharing a common, large lounge area. Cute design that's sure to cause some suite envy elsewhere in pro sports.
  • Environmental: Community Development Director Jill Keimach brought up the guidelines in use by the city and the developer. Out of that came the point that much of the wetlands just beyond the project area are still in transition and need protection. Buffers and other measures must be taken to ensure the development is compatible with the recently restored wetlands.
  • All those consultants: So it's a team consisting of 360 Architects, Gensler (Andy Cohen was co-presenting with Keith Wolff), EDAW, and Cisco. There might have been others but I missed their names. This isn't some mom-and-pop operation.
And so the dialogue begins in earnest. The council made it clear on more than one occasion that they're not going to rubber stamp this project. Councilman Steve Cho even went so far as to suggest a ballot measure which would "put it to rest," though it could be argued that a vote would just as easily rescue him and his colleagues from having to take a major stand on the project. None of the other pols spoke in favor of a vote, BTW. Cho felt that such a measure would pass. I doubt that sentiment gave Lew Wolff a warm fuzzy. He and Mayor Wasserman were separately interviewed following the session and downplayed the need for a vote. Wasserman said that it was difficult enough to educate five council members, let alone 200,000 citizens. Before you say that Wasserman is dismissing the will of the people, note that the environmental impact report will probably be 1,000 pages long and won't read anything like the latest Harry Potter book. If every Fremont voter wants to read the entire EIR (as I will) and all supporting documentation, it'll be available when the comment period opens. Somehow I doubt that more than a few hundred people will read the whole thing.

Onto parking. The 10-11,000 figure falls in line with tally I posted last Saturday. Natarajan said that she has "no concerns about parking at all." The interim parking plan (west of Cushing Pkwy on future residential land) definitely has legs. Discussion went from "how to get enough parking" to "What can we do to make it useful, beautiful and environmentally friendly?"

This was the first of many public sessions. Format may change a bit to allow for more dialogue exchange, or that may simply take care of itself as the discussions become more narrowly focused. The schedule moving forward:
  • Preliminary view - 7/24
  • Council input on plan - September
  • Business terms - Fall '07
  • Financial analysis - On-going
  • Input from agencies - On-going (Caltrans in a couple of weeks)
  • Community outreach - On-going
Notice that the submission of the dev plan isn't listed there. It's really a chicken-and-egg problem. The A's want to submit a plan that has the best chance of passing with as few modifications as possible. Yet they can't until they have more in-depth discussions with the city. That isn't to say that the proposal will be locked when it's submitted, but when it comes time to present the proposal and all alternatives under consideration, those options need to be clear.

The Wolffs appear to be aware of these issues and others that haven't been mentioned much (such as the rights of nearby Pacific Commons retailers to have their parking lots left intact) and the city's insistence on thoroughness means that yes, the right questions are being asked. And then some.

23 July 2007

Wolff preso at 7/24 City Council session

Lew and Keith Wolff will provide an update on the Cisco Field project during a work session prior to the regular city council meeting next Tuesday night. The one hour work session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. and the A's are the only item on that session's agenda. There will be a public comment period. The regular city council session is scheduled for 7, as usual.

Will they file the long-awaited application? Answer some of the questions brought up by Gus Morrison? If you can't be there, you always have the live webcast.
Update: The 7 p.m. session will not be a normal council session. It will be a Redevelopment Agency meeting. The 5:30 p.m. session will combine the regular council meeting and the ballpark work session. Attendees are encouraged to arrived at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the session.

21 July 2007

Land use plan emerges

First, take a look at the Argus and Merc articles. The first article has links to three new PDF's that contain descriptions of the buildings in the core village and two views of overall layout:
Context A and B differ in one major way: timing. Context A shows the development after all of the residential units have been built. Context B shows the development some years prior to completion. Instead of housing west of Cushing Parkway, 5,970 surface parking spaces are shown. For the first few years, that parking combined with the planned parking east of Christy Street and additional spaces in both the village and the Albrae lot (across Auto Mall) should provide plenty of parking. By the end of 2016, all of the extra parking will be replaced by townhomes (and probably the school), but that gives the A's several years to truly gauge parking demand. If demand is high enough, additional garage parking can be built to make up for the loss. Interestingly enough, the Giants are facing their own parking loss, as the Port of S.F. has to decide what to do with a 14-acre parking lot across McCovey Cove from AT&T Park.

