24 August 2009

BART to Warm Springs construction to begin

After securing a bid 45% lower than originally estimated, the tunnel portion of Warm Springs extension has been given the go-ahead by BART. The tunnel will extend southeast from the existing Fremont BART station, underneath man-made Lake Elizabeth, before turning south to occupy the former Western Pacific rail right-of-way. The only station to be built is Warm Springs, which will also be the future southern terminus until construction on the extension to San Jose/Silicon Valley begins. Another station in the Irvington district is currently unfunded. The complete estimated cost for the 5.4-mile extension is $890 million.

It's odd that one of the reasons for building the Warm Springs station at the planned location, NUMMI, will probably not be around for the opening in 2014. It's also likely that nothing will have replaced the auto plant by the time the station opens. Lew Wolff has rejected any idea of revisiting Fremont for the time being.

20 August 2009

Recap of walking tour

This was the second walking tour put on by the City. Leading the way was SJRA's Kip Harkness, along with several others from the City. The walk started out inside the station depot, where we were informed that the tour would take an hour. Bottled water was graciously provided (your tax dollars at work).

We quickly moved outside in front of the station, where Harkness explained the expanded station vision. The "Grand Central" concept was brought up, though any expansion would be done within the context of preserving the existing depot. As shown in previous materials, the expansion will provide connections to future HSR and BART, along with additional space for other uses. BART will run underground, while HSR could run either underground or above ground. One attendee asked if HSR could run under the ballpark. Harkness replied that it might be possible, but dealing with the area water table could prove difficult, especially if the ballpark were sunken - as it is in some conceptual drawings. He cited an example in The 88, a recently opened high-rise residential tower located downtown. Three floors of underground parking were in the plans, but construction crews struck water only 1.5 stories down, forcing a major pumping/rework effort. 20 million riders are expected to go through the expanded Diridon Station per year. Like most, I'm skeptical of the figures.

Next topic was the area plan. The various agencies whose projects will impact the area have been in contact and are contributing towards the plan. There is a window in which the area will be torn to shreds in order to accommodate the BART cut-and-cover operation, new foundation work for midrise (up to 130' tall) buildings, and the Autumn Parkway construction project. Guidelines will be part of the updated Diridon Area Specific Plan, from building heights to setbacks to streetscapes. Parking is the big unknown, since it's going to take some time to properly formulate the right mix of short and long-term parking.

Then we walked past some of the property recently bought by SJRA along W. San Fernando St. The only building not empty was Patty's Inn, which has a lease through 2011 (hint-hint?). A rep from Parks talked about the Los Gatos Creek Trail. It looks like the City is getting ready to buy the land on the western bank to build the trail. The fire training site south of the ballpark will not be used for a parking garage, as was drawn up in the original EIR. Housing has designs on the land, but that use is not politically feasible given the amount of neighborhood uproar it would cause.

In order to make the new Autumn Parkway streetscape the way it's being envisioned, the City may ask the state to relinquish the State Highway designation (CA-82) for Autumn and Montgomery Streets. Since those streets are state highways, they are subject to state design and maintenance rules, which would either have to be eased or modified to accommodate the changes the City wants to enact. The same goes for The Alameda, which area residents have long wanted to transform into a pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevard.

Next up were the old KNTV studios (acquired) and the AT&T site (not acquired). There was talk of preservation of some kind. There could be some reuse of materials or fa├žades if possible. I would at least expect some monuments to commemorate the historic value of the sites.

The PG&E substation situation proved interesting. The City and PG&E acknowledge that the existing layout is not exactly space efficient, so they are looking at ways to reconfigure the site in a more compact manner. It seems more likely that reconfiguration will occur than a substation move, partly due to lower cost, partly because a 32,000-seat ballpark may not require a substation move.

We then hoofed it back to Diridon Station, under the tracks and out to Cahill Park, which is west of the station. Mostly this was to show how good, community-driven TOD can be built. Keep in mind that there's a good chance that zero housing will be built in the planned area. Finally, we congregated on the Alameda, across the street from the site of the always six months away Whole Foods site. Not much to say about that. I asked about the state of the revised ballpark EIR. Harkness said that it's still in process and that no date has been set for its release, though 60 days is a pretty good guess. Those who want to be notified should head over to SJRA's ballpark page to get on the mailing list.

Questions? Fire away, and try to keep it on topic.

