Boxer appeals to Selig

Senator Barbara Boxer, who is an Oakland resident, wrote the commish to bolster efforts to keep the A’s in Oakland. Here’s the full letter for your perusal:

March 31, 2009

Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Commissioner
Major League Baseball
245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10167

Dear Commissioner Selig:

I appreciate the announcement you made yesterday that you are forming a committee to review the various proposals regarding the future of the Oakland Athletics. As your committee does its work, I urge you to do everything possible to keep the team in Oakland.

As you may know, Oakland has recently gone through some difficult times and families there deserve some good news. As someone who splits her time between Washington, DC, southern California and Oakland’s Jack London Square neighborhood, I have seen first hand that Oakland is teeming with new young families and major developments that present endless possibilities. My children learned to love baseball through the Oakland A’s and our family was so fortunate to develop that common bond. We must give a new generation of families that same chance.

Oakland is witnessing a downtown renaissance, with new residences, restaurants, art galleries and entertainment venues opening weekly. Two new office towers are in development and the Port of Oakland recently announced a private investment of close to $1 billion. Major League Baseball can play a key role in continuing this momentum by working to keep the A’s in Oakland.

Through their rich history and shared experiences, the identities of the City of Oakland and the Athletics are forever linked. For more than 40 years, the people of Oakland have backed the Athletics during good times and bad. In the 1970s, Oakland celebrated the Athletics’ glorious run of three consecutive World Series victories. And, together, the city of Oakland and the Athletics mourned the devastation caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake that took place during the team’s 1989 championship run.

Now that the team has ended its consideration of Fremont as a possible home, the time is right to renew the focus on keeping the Athletics in Oakland.

It is critical that Major League Baseball and the A’s ownership do everything possible to keep the A’s in Oakland and I stand ready to help in any way possible, including attending and setting up meetings for you and the Committee. Please do not hesitate to call me at 202-XXX-XXXX to discuss this issue.

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

No threats, no harsh words. It’s the right type of letter to start. We’ll see what happens beyond that.

Neukom responds

The Merc’s Andrew Baggarly had a chance to ask Giants owner William Neukom about the newly formed committee.

MLB spokesperson Rich Levin told the Mercury News that territorial rights would be discussed by the commission, but Neukom said he did not believe Commissioner Bud Selig intends to challenge the Giants’ claim to the Silicon Valley.

“Read the statement,” Neukom said. “It says Major League Baseball wants to help them find a home in their territory. Alameda and Contra Costa county is their territory, full stop. And we support that and hope it’s successful.”

Neukom also believes any talk of territorial rights changing is premature at best.

Asked if he felt he had the support of other owners, Neukom said, “You’re way ahead of the state of play. The question is, and I think it’s very sensible by the commissioner, that they have territorial rights and we have territorial rights. They need a better home. That’s fine, we agree with that, we support them in that, and the commissioner is saying, `Let’s find them a home in their territory.’ We hope they will do that.”

I almost forgot how good at lawyer-speak this guy is.

Perata to run for Oakland Mayor

Chip Johnson has the scoop. Don Perata can’t stands it no more, so he’s throwing his hat into the ring to become the next mayor of Oakland. From an outsider’s perspective, Perata would have to be considered a favorite against Dellums (if he runs again) and anyone else in the City Council.

The fascinating thing about this news is that Oakland could go from a lofty, anti-details mayor to a guy who built the most powerful political machine in the East Bay. Perata’s tenure as State Senator has been filled with controversy, as a seemingly endless FBI investigation is well into its fourth year. It looks increasingly like Perata will emerge from the ordeal poorer but politically unscathed.

Would this longtime power broker be able to get a ballpark deal done in Oakland? Absolutely. His organizing and fundraising skills are legendary. Perata’s critics would be quick to point out that he was one of the initiators of the deal to bring the Raiders back to Oakland, and that could make anyone leery of supporting a new ballpark plan. Of course, if you’re Oakland partisan who would support Perata in any efforts to retain the A’s, you’re gonna have to wait until 2011 to truly get going on a deal. It was Perata who, during the Jerry Brown administration, said the mayor’s support is critical to a ballpark getting built. Then he threw his political weight behind Forest City and the Uptown development was approved.

How deliciously ironic that a man who, through his actions, helped push the A’s out of town, yet could end up being the only guy in Oakland who could save them from moving.

Diridon South – No PG&E move required?

Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal’s Katherine Conrad has an update on the Diridon South site acquisition process. Apparently redevelopment head Harry Mavrogenes and others within City Hall have been talking about squeezing a ballpark in without either moving or reconfiguring the PG&E substation on its northwest corner.

