28 February 2009

Site redesign

It's been nearly 4 years since I started this blog, and for a while I've felt it needed a change to its rather generic, stale look. To that end, I've started using a template normally used for WordPress but adapted for Blogger. The only major change is that it's a wider template, better for use with high resolution, widescreen monitors. I'll be able to incorporate larger pictures and additional page elements in the process.

Comments and/or suggestions about the new look? You know what to do.

27 February 2009

Lew to SJ: "Slow your roll"

In an effort to contain communications, Lew Wolff asked San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to keep city officials from contacting Major League Baseball about the city potentially getting the A's. This may be to avoid the spectacle caused by former Mayor Ron Gonzales, when in 2005, he staged a press conference complete with unconvincing signage in front of Phoenix Muni in an effort to convince MLB that San Jose was a worthy city. The event didn't hold a candle to Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman's use of showgirls a few months earlier at the 2004 winter meetings. Goodman repeated the performance in a misdirected manner last December, in front of a bunch of minor league moguls.

Back in 2005, both the mayor and the now-defunct Baseball San Jose group lobbied hard on San Jose's behalf. There was talk of liberation for San Jose. Some suggested legal means to loosen the Giants' grip on Santa Clara County's territorial rights. Wolff had not yet assumed control of the A's, and the city's efforts were confusingly, yet transparently non-specific.

This time, it's clear who's going to talk and how it's going to progress. If there's anything we've learned about the last few years, it's that MLB doesn't like to be shown up. Even Bud Selig's continued stubborn defense of his tenure during the steroid era shows the need to control the message, no matter how absurd it sounds.

As the San Jose saga begins in earnest, expect the communications to be tight. No room for overeager types looking to earn political points, no need to stray from whatever blueprint is/will be in place. If San Jose is, as Roger Noll says, the last chance to keep the A's in the Bay Area - and more importantly Wolff believes it - Lew's not taking chances.

San Jose gets the ball rolling

A group of San Jose City Council members wants to get moving on talks with the A's by proposing the A's be an agenda item for the March 24 session. Among the tasks associated with the item: commissioning a poll to gauge public support for an A's move, and a request to set rules for any formal business discussions with the A's.

What's interesting about this is that the three members involved - Nora Campos, Nancy Pyle, and Rose Herrera - aren't really considered part of the "gung ho" pro-A's faction within City Hall. That group, led by Mayor Chuck Reed and Council members Sam Liccardo, Pete Constant, and Pierluigi Oliverio, have apparently been talking informally with the A's and among themselves on how to tackle the situation.

The ever reliable SJ cheerleader, Mark Purdy, fired up the bandwagon as soon as he could. He even added a twist to his plea to MLB, requesting an economic study to determine what measurable adverse effects for the Giants would come out of an A's move to San Jose. A fair request, IMHO. And speaking of polls, a very unscientific Merc web poll shows that 72% of the over 1,000 respondents approved of the A's pursuit of San Jose. Another 9% conditionally approved the move based on the resolution of territorial rights.

Silly me, thinking we were entering another quiet period. Well, it'll be quiet for a couple of weeks at least.


This is the new FAQ. The old FAQ has been renamed "Fremont FAQ." It has not been edited or amended. The new FAQ leads off with a post-mortem on the Fremont plan. It is followed by a review of candidate cities, including Oakland, San Jose, and others. Information is subject to change and will be updated on a regular basis. BTW, comments are closed for the FAQ post. Send any info requests or corrections/clarifications to

Fremont post-mortem
1. What caused the Fremont plan to fail?
A confluence of events created an environment that was not favorable for the ballpark plan. On the business side, the A's experienced conflicts with big box stores at the existing and adjacent Pacific Commons shopping center (Costco, Kohl's, Lowe's). The two sides, with PC landowner ProLogis/Catellus acting as the intermediary, tried to negotiate a parking protection and mitigation plan but were unable to come to a proper compromise. The stores inevitably held veto power over the deal and in voting their disapproval, killed the original Pacific Commons concept.
The A's were also adversely affected by changing economic conditions, namely the slumping housing market and the credit crunch. Financing of the ballpark was expected to be based largely on sales of housing development rights. Without a known recovery period, such financing had to be put on hold indefinitely. In addition, new stadium projects faced high interest rates, often several points higher than in previous years.
When the A's changed their focus on the Warm Springs alternative, they quickly gained a huge adversary in the organized populace of the Warm Springs and Weibel neighborhoods. Those residents, worried about traffic and quality of life issues, visibly and vigilantly opposed a ballpark within 1/4 mile of an area school. When A's owner Lew Wolff called on Fremont to stop all EIR work, he pointed to this opposition and the negative press that came with it as a major reason for cessation. NUMMI, the GM/Toyota auto plant near the site, also voiced its disapproval of the alternative.
2. What was the Warm Springs alternative?
A major rethinking of the baseball village concept. In the alternative, the ballpark would have been decoupled from the retail/residential areas. The new location of the ballpark would have been near the planned Warm Springs BART station, 1.25 miles east of Pacific Commons. The WS alternative would have required additional land acquisitions, possibly including land from owners not willing to sell. Decoupling of the village would have meant the higher-end lifestyle center shopping center would not have been feasible.
3. What will happen to the baseball village land?
Given current and near-term economic conditions, it's unlikely that anything will be built on the land soon. Lew Wolff has expressed interest in moving forward at some point with development of the retail and residential vision, though this would appear to be a difficult sell to city leaders without an anchor such as a ballpark. The land is currently zoned for over 4 million square feet of office space. Additional land was purchased, including upwards of $24 million in sunk costs.
4. Is Cisco Systems still involved?
During the early December Fremont work session, a representative of Cisco's real estate group expressed support for the baseball village, and beyond that, support for the A's staying in the Bay Area. That appeared to indicate Cisco's ongoing sponsorship of a ballpark in the Bay Area, wherever the final site may be.
5. If the ballpark can't be financed with real estate proceeds, how would it be financed?
The A's probably devised the original concept to cover two financial structural issues. Financial institutions preferred not to tie bonds and loans to revenue obtained directly from the ballpark because those revenues tended to fluctuate. By tying to an external and presumably more stable source, more favorable loan terms may have been available. The A's will now have to revert to ballpark sources, which will likely drive the cost of borrowing up. A additional benefit the A's may have been projecting was additional revenue that could have been used for payroll or player development, since it wasn't going to be used for a mortgage payment.