19 August 2009

Upcoming San Jose calendar

A bunch of planning/ballpark-related activity is on tap for the next month+ in San Jose, including tonight's Diridon site walking tour. The full list:
  • Wednesday, August 19, 6 PM: Walking tour of development area at Diridon Station.
  • Saturday, September 12, 9 AM-12 PM @ Parkside Hall, Room B (180 Park Ave., next to the Tech Museum). Meeting notice (PDF).
  • Thursday, September 24, 6 PM @ TBD. Good Neighbor Committee Meeting. Tentative agenda items include A) Major League Baseball 101, B) Proposed Major League Ballpark Economic Impact Analysis
I'll report back from the walking tour later tonight. I may even test out the blog's new Twitter account while on the tour (@newballpark).

18 August 2009

Wolff backs off 2012 Quakes opening

The Merc's Elliott Almond interviewed Lew Wolff on the state of the Quakes stadium effort, and the news was not good. According to Wolff, the problem is sponsorship revenues.
"You can't do it out of magic," Wolff said. "There's no sense building a stadium unless you have some flow of revenue."

The club, Wolff said, needs about $5 million a year in sponsorship for a 15,000-seat, no-frills stadium. It has secured 20 percent of that so far.

"We're trying to get to the edge of the diving board," he said. "Before jumping into a pool we want to make sure there is water in it."

When Lew and I spoke earlier in the spring, we spent a little time discussing the Quakes project. Unfortunately, he said many of the same things at that point, which makes it dismaying to know that things haven't improved. We are in a recession/depression/what-have-you, so it's difficult to see that light at the end of the tunnel.

The problem doesn't appear to be the naming rights sponsor. It's more of a problem with the smaller sponsors whose ads appear on rotating and fixed signage throughout the stadium. MLS and the Quakes aren't blessed with rich TV and radio deals, so every bit of sponsorship revenue, right down to the jerseys, is important. Wolff mentioned an unusual financing angle that involved partnering with local building trade unions so that they could get their skin in the game on something they were building. That idea went nowhere.

What makes it worse is that some of the teams who would normally provide some competition locally for sponsor revenue aren't even around. The SaberCats aren't playing this year and may not play for a while, if at all. The Stealth indoor lacrosse team bolted for Seattle. A new women's soccer team, FC Gold Pride, sort of competes with the Quakes but also co-exists somewhat symbiotically.

While the six major sports teams (A's, Giants, Raiders, 49ers, Warriors, Sharks) are reasonably healthy despite the state of the economy, an on-again, off-again team like the Quakes will naturally have difficulty attracting sponsors even if they're located in the rich Silicon Valley. Unveiling drawings of the new stadium, which to date have been a closely guarded secret, should help sell the concept. Really, it comes down to the venue. Seattle and Toronto are cited as new success stories, and both are buoyed by pent-up demand while playing in sparkling new facilities. The Quakes play at the jury-rigged albeit cozy Buck Shaw Stadium, convenient but not compelling. It may be that Wolff/Fisher will simply have to place faith in the fans and potential sponsors to come out of the woodwork when a new stadium opens. It's not the most ideal position to be in, that's for certain.

15 August 2009


Cooler heads seemingly have prevailed as BART and its unions came to a tentative agreement on a four-year CBA. It's important to note that the agreement is indeed tentative as rank-and-file members have yet to vote on the deal later this week.

Hopefully a done deal will make the following table little more than trivial:

Not pretty, is it? It's actually a simplified version of something I was working on in case of a BART strike. As I started looking at train, rail, and ferry schedules provided by various transit agencies, palpable dread came over me. Not only would it be inconvenient and time-consuming to even attempt to use many of the alternatives listed above, some like Capitol Corridor are a good deal more expensive.

When we talk about transit to the Coliseum, bus service is never mentioned. Ever wonder why that is? Maybe it's because buses don't have as varnished an image as rail. Maybe it's because of a bus's lack of perceived permanence. From looking at AC Transit's maps and schedules, it may largely be a routing issue.

AC Transit has a series of backbone lines, 72/1/99. Line 72 runs from Richmond to Downtown Oakland, #1 from Downtown Oakland to Bay Fair, #99 from Bay Fair to Fremont. These lines make fairly long distance trips possible without numerous transfers, while routing in many cases within a few blocks of a BART station. However, one major exception is Line 1, which runs along International Blvd/E. 14th for most of its route. In doing this, it makes its closest stop to the Coliseum Complex nearly 3/4 mile away. Local loop buses have to provide feeder service. Not exactly convenient. While it makes more sense for local residents since the current routing serves more of the local population, it doesn't make things easier for event goers.