The best part is that according to the lease plan there will be 3,110 spaces set aside for retail use. Obviously, much of that parking will be claimed by retailers and the hotel, among other commericial uses. But there's no reason why a good portion won't be available for game attendees as well. And the funny thing is that I added up all of the non-residential parking shown there, and I got 4,510 spaces. So it would appear that at least for a few years, there's the possibility of over 10,000 spaces in the immediate vicinity. It'll be nicely broken up due to the design plan. Whatever the final number is, I don't get the sense that the A's are terribly worried about it.

There are also a pair of mystery elements: ramps that appear to run underneath the village. The ramps may be service entrances to the ballpark's outfield. They may also lead to additional parking for players, team employees, and VIP's.

Moving over to retail, the big surprise was a theater smack dab in the middle of the village. Articles refer to it as a movie theater, but that isn't a given. Small multiplexes such as the CineArts (Century) brand in Santana Row, Marin, and Pleasant Hill usually show smaller budget and independent films, and it could make sense in this location because the only nearby indie moviehouses are across the Dumbarton Bridge in Palo Alto.

However, a more interesting move would be some kind of performing arts center. Currently the only one in the city is the Gary Soren Smith Center on the Ohlone College campus, and it's just a little over a decade old. There would be a huge question of financing such a complex, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be on the table for discussion. Perhaps there's a way to split the 54,000 s.f. allotted for the theater so it could accommodate both a live theater facility and a smaller film multiplex. The movie theater would be the bean-counter's choice since a private concern would capitalize and operate it. A performing arts center would be a far more culturally significant venue.

Ah, but there's more. Certain buildings in the village have been identified as anchors. Those orange blocks are in the north corner (upper right) and southwest area (left). The north anchors are around 30,000 s.f., which should accommodate a multitude of large retailers such as Crate and Barrel and Best Buy. The intriguing space is the 140,000 s.f., two-level southwest space. Based on size and location, I'd lay my money on Nordstrom being the tenant, since a typical Nordstrom is around that size.

The school's location still needs to be worked out, and the transit hub needs to be addressed. There's plenty of time to make those elements work.

20 July 2007

First poll results

Voting for the first poll is now closed. Here are the results:

  • A. Outright betrayal - 12 (10%)
  • B. Necessary but unsavory - 23 (20%)
  • C. Little to no difference to me - 3 (2%)
  • D. Fine as long as they stay in the Bay - 44 (38%)
  • E. Extremely positive - 33 (28%)
I didn't notice until after I posted the poll that options B and D were actually similar but shaded and framed in different ways. For that reason only A and E are considered definitive positions, while B-D are rather gray. As a result, I will not "pool" the responses and declare a winner. The very unscientific result speaks for itself.

The next poll topic comes courtesy of a Georob comment from this morning regarding the ill-fated Piccinini group. Save Mart owner Piccinini put together a prospective ownership group that would've included Men's Wearhouse founder George Zimmer, former A's marketing veep Andy Dolich, and Reggie Jackson (preceded by Joe Morgan). In 1999 the group was on the verge of buying the A's from the Schott-Hofmann group but a vote of all MLB team owners resulted in a 28-2 decision to table the sale pending the Blue Ribbon committee's further study. The bid subsequently died on the vine, and the rest is history.

The question: How would have the Piccinini group been different?

  • A. Downtown Oakland ballpark
  • B. New Coliseum lot ballpark
  • C. Stayed in Coliseum indefinitely
  • D. Moved elsewhere in Bay Area
  • E. Moved out of Bay Area

If you like, you can post a comment here to go with your vote. Cheers.

18 July 2007

Welcome back Quakes

Quakes fans can now consider the last two years to be a poorly-timed hiatus. A press conference in Denver today should make it official. Earthquakes 4.0 is expected to start play again in the 2008 season, with a new stadium targeted for the old FMC site in San Jose by (hopefully) 2010. MLS commissioner Don Garber and Quakes principals Lew Wolff and David Alioto are expected to be in attendance. Articles:

They must be open for business, since they're taking deposits for season tickets.