Next steps
6. What will the A's do in the near term?
The A's maintain a lease at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum through 2010, with annual extensions through 2013.
7. What about long term?
Officials from Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento have shown their interest in either retaining or moving the A's. Other cities which have been engaged in MLB team pursuits in the past include Portland, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Charlotte, Monterrey (MX), and the Norfolk/Hampton Roads area. Only San Jose officials have spoken with the A's so far.
8. When would a new ballpark open?
Given the political and economic climate, it's unlikely that any new facility would open before 2014. Any deal between the A's and a city would take at least a year to settle, perhaps more if a public vote is required.

Candidate Cities
9. What advantages does Oakland have over other cities?
Oakland has been the A's home for over 40 years, and the sense of tradition and history there is valuable and intangible. It is strategically placed within the Bay Area, centrally within the region's 7 million residents. It maintains its status as a de facto transit nexus. The Coliseum has never had an issue with transit or parking infrastructure, and expectations about traffic loads and management were baked into the development of the complex. If a new ballpark site is found in or near downtown Oakland, there's a good chance it would also benefit from good infrastructure, as parking is plentiful and BART runs through all but the waterfront/Jack London Square area.
10. What disadvantages does Oakland have?
Oakland has generally lacked the corporate support necessary to bump up revenue for the A's from sponsorships to premium seat and suite clientele. This has forced them to do more with less, as has been famously chronicled in Michael Lewis's book Moneyball). While the Coliseum is convenient for those who drive or take BART, it is situated in a lackluster industrial neighborhood, which does little to invite or retain A's fans.
11. What is right/wrong with the Coliseum?
See the Deconstructing the Coliseum series (Part I/Part II) for an explanation.
12. What was the HOK study?
In 2000, the City of Oakland commissioned a study from noted ballpark architect HOK to look into future sites for an A's ballpark. Candidates included the Coliseum, Howard Terminal, Uptown, Oak-to-9th (O29 or Estuary), Laney College, and two sites outside Oakland city limits, Fremont (Warm Springs) and Pleasanton.
13. What happened to the sites in the study?
Several sites ended up being developed or acquired for non-stadium uses. Howard Terminal was acquired to consolidate operations for shipping giant Matson. Uptown ended up being a centerpiece for then-Mayor Jerry Brown's 10K housing plan, a mix of market rate and affordable apartments and condominiums. Oak-to-9th has been stuck in legal and development hell for several years. Peralta Community College District has shown no desire to develop Laney for a strictly commercial endeavor such as a ballpark. The Fremont site faced the challenges described previously, whereas the Pleasanton site, a.k.a. Staples Ranch, has been master planned for several phases of mixed use development.
14. Are there other sites in Oakland?
Several sites exist that have not been publicly or officially discussed as possible ballpark sites. The list includes the Broadway Auto Row Triangle, bordered by 27th St, 24th St, and Broadway. Another site frequently mentioned is the northeast corner of the decommissioned Oakland Army Base. Other sites which have been discussed include the Oakport site near the Coliseum, Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, and the 66th Ave/High St area, a.k.a. Coliseum North on this blog.
15. What happened to the Coliseum North plan?
Coliseum North was Lew Wolff's trial balloon for a development similar to what eventually was planned for Fremont. It would have included a ballpark, retail, and residential development on over 100 acres north of the existing Coliseum. The plan would have utilized some of the existing parking at the Coliseum complex. The ballpark site was anywhere from 1/2 mile to 1 mile from the existing Coliseum BART station, which Wolff felt merited a new station (cost: $75 million). The plan fell apart when area landowners, many of whom had active businesses on their parcels, balked at selling, especially at lowball prices.
16. What is the Raiders' status in Oakland?
In 2005, the Raiders and the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority negotiated a settlement which ended the team's lease in 2010. The two parties have been in talks to explore a new venue at the Coliseum.

San Jose
17. What advantages does San Jose have over other cities?
San Jose has experienced enormous growth over the last 30 years, making it the 10th largest city (population) in the US. San Jose is also a major component of Silicon Valley, where dozens of Fortune 500/1000 companies are headquartered. Silicon Valley/Santa Clara County has somewhat untapped potential for sports franchises, as only the NHL's Sharks call the area home despite the area's wealth.
18. What disadvantages does San Jose have?
The San Francisco Giants currently have territorial rights to Santa Clara County. The A's can't move to the area unless 3/4 of MLB owners vote to change T-rights. In addition, San Jose's charter is set up so that no public money could be set aside for construction or site acquisition without a public vote. San Jose's South Bay locale is less central to the Bay Area than other cities. Transit links between San Jose and the A's existing East Bay fanbase are quite limited, at least until BART is extended to the South Bay.
19. What is the status of the BART-to-Silicon Valley project?
In the November 2008 election, Santa Clara County Measure B, which proposed a 1/8-cent sales tax increase on top of a 1/4-cent sales tax increase approved in 2000. The project's Environmental Impact Report is still undergoing revision based on value engineering changes implemented in 2007. The project itself is still in its Design Phase. Construction is not scheduled to begin until later this year at the earliest, with service not scheduled to begin until at least 2018, up to 4 years after a ballpark opens in San Jose. Recently projected sales tax revenue shortfalls threaten to push out service until 2025, as VTA takes a phased approach to extending the line.
20. What is the Diridon South site?
Diridon South is a 14-acre site covering three large city blocks in the Greater Downtown San Jose area. It is located two blocks south of HP Pavilion, and immediately southwest of Diridon Station, the transit hub served by Caltrain, Amtrak, and VTA light rail and bus service. For more about the Diridon South ballpark site, click here and here.
21. What additional information do you have on San Jose?
See the posts "Lucky? San Jose" and "San Jose Looms on the Horizon" for more on the political situation.
22. What if the A's try to move to San Jose and the deal either falls through or MLB doesn't approve the move?
It is expected that the team would start to look outside the Bay Area and perhaps outside Northern California for a new home.