Amazingly, it seems to be easier if you're coming from San Francisco. That alternative to BART includes one transfer. The trip would take 75 minutes, but at least it's straightforward. I looked for a clean ferry-based route but it didn't exist. The Oakland and Alameda Ferry Terminals don't link directly to buses that run near the Coliseum, forcing additional transfers or a lengthy walk to Downtown. Alameda's Harbor Bay Ferry looks like a good route since it actually connects to a bus (Line 50) that runs to the Coliseum. Unfortunately the ferry itself only runs during weekday commute hours, making it incompatible with baseball crowds.

It stands to reason that the major value propositions for affected fans either would be to choose to drive or simply not attend because of heavier traffic, estimated to be at least 30 minutes in additional travel time when going to the game. Still, I wanted to put this post up to show how bad the backup system is. Of course, if you chose to drive during a BART strike, you might feel perfectly entitled to park at the Coliseum BART parking lot, since there wouldn't be BART users parked there. Then again, many already park there without needing an excuse...

12 August 2009

California Redwoods. WTF?!?!?!?!

It's a bad sign for the UFL when none of the Bay Area daily papers had a story from Tuesday's unveiling of the San Francisco California franchise team name and colors. Just as well, though, since they would have been blinded by this:

SF Weekly's Joe Eskenazi was brave enough to potentially harm his own lenses and a digital SLR's, all of which apparently came away unscathed. The color combo is indescribably awful, except to say that it looks like Paul Pelosi consulted with Proctor & Gamble's laundry detergent department to hone in on that special mix of hues. You can even now download a uniform guidelines doc (PDF) showing exactly which Pantone colors you'll need to match if you want to make your own custom Femi Ayanbadejo jersey.

BTW the team will be called the California Redwoods. According to NBC Bay Area's late sports report, home games will be played at AT&T Park. Previously, it was expected that games would be split between SF and Sacramento. Why else would they use the California moniker? The Las Vegas team also claims the Los Angeles market, which means that some home games will be played at Home Depot Center. Whatever the reasoning behind all of this, tickets go on sale later today at 10 AM. I won't be scrambling to get tickets, but I am curious enough to attend a game at some point if they actually start playing.

Blue blocker sunglasses are a necessity, though maybe not at the inaugural home game, which is scheduled for the night of October 17 (yes, that October 17), I suppose, to avoid potential conflicts with the Giants' postseason schedule.

09 August 2009

Verizon Coliseum?

Matier and Ross report that telecom giant Verizon may be in talks with the Coliseum Authority to do a short term naming rights deal at the stadium. It would be a "five-year, multimillion-dollar deal." Yes, we had just gotten used to one season as the rightfully named Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, but the City of Oakland and Alameda County both need the cash badly, so I'm not against it one bit.

Color me surprised that a deal is being done, considering the states of the tenant franchises. It is a short deal which may point to positive talks between the Authority and the Raiders, whose lease ends after the 2010 season.

Ready for yet another corporate name that won't stick? As fans, we complain about abrupt name changes and the concept of naming rights in general. However, the corporate entities don't really care that much about whether or not we use the names. They care about media exposure, and that's what naming rights provide. It'll be interesting to see what Verizon does strategically. It already has a major high profile venue in Verizon Center arena in DC, plus a strong regional presence in the Northeast with Verizon Wireless Arena, a smaller venue in New Hampshire.

It's not a bad idea as Verizon may want to counter AT&T, which was rumored as the naming rights partner for the new Cowboys Stadium before the economy went into the tank. Verizon's only major presence in the Bay Area is as a wireless carrier, as AT&T is the predominant carrier for land-based services. Verizon may also work in an early termination clause (as McAfee did), which they could employ if one or more of the Coliseum tenants leave before the end of the deal.

05 August 2009

Don't tase me bro!

Why is it that stuff always happens during a Rangers series? A man with a long white beard (who apparently was a Rangers fan) was a bit too animated during last night's game and was tased for his attitude.

Just as told by Rob Riggle's officer in The Hangover, the big boys need two shots - whether they are Santa or Fat Jesus.

Root beer float day tomorrow!

Update: Original embedded video was replaced with a new one.