What isn't clear is what the Quakes will use for interim venue(s) until the new SSS (soccer specific stadium) opens. Apparently they've ruled out venerable but decrepit Spartan Stadium, going with a two-pronged approach. Games (er, matches) that require higher capacity may be played at the McAfee Coliseum, where 47,000+ attended a Mexico-Guatemala tilt a few weeks ago. Stanford Stadium may also be a possibility, since it has pretty much perfect sizing for soccer events and admirably hosted last weekend's match (also 47,000+) between Chelsea FC and Club America.

For other games, it's a bit of a dilemma. There are a few venues that are generally too small for MLS games, such as SCU's Buck Shaw Stadium (cap. = 6,800), PAL stadium in SJ (5,000), and Kezar Stadium in SF (9,000). Buck Shaw would seem to be the most logical choice since it's a stone's throw away from the future stadium site and it's undergoing renovations that will benefit the school's excellent soccer programs. A rumor is floating around that the Quakes may even do some kind of barnstorming in an effort to introduce themselves to more of the Bay Area. There's little chance of the Quakes and A's sharing new stadia since both would have their venues under construction at the same time, with the Quakes opening a year earlier.

15 July 2007

Morrison unswayed, gets company

Chris De Benedetti of the Argus has the results of last week's Morrison-Wolff koffee klatch, and the former mayor remains unconvinced. Morrison added a new concern: the residential component would introduce 1,400 students, not 684 as was previously estimated. Morrison claims that he received the figure from a school board member, but FUSD superintendent Douglas Gephart disputed Morrison's number, saying,
"I think the number generated by the A's is within reason," Gephart said. "We don't expect 1,000 kids at all."
It appears that another former mayor, Don Dillon, also shares concerns about the ballpark village project:
Don Dillon, another former Fremont mayor, echoed Morrison's concerns about land-use issues. "Mainly, what troubles me greatly is that we're going to have to put 3,000 houses in our industrial zone," said Dillon, 85. "It's a total departure from the concept ... of keeping that area available for the kinds of uses that produce real income and local jobs without a whole lot of expense. (Rezoning) scraps that idea badly."

Dillon also questions the wisdom of holding several meetings with the A's before a development application has been filed.

However, Wasserman strongly defended the city's efforts with the A's, saying that type of criticism "is ludicrous."

"This is the biggest project, by tons, that this city will ever deal with, so it takes a lot of time," Wasserman said. "To say we don't sit down to talk with developers is really wrong. The (A's) have some of the best architects in the country working on this. They have deposited $500,000. It would be foolish for us to tell the A's, 'We're not going to talk to you.' "

This is where I got confused. Why wouldn't the city want an ongoing dialogue with the developer, especially if it increases the likelihood of a positive outcome for all parties? This project is far too complex to simply be taken in a single vote with minimal or no discussions.

Look beyond the posturing, and what you have here are simple philosophical differences. On one hand you have Morrison, who tends towards a skeptical approach to development. On the other hand you have Mayor Wasserman, who looks at the project as more of a partnership. Remember that it was Wasserman and county supe Scott Haggerty that initiated these discussions. There is something of a precedent when it comes to development decisions: when Morrison was still in office he opposed a Warm Springs Wal-Mart store, while Wasserman approved of the store as long as it wasn't a SuperCenter (grocery store component as well).

All of this highlights the notion of political will and its importance. It's likely that if Morrison were in office today, this plan would not have gotten past square one. For better or worse, Wasserman and the city council have the project at a relatively advanced stage, and are willing to play ball (pun intended).

13 July 2007

HBO: The Ghosts of Flatbush

If you haven't yet destroyed your TV or cancelled your subscription in reaction to the Sopranos finale, check out the new HBO documentary, Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush. Like many other entries in the HBO Sports documentary library, The Ghosts of Flatbush provides a nice balance of facts and anecdotes intercut with great footage and stills, tied together with narration by the consummate pro Liev Schreiber (who I saw play Henry V in Shakespeare in the Park a few years ago).

The first hour covers the pre-Jackie Robinson era and Robinson's monumental rookie season. Comparisons are made between the Dem Bums and the hated Giants and patrician Yankees.

The second hour reflects upon the Brooklyn Dodgers' first and only World Series championship in 1955. Only two years later would owner Walter O'Malley, frustrated with his failed efforts to build a replacement for Ebbets Field, pull up stakes and run away with the Giants to California.

