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.