24 October 2007

Getting it partly right

Ray Ratto has chimed in with his take on the Commonwealth Club speech/Q&A. He shared the same puzzlement I wrote about earlier regarding the Wolff's current bargaining position (there isn't much of one).

He then went on to bring up CEQA, the statute that requires a thorough environmental review before major projects can be built in California. As a developer, Wolff was expected to fire off a couple of shots at the law. After a while it only becomes so much noise. All any developer can do is put together a plan that they hope will satisfy CEQA guidelines while also making a buck in the process. Since those two goals are often diametrically opposed, getting that done is quite a balancing act. While CEQA may be daunting or even hostile to developers, it's CEQA that's allowed us regular citizens to enjoy unspoiled beaches, preserved hillsides, and many other uniquely Californian natural attractions that we often take for granted.

There are a couple of things we all should know about CEQA of which I'm sure Wolff is all too familiar:
  • CEQA ain't going away. As this state grows to over 50 million residents, CEQA will become even more important.
  • Whatever gets submitted will look different 18 months later. Thanks to the exhaustive and seemingly repetitive review process, there will be plenty of opportunities to pick the whole plan part and make changes. The bigger the project, the more likely changes will occur. You only need to look at the EIR/EIS documents for the High Speed Rail and BART-to-San Jose projects to get a feel for it. Changes can be caused by environmental factors, budget constraints, market conditions, or other variables.
Knowing that change is inevitable, IMHO it would be best to simply submit whatever they have to Fremont and let the two parties crank away. Which brings me to an error in Ratto's column:
In short, Wolff now is feeling the first real squeeze of his grand plan - the inertia that comes from civic hesitation.
It's not "civic hesitation" that's the problem here. The city is champing at the bit! The problem is Wolff and his team. Maybe the whip is getting cracked extra hard on the consultants, or whatever deliverables they were going to put together are woefully behind schedule. Whatever the case, the City of Fremont is entirely blameless. In fact, they've been clear from the beginning in their "cautious optimism" stance that they want to work with the A's to get the best plan available. Now it helps that the A's put in the $500k dev fee, but time is also money for all concerned.

My advice: Just submit the application already. Everyone will get past this FUD stage and start debating the true merits and problems with the plan, instead of all of this idle speculation. Sadly, one thing that's getting lost in this is the A's have already made some major concessions regarding the school site and parking that weren't in the original concept. Often such concessions don't get made until after the CEQA review begins. Oh well.
ESPN's Mark Kreidler also wrote about the supposedly difficult relationship between the Coliseum and the A's ever since they moved in. For some reason he forgot the salad days of the late 80's, when the Coliseum was a premier baseball venue and hosted premier teams. Now, to put that in perspective, we're talking about correlating that era to about 1/7th or 1/8th of the time the A's have been in Oakland. That may not sound like much, but it's a testament to how, from a baseball standpoint, the Coliseum has stood still while just about everyone else has upgraded their digs.
We'll see something more substantive next Tuesday (10/30), when another study session is scheduled to occur. Update: I received word that there is no study session scheduled, as it's dependent on submission of the development application.


Anonymous said...

Gee, I wonder what that "public support" that Wolff refers to is all about???

Anonymous said...

Looks like the traffic nightmare just won't go away with this project.

FC said...


I'm with you, just submit the damn application already. It's not like the thing will be etched in stone. You know it will be picked apart and amended many time over. I just don't understand why the delay.

Marine Layer said...

Support comes in three forms. First is political support from City Hall. Next is actual money for either the stadium or infrastructure, and Fremont hasn't budged on either - there's nothing in the wallet. Then there's support from the community, which is why the Wolffs have been meeting with numerous community groups.

Ah, but you didn't actually want an answer, anon. You just wanted to throw some salacious vague accusations out there, right?