O'Malley saw the phenomenal gate success of the Milwaukee (née Boston) Braves and sensed opportunity. Yet he repeatedly lobbied to build a stadium in Brooklyn at his preferred site. His efforts did little to convince legendary NY über-planner Robert Moses, who is considered one of the first chief architects of the white flight phenomenon. Moses felt that instead of Brooklyn, a stadium would be better situated in Queens, where it would be geographically centered in relation to the rest of the five boroughs and the suburbs.

O'Malley felt that Brooklyn was the only home (at least locally) for the team, so it didn't matter if the stadium were 30 miles or 3000 miles away - the team would cease to be the Brooklyn Dodgers. He wanted a site at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic, which was near several subway lines and the terminal for the Long Island Railroad. And unlike Ebbets Field, which only had 700 parking spaces nearby, there would be potential for thousands of spaces for fans in the suburbs who would rather take a pleasant drive in from Long Island on one of Moses' new parkways.

News of the move gradually changed from rumor to certainty, and sensing the inevitable, fans withdrew their support in disgust. While O'Malley is held up as the eternal villain, Moses is portrayed as almost equally culpable because of his disinterest in an eminent domain move (O'Malley and Dodger shareholders would have paid for the new ballpark's construction). Moses eventually got his stadium in Queens after the Giants and Dodgers left. Modern Shea Stadium would be home to the expansion New York Mets, whose colors would include Dodger blue and the Giants' orange.

Ironically, the site previously sought by O'Malley is near the home of the Atlantic Yards project, the multi-billion dollar mixed development that will contain a new arena for the Nets basketball franchise. Developer Forest City Ratner is trying to acquire the land via an expensive, highly controversial eminent domain effort. The Nets would be the first major sports team to call Brooklyn home since the Dodgers left 50 years ago. The Dodgers took up residence on a hillside near downtown LA called Chavez Ravine, which was cleared through - that's right - eminent domain.

It's not difficult to draw parallels between the current A's and the mid-century Dodgers. Both were run by maverick general managers, both had a blue collar ethos. Both typically fell short in the postseason. But perhaps it is one quote that best - and most eerily - depicts the team's fans, via author Michael Shapiro:
That fanbase was not all living together. There were spread out. They were not in one place where they could gather and share their despair.
Fans these days have the internet. Problem is, message boards and blogs don't usually end up on the evening news.
Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush will air several times over the next week or so and is also available via HBO On Demand.

A couple of housekeeping notes: Blogger recently added a poll feature, so I'm testing it out on the sidebar. For now the poll will replace the Scorecard, which will return when there's a real proposal and media reaction.

10 July 2007

Parking Clarifications

I somehow find myself looking through some city's municipal code once a month. So I wanted to see what Gus Morrison's parking concerns were based on. Sure enough, there's plenty to consider. Fremont's Municipal Code, Title VIII, Chapter 2, Article 20, Section 8, has the details:

  • Sec. 8-22003. Required parking spaces by type of use.
    (b) Business uses.
    (1) Entertainment and recreation:
    a. Theaters, auditoriums and sports arenas or stadia, including school auditoriums and stadia--For all fixed seating capacity, one for each four seats; theaters in shopping centers, one per three and one-half seats.
  • Sec. 8-22005. Location of required parking and loading facilities.
    (a) The off-street parking facilities required for the uses mentioned in section 8-22003 and for other similar uses pursuant to section 22011, shall be on the same lot as the structure or use they are intended to serve. When practical difficulties, as determined by zoning administrator, prevent their establishment upon the same or immediately adjacent lot, they may be located within 400 feet of the premises to which the parking requirement pertains, provided such parking area meets all other requirements of this Code.
  • Sec. 8-22014. Assessment districts for parking.
    (a) Exemptions. Whenever, pursuant to statute, public off-street parking facilities are established by means of a special assessment district, or by any other means which the city council may determine, all existing buildings and uses, and all buildings erected or uses established thereafter within the special assessment district, or other district which the city council may have determined, shall be exempt from the requirements of this article for privately supplied off-street parking facilities except as hereinafter provided.
Okay, so let's interpret. For a 32,000-seat facility, Section 8-22003 dictates that 8,000 spaces would be required based on the 4:1 ratio. Section 8-22005 requires that if the parking isn't in the same lot or adjacent (no on both counts), it needs to be within 400 feet. The Brandin Ct. lots and Christy Concrete plant are both at least 700 feet from the nearest gate.