Santa Clara
23. What advantages does Santa Clara have over other cities?
Santa Clara is also a major component of Silicon Valley. It has a defined entertainment district, which contains the Great America theme park, plus a site for at least one stadium. Santa Clara also has its own city-owned power company, which can provide a team lower power rates and increased public borrowing potential.
24. What disadvantages does Santa Clara have?
The 49ers are working on a stadium with Santa Clara. Already, the A's and 49ers have a sort of gentleman's agreement in place to prevent either party from interfering in each other's stadium efforts. It is also unclear if Santa Clara has enough space for both 49ers and A's venues plus the required parking for both and Great America. Great America, which is owned by Ohio park operator Cedar Fair, has expressed its disapproval of the plan while offering to sell the park to the 49ers for a price.
25. What is the current status of the 49ers' stadium plan?
The City of Santa Clara is pursuing a change to the EIR which would include a doubling of use from 10 to 20 days per year. This would presumably accommodate the Oakland Raiders, who could potentially share a stadium with the 49ers.

26. What advantages does Sacramento have over other cities?
Sacramento has a good track record of fan support. The NBA Kings had consistent sellouts in the 80's and 90's despite terrible teams. Fandom reached a peak in the early 2000's, though it has fallen off as of late. The Sacramento River Cats, the A's AAA affiliate, have been at the top of minor league baseball attendance since the opening of Raley Field. Raley Field could conceivably be expanded to accommodate a MLB franchise.
27. What disadvantages does Sacramento have?
Sacramento is already contending with a volatile situation with the Kings, whose owners are looking for a new, privately financed arena. The citizens voted down a publicly-financed arena in 2006. While Raley Field is a premier AAA venue, the cost to expand and renovate to modern MLB standards could be upwards of $200 million. Sacramento's market is smaller than 1/2 of the Bay Area. It also lacks the corporate dollars other markets have that are considered necessary to keep a major league franchise competitive. A longer treatise on Sacramento can be found here.
28. What about the RiverCats?
The River Cats are owned by former Sharks CEO Art Savage, who is a friend of Lew Wolff from before their baseball ownership stints. Savage brokered the innovative financing deal that built Raley Field. Savage would have to be compensated by the A's if the A's moved to Sacramento. The Cats would also have to be relocated to another market, where they would have to put together another ballpark deal and would probably face a less lucrative financial situation than the one they had in Sacramento.
29. How interested is Sacramento?
New mayor Kevin Johnson (formerly of the Phoenix Suns and Cal) is working out the details of new arena plan at Cal Expo. Should that plan fail and the Kings leave town in the future, he has indicated he will work to get another major pro franchise in Sacramento. The A's are at the top of the list. The Kings are doing badly financially in their current home, ARCO Arena, but there is no clear cut relocation city on deck. Candidates include Kansas City (which has a new arena and once was home to the Kings) and Las Vegas (which has no arena deal at the moment).

Other cities
30. Portland?
During the Montreal Expos' flirtations with other cities, Portland became a leading candidate to its well-organized, well-presented bid. At this point, however, Portland's leaders are focused on two smaller projects: a new soccer stadium for a MLS franchise, and a new ballpark for the AAA Portland Beavers.
31. Las Vegas?
Mayor Oscar Goodman led the charge for a retractable dome MLB stadium. At the time, gaming interests expressed disapproval over the possibility of a private enterprise such as a MLB team getting public funds while competing with the casinos for the entertainment dollar. Goodman eventually backed away when he felt that Las Vegas was forever being used as a stalking horse. Right now the economic climate in Las Vegas is perhaps less favorable than any other market in the nation.
32. Charlotte?
Even prior to the economic collapse, Charlotte was considered an overextended market in terms of pro sports support. The Research Triangle may be more suitable as it only has one franchise and fewer sports alternatives. Both are considered medium-sized markets.
33. San Antonio?
San Antonio was another suitor in the bidding for the Expos. The effort was derailed when supporters couldn't come to an agreement as to where a ballpark should be located. Some argued for a downtown ballpark, others wanted to leverage more of the metro population by placing it closer to Austin.
34. Monterrey, MX or San Juan, PR?
Both are Spanish-language markets with large enough interim venues. Unfortunately, the bar for supporting a MLB franchise is so high that it is uncertain that either market could work in the long run, especially without brand new ballparks.

Other outcomes
35. Is there a chance of contraction?
Contraction is a situation in which one or more teams are shut down by MLB. Due to the almost everyday scheduling during the MLB season, two teams would have to be contracted. The cost to buy out two teams would run $500 million by the time the next window for contraction could occur, which would cost each remaining team $16 million. MLB would also probably face lawsuits and a threat to its antitrust exemption, which it has sought to maintain at any cost. Unless MLB experiences massive revenue reduction over the next several years, it would be hard for the league to justify contraction to the public.

25 February 2009

Quick note

Working on the FAQ right now everyone, expect a new version out by Friday. Also, I'm working on Coliseum concepts.

Consider this an open thread.

24 February 2009

Lew's "Dear John" letter

It's a breakup, folks. While the FCN and others will continue to protest at Fremont City Hall tonight even though the A's aren't on the agenda, Lew Wolff sent a letter to Fremont officials and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. I'm certain some still think that Lew and Fremont still have some nefarious scheme afoot to somehow backdoor approval of the project. That makes little sense given that he's taken his #1 ballpark lobbyist and shifted his focus from Fremont to San Jose.

On a related note, KLIV interviewed San Jose mayor Chuck Reed about the possibility of a ballpark. Reed said all of the usual things, including a very clear piece of guidance for the team, "I would expect them to pay for their own stadium."