Anon - I'll give you a full unedited post here (not just a comment) if you want to actually take the time to explain the "traffic nightmare" with any degree of knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I'm not the only one who has traffic concerns about this "project." Check out any of the commentaries on it (Poole's for instance). Explain away if it makes you feel better. The cold hard facts is that this stadium proposal has no real solution to the public transporation issue that must be addressed if a baseball park is to be successful in the long run. This project will be on one of the busiest stretches of highways in the Bay Area. At least the coliseum has BART readily available ... this one does NOT.

Seems as though you and Wolff have become awfully defensive on this topic.

Marine Layer said...

I have explained away the traffic situation in south Fremont and made public transit suggestions. All you have to do is search the blog. It's not me being defensive. It's me actually backing up my assertions, a concept that seems to be eluding you.

Unlike you, I'm thinking about solutions to the A's struggles as the second team in the smallest two-team market. What are you doing other than whining?

Let me know if you're going recycle the same rhetorical junk next time. Then I'll know whether or not it's worth a reply.

Anonymous said...

"Explain away"????

You don't seem to get it, my man.

You just can't explain away the total LACK of public transportation at this site and you just can't explain away the traffic mess entailed with this site.

Again, it's not just me anymore ... columnists, fans and politicians all have these concerns .... concerns that don't just get EXPLAINED AWAY as you and your buddy wolff like to do.

We'll see what comes of this, now won't we.

Jeffrey said...

There are two big problems I have with the "traffic nightmare will ruin this stadium" line of logic. The first is that the traffic for some folks who go to week night A's games will not really change as a result of moving the stadium south. The second is that the traffic situation is already being worked on and will be relieved to a great degree well ahead of a stadium opening.

The traffic concern is real, but pretending that how it is today is how it will be then is one of two things:

1. Ignorance of the fixes in place without a stadium
2. Intentional misstatements to confuse the issue.

As a person who drives through Fremont every day on my way, to and from work, I can tell you that complaints about traffic on 680 are greatly exaggerated.

Additionally, complaints about traffic on 880 are accurate today, the biggest reason for the delays is construction that is being completed to address the traffic flow problem long term. When I, occasionally, drive North on 880 at commute time (afternoon commute time) the second I pass Mission the traffic begins to clear. Meanwhile, in the southbound direction, the traffic is flowing freely.

So, people coming from the South will have to deal with a shorter distance to travel through less traffic then they do now. After all, even if people from San Jose take Bart to the game now they have to go northbound on 880 or 680. And the people who will travel south to the game will come through an area of the freeway that is not as clogged as people want to pretend.

Last, the current traffic nightmare will not be a traffic nightmare of the same level by 2009. Or well ahead of the park opening.

Marine Layer said...

If you'd take the time to read, you'd see that I've made valid, detailed explanations. If you want to debate those, fine. If not you're just blowing smoke.

I don't have solutions for every problem the A's will face, but I am honestly trying to provide a reasonable basis for discussion. Starting with this post.

James said...

Jeffrey is right.

The traffic situation will be self-mitigated on a number of levels.

First, there are two major interstates within about a mile Cisco Field and both will be utilized to get to and from the ballpark, both going south, and one going east, and one going north. People from Oakland and Hayward obviously will use the Nimitz. People from Livermore, Pleasanton, and CC County will use I-680. And people from SC County will have a choice between the two.

Second, as Jeffrey points out (and as ML has said many times), traffic mitigation along the Nimitz in Southern Fremont is already well under way.

Third, the very design of the ballpark village means that many people will arrive early and stay late after the games and enjoy the many dining and entertainment options in the Village.

Fourth, people from Southern and Central Fremont, Newark, and Milpitas would probably avail themselves of surface roads (Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont Blvd., Grimmer, Farwell, and Albrae).

One has to keep in mind that this Anon and others probably wouldn't be bringing up traffic issues if the stadium were being built at the Oakland Naval Base or even in Alameda, where the traffic situation would undoubtedly be far worse than what is proposed in Fremont.

anon-a-mouse said...

There isn't a "total lack" of public transit. There will be commuter rail (granted, not the ideal solution) and there is this thing called a bus. Both qualify as public transit. I'm not saying more doesn't need to be done, but let's not overstate the problem.