It would appear that code almost mandates that the ballpark be built "in a sea of parking" so to speak, since the distance requirement could be highly restrictive. I haven't checked ADA regulations, but those will certainly come into play as well. We know that the sea of parking is not feasible given the village concept and housing needs, so there has to be more to it than that. Given the ballpark's schedule of events, parking will be needed 90+ days per year, or 1/4 of the year. Should that much parking be required for such a limited schedule? And how can it be beneficial to other users such as non-resident village patrons?

There's even one more detail that shouldn't be ignored. The concrete plant is shown as a 16.3-acre parcel, but only 10.3 acres may be usable due to the existence of a pond on that site. It's possible that the pond may not be developed because it's a habitat for migratory birds. These are wetlands, after all. Reduction of the site to 10.3 acres would reduce available land for parking, further pressing the need for a garage or the acquisition of additional nearby property, or both.

as I wrote previously, the map shouldn't be taken anything resembling a proposal or final plan. The devil truly is in the details.

09 July 2007

All-Star Break Newswrap

As our green and gold heroes sputter into the break, there's a lot of news to cover. Where to begin? Let's start locally. From the Argus:
  • Lew Wolff and former Fremont mayor Gus Morrison will meet today over coffee to discuss the ballpark village plans, and Morrison's misgivings over them. I'm guessing Massimo's?
  • The Tri-Cities Landfill at the west end of Auto Mall Parkway closed to the public at the end of June. Fremont, Newark, and Union City garbage is going to the new Transfer Center a mile away, and soon the refuse will be trucked from there to the Altamont landfill. In the future Tri-Cities will be covered over with grass so that it looks less like a landfill and more like, um, a grass-covered former landfill.
  • The City of Oakland is opening a four-month window to negotiate with the Wayans Brothers and Pacifica Capital Group on their proposed movie studio and entertainment center concept. There would be 100,000 s.f. of studio lot, 457,000 s.f. of retail, and a 331,250 s.f. for a "Creative Factory business park." I know you're going to ask, "Why would the City support this as opposed to keeping the A's?" The 70-acre plan doesn't include any housing, which would conflict with Port operations. Housing is the linchpin to the A's Town concept.
From Chron:
Finally, the Merc details how the ballpark in China Basin helped create the real estate boom. Frankly, the internets was always far more influential to me.

07 July 2007

High speed rail: The other white meat

With the Warm Springs and San Jose BART extensions running into major funding-related delays, you may be surprised to know there's an alternative virtually nipping at its heels. It's not increased Amtrak service or Caltrain running into the East Bay. It's the state's high speed rail initiative. CAHSR is being pitched as an alternative to personal intra-state air and freeway travel, particularly trips between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Proponents claim that a trip from SF to LA would be around 2:30, the length of a well-pitched A's game. Best of all, the 1-2 hour prep time needed to arrive at the airport and check in would be reduced to about 15 minutes. The cost? $40 billion, same as the value of all of the infrastructure bills passed last November. The first $10 billion is supposed to be covered by a bond measure that's slated for referendum in 2008. That appears to be the biggest problem in getting HSR on the ballot, as Governor Schwarzenegger appears heavily reluctant to put his weight behind the proposal unless, as he puts it, there is venture capital or other private means to help out with funding. And it definitely won't be built in a day, as construction could start in 2009 at the earliest with service actually beginning in 2020. That's right, 2020.

The project has gone through numerous levels of planning over the past decade, and pretty soon it'll be time to find out if it'll happen. Environmental impact reports have largely been completed, leaving a few major issues other than the funding to sort out. Chief among those is the route the line will take between the Central Valley and the Bay Area. One has the line running through Pacheco Pass, whereas the other runs near I-580 through Altamont Pass. Naturally, both have their local advocates. The Pacheco Pass option has new CAHSR board member Rod Diridon (former county supe and transit magnate) and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group behind it. Altamont Pass has Stuart Cohen and the Transportation and Land Use Coalition on its side. Either option would have large unavoidable expenses: Pacheco would require extensive tunneling and is not environmentally friendly, Altamont requires a bay crossing (either near the Dumbarton Bridge or via a new Transbay Tube). As it stands, the South/East Bay layout looks like this (station locations labeled in blue, Cisco Field is the red "X"):

The light green line represents the East Bay section that runs down to San Jose. The nice thing about the East Bay section is that even though it runs on a separate line from BART, it's set up to link directly to BART. All three Oakland stations, Union City, and Warm Springs would have multimodal operations. There would also be a fast, direct link between Pleasanton/Livermore/Tracy and the South Bay and Livermore-to-SF would finally be real instead of those residents waiting for a BART extension to materialize. However, the service wouldn't run nearly as frequently as BART, so HSR shouldn't be considered a complete replacement for BART. There's potential for other regional rail services to run on the HSR tracks. For instance, ACE Rail could be transformed into such a service and it could serve more stations along the line, while express trains bypass the ACE stations. Another option is a modified version of the Caltrain Metro East concept.