23 February 2009

DirecTV not to carry A's games on CSN California?

In a further sign of the tightening economy, Comcast and DirecTV are sparring over A's games on the new-and-improved Comcast SportsNet California, which as you remember, signed the A's two weeks ago. DirecTV already carries the channel, but it hasn't come to terms over the carriage of the A's 2009 season, which includes 145 regular season games (75 in HD).

Hardball negotiations aren't unfamiliar ground for the two parties. They've been duking it out over CSN Northwest for a while. Comcast is trying to bump up subscriber fees for both of its California properties, CSNCA and CSNBA. Only last week, DirecTV and Salt Lake City channel KJZZ finally came to a retransmission agreement 50 games into the Utah Jazz season.

Years ago, DirecTV was quick to sign agreements with the various RSN's as their strategy was to siphon sports-loving subscribers away from the big cable companies. These days, it appears that carriage is now considered on a case-by-case basis. They have reason to do so, as a rising subscriber fee for a channel gets passed along to the consumer, and we all know how much we like our pay TV rate hikes.

Will this get resolved prior to the start of the season? Hard to say. A bunch of issues are on the table, from blackout rules to the Sharks' potential move to CSNCA. The Earthquakes also don't have a TV schedule for their upcoming season, and it's been assumed for a while that the A's and Quakes are sort of a package deal.

A different perspective

The best take I've seen on the demise of the Fremont plan comes not from the sports page, but from the Examiner's Architecture and Design writer George Calys. His insightful piece de-emphasizes the hot-button issues that seemed to dominate the media of late and gets to the true bottom of the situation: money. Here's a sample:
The residential market is suffering a shut out. What’s that got to do with a ballpark? The proposed ballpark village (like others already constructed or underway) relies on a mix of residential properties to make the project “pencil out”. Without the condos, homes, and apartments that are a part of the development, you don’t have a project. Anyone noticed how the residential market is practically scoreless?
The entire model for delivering Cisco Field and the baseball village completely blew up in a 6-month span. It's bad enough if you're the A's and you've already put up millions to pay for additional real estate, EIR studies, and such. The collapse of virtually every part of private enterprise spelled doom for the plan. Any thoughts of planning anything similar in fashion or scope should be reined in. Some of you have asked whether Site A or Site B can support X amount of ancillary development to support a ballpark. For the time being, it's not even worth projecting because of the economy. If the A's are focused on building a ballpark anytime soon, wherever it is, it will just be that. Nothing more.

20 February 2009

For Oakland fans with solutions

Okay, Oakland-first partisans. Here's your chance. By virtue of the comments at today's SFGate article, many of you think staying in Oakland is the cheapest and most reasonable choice. Instead of just spouting off a comment (you know who you are), lay out your plan. Here's the handy-dandy drawing from a few days ago. Take it and redraw it in the manner you think would work best. I'll even accept the Coliseum option from the HOK study, if you can fulfill the requirements below.

The fun doesn't end there. Next, you have to explain how much it's going to cost and how it'll be funded. It's perfectly okay to say it'll be privately funded if you can say what the private instruments are. I'm not requiring a pro forma spreadsheet showing all of the sources, just show you can pencil it out.

Finally, set us in motion. Give a timeline showing when certain key milestones can be reached.

Submit your plan to I'll put up a post next week containing your solutions, with attribution and a distilled explanation for each. I will not print diatribes about A's ownership, Bud Selig, Al Davis, politicians, or anything else not germane to your concept. You have until the end of Wednesday.

Now it's official

Notice of Cancelation [sic]

The A’s Ballpark project agenda item including the Notice of Preparation (NOP) has been canceled from the February 24, 2009 Council Meeting.

The Oakland A's have requested that both the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Notice of Preparation (NOP) processes be stopped while they take time to evaluate the options. The City has also directed our environmental consultant to stop work on the project.

The February 24, 2009 City Council public meeting regarding the A’s proposal has also been canceled.

Should the A’s wish to resume the project a new NOP will be issued and new comment period will be established.


Office of the City Clerk
(510) 284-4060
(510) 284-4061 Fax

19 February 2009

Fremont EIR work halted

Matt Artz again has the scoop on the Fremont process. Take a look at the comments below the blog blurb, especially the last one by FCN founder Deepak Alur. It appears that post the Warm Springs NOP, work can't move forward because the A's haven't dropped off a check to underwrite the work (which they've done on all other occasions). Money talks, right? The in-progress EIR has been rendered useless, and any new work requires the A's willingness to spend the money and time required to see the new NOP through. I would suggest that if the A's aren't going to foot the bill, that's their message to Fremont to "let me down easy."

Noticed one other thing while rummaging through some stuff in the attic.

The word "Fremont" is nowhere on the ball.


NUMMI chimed in with their opinion about the Warm Springs Alternative.
From the outset, it is hard to imagine how NUMMI could continue to operate with a ballpark immediately adjacent to it. The traffic congestion from a ballpark would seem a sure barrier to on-time delivery of parts needed for production. But the A’s may have some unique idea of how freeway off ramps/onramps could be added/improved, the stadium could be strategically situated, numerous surface streets could be widened, parking could be configured, etc. to avert that result. If that is the case, we would like to see that plan from the beginning of the planning process. The planned ingress/egress and infrastructure improvements or lack thereof could all have tremendous impact on our operations as well as all of the other businesses and residents nearby.
All in all, that's about as diplomatic as NUMMI could and should be about it. They're right to ask, as everyone else is asking, what piece of land the A's intend to use for the ballpark. Even supporters of the plan want the A's to do this, if only to cut down on the rumormongering. What could be interesting is whether or not the UAW will say anything. If NUMMI views the ballpark as a threat to the plant, the UAW will probably side with NUMMI in opposition. Now that's a two front war: NUMMI/UAW literally on one side, angry residents and environmentalists on the other. The residents now think that the cancellation of the 2/24 preso is a stalling tactic done to blunt criticism of the alternative.