As for Ratto's column, I actually agree with most of it. Sure, I can quibble with a statement here and there, but overall I agree with his main point: Wolfe had no reason to use this particular stick at this time. And tilting at the CEQA windmill seems very odd, since that process hasn't started and won't until he submits the proposal. I guess it's a preemptive strike against the community input (ie: don't make this too hard, or the A's are out of here) but does he have any reason to start playing hardball before the game even begins?

Anonymous said...

You guys just don't get it.

Baseball parks in this day and age just need to be close to public transportation.

This Fremont initiative flat out ignores this issue.

Marine Layer said...

It will have public transportation. It just won't be BART, at least not close by. That flat out sucks. Is BART a need? Evidently not.

Jeffrey said...

As another poster points out, there is more to public transit than BART. I read into your comment about how we all don't get it as meaning, there needs to be BART.

I disagree, and the facts about our beloved A's support the notion that you are wrong, as most people who go to games in Oakland do not take BART.

All that said, it would be nice to have BART. If the alternatives are stay in Oakland with BART and the Coliseum, or drive to the game at Cisco Field... I'll take the drive.

But further, the option will be take BART to Fremont and jump on an A's provided shuttle and that is public transit.

I remember a chart you put up once showing the modes of transit that exist for the major league parks. Can you link that post? I'd love to read it again and familiarize myself with the actual "need" for public transit.

I recall it had 4 modes of transit, hard rail, light rail, buses and maybe one other thing? I'd like to see what is available at stadiums today and how that compares with what would be available at Cisco Field.

Anonymous said...

I recall that traffic and parking were constant arguements used to stop the now Sharks arena. Once opened there has not seemed to be a single voice of concern.

Ed said...

To the trolling Anon anti-Fremont poster: Enough already. If "we'll see what comes of this", would you mind stopping the moronic one-line rhetoric until: a) we see what comes of this (as in, they break ground or the A's or Fremont back out completely;) b) you actually cite something besides a second-hand, unlinked reference to an Oakland columnist; and c) you nut up enough to put a identity behind your posts?

(In the interest of disclosure, I'm an A's fan living out of state, and my parents, also A's fans, live in the foothills of the Sierra, so I'll to fly in for the home games and rent a car no matter where the damn stadium is. But if a new ballpark helps re-sign Daric Barton in six years, I'm all for it.)

Marine Layer said...

Jeffrey - Somehow I purged the tables locally and on the website when I was doing some routine maintenance. I'm looking for the original spreadsheet. It'll come in handy for future comparisons.

The original post can be found here.

Lew Wolff is our savior said...

"You guys just don't get it. Baseball parks in this day and age just need to be close to public transportation."

Um, putting your condescension aside for a moment, you pretty much pulled this "fact" out of your posterior. Here's a partial list of average 2007 attendance figures and rankings for those horrible, transit-less ballparks that keep getting built:

LA Dodgers: 47K (#2 overall)
LA Angels: 41K (#5 overall)
Milwaukee Brewers: 35K (#12 overall)
Texas Rangers: 29K (#17 overall, despite perpetually putrid teams)


a's fan said...

For the heck of it, I thought I'd take a look at:

Maritz, Wolff & Co.

This should be required reading. I should have checked it out before.

Everyone will form their own opinions, for sure. Personally, some of it kinda scares me - this guy bought the Oakland A's?:

Maritz, Wolff’s mandate is three-fold: (1) purchase prime hotel and resort properties according to strict selection criteria; (2) work with the managers to improve the hotel’s bottom line performance, thereby producing attractive returns for their investors; and (3) re-invest strategically in physical assets. The partners believe that by working directly and cooperatively with a hotel’s management company to enhance revenues and reduce costs, they can maximize investment returns by adding significant value to properties.

and elsewhere:

Exit Strategy

Potential exits include portfolio sale, individual property sale, IPO via REIT, refinancing/recapitalization, institutional joint venture, etc. Return Hotel Equity Fund seeks to maximize current cash distributions from its properties and targets a 25% internal rate on return for its investments.