BART and HSR have other differences as well. BART utilizes a wide gauge, electric third rail system similar to the Washington Metro and Atlanta MARTA, and its top speed is 80 mph. HSR would use overhead electric wires on regular gauge rails, similar to high speed trains used in Europe. The closest US-based relative to HSR would be Amtrak's Boston-to-DC Acela Express service, which uses similar trains but shares tracks with freight trains. Top speed for HSR is projected to be 225 mph, though that speed would only be approached in the Central Valley (Bay Area speeds would be less than 120 mph due to noise concerns and the higher number of stations in close proximity to one another). Both BART and HSR would run on dedicated guideways, free from congestion and the potential for accidents with passenger cars.

The real issue among supporters of HSR is the lack of consensus among them. At some point the Bay Area-Central Valley route will be established, which will resolve a good deal of the infighting. Beyond that, there's a philosophical issue: How should HSR be positioned? While the original vision was for a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative to 737's in the air and SUV's on I-5, others have latched onto the concept of HSR acting as a good commuter train option. Consider a commuter train that makes the trip from Tracy to San Francisco in less than an hour. Or a San Jose to Warm Springs trip in 8-12 minutes (!). It sounds too good to be true, but if you want proof check out the performance of the same technology in Europe - or better yet try it yourself if you ever go there - and you'll see it's possible.

The commuter-versus-intercity debate is interesting because it actually pits certain environmental factions against each other. On one hand, the commuter option isn't getting emphasized because having a fast commuter train - especially one far faster than driving - could lead to increased sprawl as even more workers flee for the exurbs for more affordable and now more accessible housing. That has the land use folks worried. On the other hand, posing HSR as mostly a long distance replacement means you might not win over commuters who could potentially be off the freeways if the plan wasn't realized.

The great thing about the possibility of HSR is that it could significantly benefit the A's after they head down to Fremont, and they'd have little to do with HSR's development. Fresno-based fans could get to the ballpark in just over an hour. A few minutes less if they're coming from Sacramento. I could conceivably leave work at 3 on Friday and head down to Anaheim to catch the first of a three game A's-Angels set, since the Anaheim HSR station would be very close to Angel Stadium. That is, if the Angels are staying in Anaheim after 2015.

Whatever your feelings are on high speed rail, the people in power need to get off their asses to get this on the ballot in 2008. It's already been delayed twice, and delaying it further in hopes of getting a certain type of political climate will only raise the costs of the project and waste large amounts of preparatory work that have already been completed. The governor can't pussyfoot around. And the private industry groups like SVLG and its member should get their wallets ready if they're really behind the plan. Then we can know for certain if high speed rail is for real, or as the kids say, pipe.

Notes: HSR supporters have been pressing the media in recent weeks. Former State Senator Quentin Kopp wrote an opinion piece for Friday's Chronicle. Kopp is CAHSR's board chair. If you're looking for a point of comparison, the San Jose/Warm Springs BART extensions will cost an estimated $5.5 billion to go 21 miles. For more information on CAHSR, check out SF Cityscape's HSR forum.

06 July 2007

A word of caution

Earlier this week former Fremont mayor Gus Morrison submitted a letter to Fremont's City Council (posted in the Tri City Voice) urging caution in their dealing with the A's. Morrison wrote, "I have long thought this project was one where the cart seemed to be getting far ahead of the horse." He went on to suggest that "a Fatal Flaw Analysis ought to be performed to find out if there are things in this project which could kill it." Among those, parking and ingress/egress were considered paramount.

Morrison is absolutely right. It took a while for the Council to get the report and it's taking longer for them to get the plan, which appears to be getting out to different stakeholders on a piecemeal basis. I don't know what goes on in the twice-a-month sessions, but I hope that it's not the same kind of situation.