Why won't the A's specify? Perhaps instead of explaining, I'll refer you to this wonderful clip from years past (careful, some language NSFW):

Diridon Sample

Just a couple of notes. Ask questions and I'll answer them. Comments thread will be moderated to include only Q&A about the image.
  • Capacity is ~32,400 seats, plus 1,000 standing room
  • Two decks with 40 luxury suites tucked beneath upper deck, a la Cisco Field and PNC Park.
  • 2,900 field club seats. No other club level
  • 40 minisuites above field club
  • 4 party or large suites
  • 2,000 bleacher seats in left field
  • 2,000 family outfield seats in right field
  • Field dimensions: 325' in the corners, 373' in the power alleys, 408' to dead center. It could be expanded by 3-5' outward in each dimension. This was done to show that despite the land's unusual shape, it could house a field with standard and symmetrical dimensions. Actual footprint of the ballpark is 9 acres.
  • Bullpens are beyond the outfield walls in left and right.
  • The massive blank area beneath the seating bowl is flexible space which would house on multiple levels: clubhouses, back-of-the house facilities, retail space, and team offices.
  • 1,700 parking spaces in a 7-story garage to the west of the ballpark. It would also be dual-use as the facility is adjacent to Diridon Station. The garage would more than double the parking currently available in the lots between the arena and ballpark, parking which would be lost as the blocks are developed in the future.
  • The Stephens Meat sign, if left in place, would be in the warning track to the right of the LF 373' sign.
Fire away.

18 February 2009

Stockton's use of eminent domain unlawful + Morgan Hill shows interest

The state's 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that the City of Stockton had no right to use eminent domain to force an old office building and its tenants off land it eventually used to build Banner Island Ballpark (home of A's high-A affliate Stockton Ports). The city will have to pay for all litigation costs. One interesting nugget: the affected landowner had an agreement prior to the eminent domain action to sell to A.G. Spanos. Yes, that A.G. Spanos.

Landowners in Morgan Hill have shown interest in attracting the A's, Raiders, or 49ers to their digs. Baseball would be practically impossible as the weekday commute there coupled with ballpark traffic would be crushing. For football it might be a little better, at least as long as all games were played on Sundays. Local pols appear to be realistic about the demands of pro sports teams and the city's limited resources.

17 February 2009

A's will not attend 2/24 City Council session

Just received word that the A's, who had planned to make a presentation on the Warm Springs Alternative at the February 24 Fremont City Council session, will not make the preso after all. No word as to why yet. Stay tuned.

Update: Matthew Artz checked in with both Lew Wolff and Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman to get explanations. The reasoning largely centers around MLB COO Bob DuPuy, who was scheduled to make the presentation as well as a morning appearance at the Fremont Marriott. Understand that when it comes to stadium talks, DuPuy is only brought in to either seal the deal or rescue it. With the chaos that has enveloped the A's-to-Fremont effort, DuPuy probably wouldn't be much help.

Questions to ponder in the near term:
  • Is Warm Springs dead?
  • Will the A's go full bore on the now modified Pacific Commons plan?
  • When will the A's next address the council?

14 February 2009

It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt

I'm pretty meh about the Raiders-Oakland talks. They're talking about renewing the relationship. Great. Ignacio De La Fuente is talking up the potential of the Coliseum redevelopment area. Fantastic. At some point in the next year or so, they'll need to bust out the details. How's it going to be financed? What will it look like? Will they preserve Mt. Davis and rebuild the rest of it or start from scratch?

Kudos to Amy Trask for not using her boss's old tricks. Twenty years ago, any major sports franchise had tons of leverage over cities and counties throughout the nation. These days the tables have been turned. While LA has emerged as a stalking horse, they'll have to get in line behind the Chargers, who have started their own marketing push throughout the basin.

Let's say that the two parties are able to come up with a new stadium plan at the existing Coliseum. To finance it, Oakland gives the Raiders development rights to the Coliseum (~60 acres), the Coliseum South area along Hegenberger (20 acres), and additional land between the complex and the BART station (15 acres). That puts the total available land at around 95 acres.

First and foremost, they have to implement a plan to preserve parking. Oracle Arena stages 100 events per year, over 40 them being Warriors games. I'm not aware of a specific parking requirement for the Arena, but most large indoor arenas tend to have at least 4,000 spaces in close proximity to the venue. The W's will undoubtedly ask for more to be preserved. At the outset, that makes the Coliseum complex's C and D lots, which flank the Arena, off limits.

As I understand it, the power lines and other utilities that supposedly make it difficult to build in the parking lot run underground beneath the center "mall" area. Preservation of the facility will have to be done. It's a good idea anyway because the complex was designed with the mall in mind. Landscaping and beautification are natural fits for this area.

That would leave the A and B lots for development, along with the land along San Leandro St. (which is privately owned and would have to be acquired), and Coliseum South, which includes the gravel "Malibu" lot. Conceivably, a large transit-oriented mixed-use development would be appropriate here. It's not a place for high-rises, but it can accommodate 4-5 story buildings with ground level retail. The difficult thing about this kind of development is that you'll have additional parking requirements. Residential development has parking requirements. Let's get rough minimum estimates for parking:
  • Residential - 3,000 spaces for 3,000 units
  • Retail - 1,000 spaces for 300,000 square feet of floor space
  • Stadium - Replacement of 5,000 spaces from A and B lots
Parking replacement for the stadium would have to be done with garages. That means no more tailgating, folks. If the C and D lots don't have garages built on them, they'd be the only surface lots in the area, which means they'd be the only possible place for tailgating.

The construction cost for all of this would be at least $1 billion depending on the actual stadium cost. Besides the one major problem of how to finance it, there's another issue to deal with: the Raiders have known track record when it comes to development. Al Davis's experience with the vertical passing game means bupkis when it comes to building anything. Even he admits that he's not a stadium builder, and this would be much more than a stadium. Davis, a football man who is not the billionaire type who views his team as a toy, has far less resources at his disposal than other incredibly rich owners like Jerry Jones, Paul Allen, Daniel Snyder, or Robert Kraft.