I'm sure with his strategies he's wildly successful, a wealthy businessman indeed. But as far as our ballclub is concerned? Yow.

Makes me feel like a cut of Porterhouse or London Broil.

Jeffrey said...

I don't see anything on the Wolff website that is shocking. What makes you feel like a piece of meat?

James said...

A's Fan...

No, are you actually saying that he tries to make money and give his investors a return on their invesments. Shocking business strategy.

Somebody better call the Department of Justice.

anon-a-mouse said...

Welcome to the business world, junior. You're actually surprised by any of that? It's pretty standard stuff.

a's fan said...

Fair enough.

Just to check my own perceptions, I figured I should look at the site of another MLB owner to see how it would compare. Magowan comes up blank. Let's try the Red Sox. I hate the Red Sox.

Crap. Now here's a guy who has a corporate strategy I actually kind of like. I'm aware this may all be window dressing, but hey - the window dressing is what we see.

John W Henry & Company

Click to his Methodology and Philosophy, if you are so inclined - then compare it to Lew's.

Since the firm's founding, John W. Henry & Company, Inc. has employed analytical methodologies firmly rooted in economic and statistical theory. Our quantitative models were designed using market principles that have stood the test of time. These models have demonstrated consistently that market prices, which may at first seem random, are actually related through time in complex, nonlinear ways -- confirming our basic belief that market prices simply reflect participants' expectations and reactions to changing market dynamics.

Moneyball! And let's compare his Exit Strategy, though it's not so blatantly labelled:

In practice, this systematic process may dictate that we close positions with a loss in order to provide downside protection, but it also may ensure the discipline to stay in markets that are quiescent for long periods of time in order to achieve possible long-term gain for our investors. In either case, our investments reflect our trading models’ assessment of the market itself, not a trader’s emotional response.

Once again, you may disagree, but I think this fellow's methodology totally eclipses Lew's. These guys are in two different leagues. John Henry's approach, you gotta admit, may much better benefit an asset such as a baseball team.

Damn. No wonder that those bastards will be getting fitted for more WS rings.

I'm losing hope. Since you guys know way more than me: can you work through Lew's math and tell me how long we need to wait until he sells our team?

Marine Layer said...

I think you're reading far too much into basic PR fodder.

Sports franchises have a simple operating model. They have a business side and a sport (baseball) side. While the two interact they don't usually interfere with each other. There are some notable exceptions like the Yankees and Cowboys, but most franchises are run in this manner. During the offseason the business side tells the baseball side what the budget is are what the GM's limitations are if any. The GM will check throughout the season about possible transactions. So teams are much more a product of their GM's than their owners. In this case it's Billy Beane and Theo Epstein, who is Billy with a bigger budget.

That's not the only similarity. It was Sox owner John Henry who hired Beane 4 years ago to implement Moneyball with Epstein as the assistant. When Beane backed out Epstein got the gig, and the rest is history.

And it goes even further. Henry is busy buying real estate near Fenway Park for further development. Lew Wolff is buying real estate around a future ballpark to control development there.

The differences lie in what Henry and the Sox have as opposed to Wolff and the A's. The Sox own their own cable channel. They have the undying love of an large region of fans and an old, intimate ballpark that sells out repeatedly. He also allows for a budget almost twice that of the A's.

Wolff has none of those things. But he's working on it.

Don't worry about whatever drivel is posted on their websites. Their actions speak much louder, and from that perspective they appear much more alike than you may think.

a's fan said...

marine layer -

I do not disagree. Much of that I know, thanks for a little more background.

Until this evening, the only John Henry I knew was one who talked back to the captain as he was pounding rails. Huh!

And I freaking HATE the Red Sox.


(and this is a very big butt)

Baseball is 90% PR.

(Bench him if you like, but that batter's been knocking in my RBI's for years and years and I got the bank statements to prove it.)