To the Council's credit, they've expressed their interest in being part of the planning process. Paraphrasing council member Anu Natarajan, she cautioned the A's that she didn't want to receive an already packaged plan without going through proper planning steps.

While Morrison's concerns are well placed, he may be jumping the gun a bit. The key indicator of this is the reported number of condos and townhomes in the project, which seems to vary with each newly released piece of information. It shows that the plan is still undergoing major gestation. What isn't clear is how much the city is helping to scope it out. If anything, the only part with real detail is the core village area. Everything else lacks detail. It is that "everything else" that will be heavily debated over the next few months.

If the plan were submitted today based on the graphic released for FUSD, it probably wouldn't pass. Vice-Mayor Bob Wieckowski, who Morrison endorsed previously, clearly said that placing the school on the public parcel outside the neighborhood was a non-starter. And there's no way the plan would work with only Auto Mall Parkway as the single major freeway access point, especially if the Fremont Boulevard/Cushing Parkway interchange can be utilized. Thankfully, there are ways to address these concerns. They'll require compromise from both the A's and Fremont. As I noted in my review of the economic impact report, there are creative ways to make everything work.

Of course, the cart-horse analogy should be studied further. It would appear that in this case, the A's are both cart and horse. I suppose that makes the City of Fremont the reins.

02 July 2007

Peeling back the layers

If you haven't had a chance to download the ballpark village plan at the Merc's website, you really should. It's a good snapshot of what the developer's vision is now, prior to an inevitable series of changes - hopefully all for the good.

While studying the plan further over the weekend, I noticed that some graphical elements would quickly flash on the screen and then disappear as I scrolled through the drawing. I had seen this with my own mock-ups, which got me thinking there was more to this document than met the eye. I proceeded to open the file in a graphics program. Lo and behold - there was more under the surface!

I thought it was odd that the condos (yellow-gold) would be arranged in large, monolithic buildings. Upon further inspection, there was a good deal of extra space set aside for parking. Since there are 560 residential units in the core village area, there would have to be at least that many spaces for residents, plus a set number of visitor spots. The rest of the parking could be split between the retail part of the village and the ballpark. I'm assuming there'd be one level of garage parking, but it's possible there could be two levels. The layout of the residential-only buildings allows for large plazas above the parking, which will be needed as all of the elements are set rather tightly with limited amounts of open space at street level.

When looking at the plan it's easy to ignore the legend at the right. The legend's explanations pull everything together - sort of. The numbers deserve to be explained further - and once that's done it starts to really take shape.
  • Building B1 - Ballpark
  • B2 - Left field building, mixed use, 11 residences
  • B3 - Right field building, mixed use, 13 residences
  • V1 - Residential, 89 units
  • V2 - Commercial, 140,000 s.f.
  • V3 - Residential, 87 units
  • V4 - Mixed use, 44 units, 48,000 s.f.
  • V5 - Residential, 57 units
  • V6 - Mixed use, 24 units, 56,000 s.f.
  • V7 - Mixed use, 28 units, 71,000 s.f.
  • V8 - Commercial, 30,000 s.f.
  • V9 - Mixed use, 100 units, 77,000 s.f.
  • V10 - Mixed use, 23 units, 34,000 s.f.
  • V11 - Mixed use, 52 units, 29,000 s.f.
  • V12 - Commercial, 3,000 s.f.
  • V13 - Mixed use, 54 units, 30,000 s.f.
V11, V12, and V13 are not labeled in the drawing, but I'm certain that V11 and V13 are the J-shaped buildings attached to B2 and B3, while V12 is effectively a glorified kiosk in the middle of the park. BTW, it looks like B2 and B3 will have residences overlooking the field.

V9 has to be the busiest piece outside of the ballpark because it contains the hotel, a relatively large amount of parking, and 100 housing units to boot. V2 and V7 are potential homes for larger retailers.

The core village is over 20% smaller than Santana Row in terms of acreage and retail/commercial space. There are fewer than half the residences as well. While the buildings will vary in height and cladding, they probably won't be as tall as their Santana Row counterparts.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the ballpark's footprint. The artist placed a bitmap over the top of the footprint, but I removed it and what's left is a most unusual outfield design. There's no indication that the Polo Grounds-like outfield will carry over to the final project. Nonetheless it is a change of pace from the all too commonplace bandbox design we've seen elsewhere. This is one element I'd take with a grain of salt.