Do you think the Raiders and Oakland could pull something like this off? If they don't, what happens next? It seems likely that the two will limp along with a short-term extension at the Coliseum until the next move is determined. Beyond that, unless someone drops off a bag containing a billion dollars at either party's doorstep, it's hard to see how something this ambitious gets done.

13 February 2009

"With all due respect"

I lost count of how many times that phrase was used at the Miami commissioners session today. By the way, the vote to approve the Marlins ballpark project stalled at 2-2 while commissioner Marc Sarnoff backed off, saying that he needed changes to be made to the plan.

The scene looked like a small scale version of a recent House stimulus debate. Everyone played politics, a few insults were thrown around. Where do the Marlins go from here? Supporting Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez thinks it's dead if the concessions requested by Sarnoff are made.

They are now in a second recess while they consider... something.

Update: The meeting will adjourn continue again on March 12. Plenty of time for David Samson to sweat.

Examiner interview now up

Last week I did a quick e-mail exchange with the Examiner's Scott Sabatini, who has been following the A's stadium saga for the paper. The exchange has just been published (yes, my full name is in there), with a nod to yesterday's speculative post in there.

Sabatini has been picking up the pace of the A's beat since the beginning of the year. Impressively, he's covered the business beat in equal proportion to the on-field A's. Normally, a paper will have separate reporters to cover the team and the stadium stuff (a city business affair).

Side note: I'm watching the Marlins-Miami commission meeting right now. The city's commissioners will vote today to approve the ballpark. This vote is considered the last major hurdle for the Marlins.

12 February 2009

Let's just be friends

The thing about liveblogging an event is that when the writer looks back at what he wrote, horror is often plainly etched on his face. It's great for an Apple keynote address by Steve Jobs, not so great for something that requires greater analysis. For those who read the whole thing, bless your heart. For those who gave up partway down the post, here's an attempt to make amends.

To start off, the A's have officially made Warm Springs their preferred site, relegating Pacific Commons to retail/housing-only status. That will only galvanize opposition from the Warm Springs and Weibel neighborhoods, who intend to show up at the February 24 city council session pitchforks and torches polite signs in hand. A while back, I mentioned that while attending another council session over a year ago, I watched the council approve a controversial shopping center over the numerous objections of the very same Weibel neighborhood denizens. It was heated then, it will only become moreso in two weeks. Hopefully, the mayor and council have cleared the agenda for the comments session to follow. [Note: Notice of Preparation for Warm Springs here.]

Of course, the council session isn't just a Festivus-like airing of grievances. There's actual business to discuss, chiefly the council's upcoming decision to accept Warm Springs as the official site. Should the council move forward with WS, they'll authorize some amount of money to be spent to fully study the site and amend the EIR in the process. The A's, in a manner consistent with prior history, would likely underwrite the work.

Then again, maybe that won't happen. In yesterday's session, Lew Wolff had a couple of interesting quotes. One of them came early on in his rant about process:
We think issues should be fully aired, but not forever. A "No" answer is as good as a "Yes" answer for those of us who want to move forward.
He later went on to describe a similar situation in San Jose, when he tried to build a small hotel on a vacant lot he owned downtown. Since that particular project failed, he hadn't done any significant work in San Jose. Incidentally, the city changed mayors during that period from one he had a frosty relationship with (Ron Gonzales) to one who's practically a chum (Chuck Reed). Wolff also assumed ownership of the A's around that time as well.

Going back to the quote - it's a real eyecatcher. Is Lew hinting at Fremont giving up the ghost? Or does he want to keep slogging through along with the city? Do the mayor and council want to continue with this? One has to wonder what the limits of their political will are.

If Fremont approves the plan despite intense political pressure, another 3-6 months will be required to complete the EIR. The traffic study and management plan, which still haven't been released for the old Pacific Commons project, will continue to raise considerable ire due to its absence. The opposition, who had been the proverbial "sleeping dogs," will only get angrier, more organized, and most importantly, bigger. Fringe voices who have called for recalls and lawsuits will grow in number.

If Lew's nudging Fremont to say no, the city can exit this situation while saving face in the process. They can look like "heroes" by putting a stop to the "big bad developer." The council members who are looking to run for mayor next time (Wasserman's termed out) won't be overly tainted by the experience. Lew, in turn, can officially turn his attentions elsewhere.

I need to make an important distinction about this. I don't expect Lew to back out on his own. The San Jose issue I cited earlier showed Lew's frustration with bureaucracy. In this case, the city's not the problem. Instead, he saved his arrows for non-governmental parties. Wolff/Fisher still have $45 million of real estate at Pacific Commons and the option to buy $100 million more, so it's not like the developer wants to alienate the city. Something else might get built there in the future when the economy recovers. Friends in Fremont's high places will still be needed.

What we have, then, is like a romance in which outside circumstances can cause a breakup. Maybe the woman needs to take care of sick parents. Perhaps the man has found a new job far away. They're not married yet so they don't have to make the really tough decisions together. Instead, they can make the easiest decision to move on separately and become friends. Without benefits.

11 February 2009

Comcast Sportsnet California it is!

The A's have managed to extricate themselves from the messy scheduling predicament that is Comcast SportsNet Bay Area with their move to Comcast SportsNet California.

145 games will be included on the expanded CSNCA schedule, with 75 in HD. It's not yet known on what channel the HD broadcasts will be aired, but there is an empty Comcast 721 slot which can serve as CSNCA's HD feed. On satellite services, the distinction between SD and HD feeds is not so clear-cut, so we'll have to see how that shakes out.

On Comcast-serviced cities in the Bay Area, CSNCA will be on channel 89 starting March 11. This may coincide with other channel transitions, many of them related to Comcast's analog-to-digital switch.

The team will share the channel with the Kings, which should work well since there is little overlap between the NBA and MLB seasons. In cases of overlap, the CSN+ channel will still be available for occasional use. For the three games to be broadcast on CSN+ in 2009, this will only be the case in the Sacramento area. Bay Area viewers will see the game on the main CSNCA channel.

CSNCA and CSNBA will revamp their local programming offerings, including:
Among the new additions coming in April are SportsNet Central, a daily locally-focused sports show that will cover hometown teams, breaking local and national stories and updated scores. A separate show, Chronicle Live, will be produced in conjunction with the San Francisco newspaper’s sports department. The show will be an hour-long daily sports talk show.
Few things are more appealing than Ray Ratto's mug on my TV screen. I also wonder if this means the end for the simulcast of Gary Radnich's KNBR show (I'm sure in the minority on this - I love Radnich all the way back to the BayTV days).

Live blog - SJ Chamber breakfast

Watch this space for frequent updates. Comments are in brackets [].

8:00 - Mostly full, at least 150 people
Pat Dando addresses meeting - informal conversation

Council members: Constant, Kaira, Liccardo, Chu
Redev head Mavrogenes
Comerica Bank

KCBS reporter present

8:07 - Lew speaks
Business is not business as usual
We can't wait out the recession
We need to use the few assets we have to at least get projects teed up

I hope SJ won't tolerate the kind of self-interest delays that threaten projects

No public money/Union built soccer stadium - We plan to use union labor because that would be the best use for the project. It's not about trying to deliver a block of votes.

"I guess I'm a lobbyist"

All of my projects are union-built and didn't use a single lobbyist.

I shouldn't have to hire somebody to talk to the council. The current law is strange to me.

8:13 - Baseball

Cisco Field will do what the Arena and the Sharks have done for the region.

A few self-interested and in my view absurd voices have used double-speak to derail the process.

On this wild traffic situation, it isn't anywhere near the alternative use for the alternative site [not specified].

We think issues should be fully aired, but not forever. A "No" answer is as good as a "Yes" answer for those of us who want to move forward.

There are ways for the city to smooth the process without reaching into their pocket.

The process is killing California. How is the stimulus package going to stimulate things?

Let's help the city. Let's not fight every little thing. Let's support people who want to create jobs.

Forget about my baseball and soccer desires. [cue up cancer analogy] The process is the end product. We've gotta get to an end.

8:19 - The cost of indecision

The cost of not doing something is greater than the cost of going forward.
Q&A begins

When he moved to LA, Lew talked about the Arena. People asked him where San Jose was. He bought a bunch of 45's of "Do You Know The Way To San Jose" and handed them out. When the Sharks came to town, the city got on the map.

When we open the soccer stadium, the naysayers will go away. The Arena and the Sharks have been the single biggest stimulus for the city.

Dando cites several cities who have benefited from having sports teams.

Studies fail to cite how a stadium is financed. A city going out of pocket is far different from a private developer who wants to build it himself. Protesters like to say we're trying to tag the city - we're not. In terms of economic impact, I'd love to debate anyone from these schools (Cal, Stanford) [is Roger Noll available?].

8:30 - The Earthquakes have been great for the community since we brought them back. [Dando thanks Lew for bringing the team back, Lew thanks John Fisher. Dando asks about Beckham.]

Dando: Talk about bringing back one of the Giambi boys.
Wolff: We have a lot of young pitchers, and it's important to try to get them more than 3 runs a game. It's going to be tough but the teams will be more comparable (compared to last year).

Dando: Talk about the soccer stadium.
Wolff: We're piecing things together without any public money.
Dando: Any timing we can look at?
Wolff: In the next year we should be able to see something. I don't see the need for luxury boxes. It's going to be a user friendly stadium, with seats as close to the pitch as possible.
Dando: Has the real estate market changed the financing?
Wolff: We've always had at least two gameplans. We'll have some income streams coming in to the A's that weren't expected that'll help with the stadium. I won't go into anymore detail on that.

Dando: Let's talk about the A's in Fremont. What are some of the obstacles you may have to overcome if it doesn't work?
Wolff: From the day we've started I haven't entertained any "what if's." We're trying to earn our way to be in a city. I didn't think it would be this difficult.
Dando: What do you see happening with T-rights if Fremont doesn't work?
Wolff: If I even entertain those thought it keeps me from working on Fremont. I want to build a stadium. It's small, it's doable, and it's financeable even in this crazy market. I'm gonna go crazy if I can't get it done... I feel that there should be a time limit on environmental impact studies, which was the case when we first started out [I can't verify this].

Dando: What do you feel this soccer stadium will do to put us on the international stage?
Wolff: The more distribution we have - we want to get to about 20 cities - the better is for the soccer community. You look at regions in terms of number of soccer players, and Northern California is #1, followed by 8 states, then Southern California.

Wolff: We had a meeting in Phoenix about the spring training facility (PHX Muni). There were 8 public employees at the table. We came up with a concept in which we'd pay for it upfront and either the city could pay us back or we'd get lower rent. They said they couldn't do it for various reasons even though there wasn't any specific reason at all. They came back to us in a month much more willing to discuss it, because they realized they were doing things "the old way."

Dando: I think there should be a standard on how many projects succeed, not how many fail.

Wolff: I dropped out of developing here for a while. Phil DiNapoli and I had a project to build a Marriott Courtyard where you get off the freeway here downtown. The land is still undeveloped. We had 40 meetings. We spent $1.2 million. Finally I asked the redev head if we were done, she said "Yes we are done." I got a call over the weekend about the roofline. Some elected official didn't like the roofline, now you have to change it. I said we're not doing it. Goodbye.

We have to stop doing that. The process benefited the project, but we could've done everything in 10 meetings. [I vaguely remember the Courtyard project and wondered why it disappeared.]

9:00 Dando: Is there a particularly design you're trying to do in Fremont like Camden Yards?
Wolff: We don't want to do retro. We have foul poles running through (luxury) boxes. It's so intimate that we have to have a few columns [big acknowledgement]. We have a few things and Cisco has a few things that we'll be bringing to the table. [cites oft-mentioned technology]

Dando: What do you see happening along with the soccer stadium?
Wolff: We don't see a lot of ancillary uses right now. We see a lot of civic uses - graduations and such. If Apple has a product demonstration we'd like to have it happen there. San Jose lacks a modern outdoor venue [Spartan is old].

Dando thanks Wolff. Wolff mentions that even though he doesn't officially live in San Jose, he's here a lot as his daughter and grandchildren live here. Wolff is headed to Treasure Island to do the Giants-A's joint media session.

10 February 2009

San Jose looms on the horizon

The Merc's Denis C. Theriault has an article today on where San Jose stands with respect to site and process. As has happened on this blog, there's a debate as to how aggressive San Jose should be in pursuing the A's while the team is still focused on Fremont. Downtown area councilman Sam Liccardo appears poised to pounce on the chance, saying, "If we have an opportunity for a stadium in San Jose," Liccardo said, "I will clear my desk." We'll see if that's the quote of a champion for the cause, or Larry Reid.

As noted previously, San Jose has most (but not all) of the likely targeted Diridon South site acquired. An environmental impact report has already been certified. MLB's territorial rights to Santa Clara County, which are owned by the Giants, would have to be acquired by hook or crook. Theriault also brings up the possibility of a referendum, to which as we all know by now Lew Wolff is allergic.

So then, leaving aside the T-rights for a moment (no one on the outside knows if/how it can be resolved, including me), how could the A's and San Jose ensure that a vote would not be required? I'll go back to the handy snippet of the city's municipal code that addresses stadium construction:
4.95.010 Prohibition of the use of tax dollars to build a sports facility
The city of San José may participate in the building of a sports facility using tax dollars only after obtaining a majority vote of the voters of the city of San José approving such expenditure.

A “sports facility” for the purpose of this chapter is to be any structure designed to seat more than five thousand people at any one time for the purpose of viewing a sporting or recreational event.

“Tax dollars” for the purposes of this chapter include, without limitation, any commitment to fund wholly or in part said facility with general fund monies, redevelopment fund monies, bonds, loans, special assessments or any other indebtedness guaranteed by city property, taxing authority or revenues.

Nothing herein shall be construed to limit the city from allowing the construction of a sports facility funded by private investment.

If any provision of this chapter or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, then the remainder of this chapter and application to other persons or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.
To add to that, City Attorney John Doyle put out a legal opinion about how the City should proceed with its land acquisitions and other ballpark-related work. This has to do with the code above, as the words "participate in the building of a sports facility" could mean many different things depending on interpretation. He laid out three rules:
  • The City can pay for enviromental impact reports without needing a referendum.
  • The City can acquire land from willing sellers without needing a referendum, as long it could be used for purposes other than a ballpark.
  • Any eminent domain actions would require a referendum.
The second rule goes out the window when it comes time for the City to deal with the A's in business terms. The City won't be able to give the land away to the team, and it can't give them a $1/year lease or something similarly sweetheart. The term "fair market value" gets tossed around and while real estate values may have dropped by as much as 20% from the initial acquisition, any larger discounts could also be considered a giveaway, triggering a referendum. Effectively, the A's should count out any help other than the process-related work that has already been completed.

Theriault also mentions the height of the stadium. The SJ ballpark EIR was for a 45,000-seat ballpark with three decks and tall light standards. Cisco Field is only two decks and 32-35,000 seats. It can be 150 feet tall with light standards, or significantly less if the lights are incorporated into a roof structure.

Upcoming events

Tonight another outreach meeting will be held at Weibel Warm Springs Elementary School in Fremont (thanks for the correction, Calvin). It is not known if representatives of the A's will be present. The protesters will be out in force again.

Tomorrow is the SJ/SV Chamber's breakfast (7:30 AM) event with Lew Wolff. The event will be held at the Adobe HQ's Park Conference Room. Registration is closed. I'll have a wrap-up after the proceedings.

On February 24, the City of Fremont is expected to have a session in which the ballpark project will be on the agenda. The A's might file another application reflecting a shift in focus from Pacific Commons to Warm Springs.

09 February 2009

A's games on Sacramento's KTKZ-AM 1380

Good news for A's fans in Sactown. Talk station KTKZ will carry 127 games this season (no it's not 162 but it's an improvement nonetheless). KTKZ is a 5,000-watt, Class B station, so its reach is not that of a blowtorch. Still, it should cover the Sacramento market reasonably well at the very least (day/night coverage maps). I'll throw this out to Sac readers: Can you get KTKZ, and how well does it come in?

06 February 2009

KQED interview

Earlier this afternoon I was interviewed by Sarah Varney of KQED-FM's The California Report. The interview was nearly 20 minutes long and ran the gamut of ballpark, site, and economic topics. I'm not certain if any of it will be used. Regardless, a podcast/stream link will be up for the story once I get it.

05 February 2009

Warm Springs turns out in protest

The Argus' Matthew Artz has the details and the pictures of the 500-strong meeting and protest at Weibel Elementary in Fremont tonight. What was originally intended to be a small meeting of only 25 residents ended up becoming a big Q&A in the school's cafeteria. If you attended, please post your takes of the session.

03 February 2009

This week in Fremont

In an opposing view on the Argus op-ed page, former candidate for Fremont city council Vinnie Bacon takes on Dominic Dutra's piece last week and raises questions about the proposal in the process.

Meanwhile, Bizjournals has word of the A's making Warm Springs their main focus (the decoupled option). I may not have been clear about this before, so I'll say it now: I don't like the Warm Springs concept. Compared to the Pacific Commons plan, it's rushed and poorly conceived. The fact that a specific parcel hasn't been identified and a project level site plan isn't available only feeds into area residents' fears. If, as Lew Wolff says, the A's are trying to earn the residents' support, the effort so far is an epic fail.

This Thursday, the A's are scheduled to have a meeting with 25 members of the Warm Springs community at Weibel Elementary, a school only 1/2 mile from the oft-speculated ballpark site. The fledgling Fremont Citizens Network plans to protest outside the meeting. Could get interesting.