In the past, I had said that doing this would be unlikely and impractical based on a ballpark’s typical footprint and size requirements. However, if turns out to be a change to which the A’s are amenable, a much smaller footprint (8-acre) stadium could be placed on the northeast section. This should be doable without altering current plans for Autumn Parkway. The remaining land could be used for parking, administrative offices, and other ballpark-related uses.

Conrad’s report mentions a savings of $20 million if the PG&E substation is not acquired. The savings could actually approach $50 million because the costs associated with moving the substation across Park Avenue would not be incurred. The best part is that by moving the parking facility next to the ballpark instead of across the street from it, the land south of Park Avenue could be used for a park. It’s a major concession I expect to be made to get some amount of neighborhood buy-in.

Note: In a previous post I mistakenly had marked the AT&T site as “acquired.” SJRA has not acquired the site but has an offer out. I don’t expect this to be a problem as there are plenty of sites nearby for this type of facility to be relocated.

One more thing: the Merc’s John Ryan nailed it.

MLB to create ballpark committee

The commissioner has signed off on the creation of a committee to “thoroughly analyze all of the ballpark proposals that have been made to date, the current situation in Oakland, and the prospects of obtaining a ballpark in any of the communities located in Oakland’s territory.” Names are named, and the table is being set:

“Lew Wolff and the Oakland ownership group and management have worked very hard to obtain a facility that will allow them to compete into the 21st Century,” Commissioner Selig said. “To date they, like the two ownership groups in Oakland before them, have been unsuccessful in those efforts, despite having the significant support of their corporate partner Cisco. The time has come for a thorough analysis of why a stadium deal has not been reached. The A’s cannot and will not continue indefinitely in their current situation.”

Now, if you really think that this is going to help Oakland, pass the bong please. As benign as the description sounds, this is actually an official “let’s delineate all the ways Oakland no longer works” committee. The blockquote above, which comes at the end of the press release, is step #1 in the committee’s mission.

Key within this initiative is the appointment of former Giants executive VP Corey Busch to the committee. Busch has been in numerous advising capacities in the years since his Giants tenure, and according to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, who broke the story, Busch may not exactly be sympathetic to their interests (he left as the Magowan group took over). In the early part of the decade, Busch served as a consultant to MLB’s relocation committee (PDF), the one that eventually presided over the complicated Expos-to-DC move. He’s no stranger to the process, as he worked almost tirelessly to get the Giants out of the ‘Stick and into new digs in San Francisco, Santa Clara, or San Jose. Busch even worked for SF in the 70’s and as a consultant to San Jose several years ago as San Jose expressed interest in bringing in a NBA franchise – and the A’s – to town.

If Oakland, per its request to Bud Selig, really wants to retain the A’s, they’re gonna have to get started with new site proposals quickly. I’m certain that the few remaining sites identified in the HOK study aren’t going to be deemed sufficient, which will only rubberstamp Lew Wolff’s complaints about the City’s efforts. We’re about two steps from Bob DuPuy flying in to negotiate with whatever City is deemed the future home of the A’s.

Lew better have a thick skin

Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.
Warren Buffett

I reference the Oracle of Omaha not to bring up his home city again, though I once spent 10 minutes there over a decade ago during a brief stop on Amtrak’s California Zephyr line. Rather, it’s important to keep the nation’s current economic malaise in perspective. Whether the recession ends at the end of this year or next year, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a shovel in the ground for a ballpark anywhere in the Bay Area by then. Which means that no one has to raise any funds or issue any bonds by then. Which makes all of the media’s constant allusions to the wrecked economy moot. The next time I want financial advice on a personal or governmental scale, I won’t be posting to a sports columnist’s Facebook wall.

Yet that won’t stop the critics from hammering away. This weekend, three columns have been devoted to Lew Wolff’s various foibles, from Gary Peterson, Ray Ratto, and even Huffington Post contributor Stephen Kaus. I agree that Wolff should simply STFU on much of the San Jose talk until it’s time to deal in earnest. After all, that’s exactly what Wolff told San Jose, so it certainly wouldn’t hurt for him to heed his own advice. It’s hard for me to believe that Wolff isn’t stung by some of these critiques, but if he’s already picked out his media cheering squad, he simply may not care. Still, not everything has to be played through the media. If that’s the way he wants to play, he’d be advised to don a suit of armor.

However, these owners, these rich guys all have something you and I have far less of based on the past 9 months: the ability and means to do long-range planning. Even though Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway lost a mindboggling $11.5 billion last year, the man is by no means destitute. Neither are Lew Wolff or John Fisher. They don’t have to worry about their 401k accounts dwindling to peanuts while killing their retirement plans. They don’t have to worry about their employer, say a newspaper, going bankrupt, thus forcing them to figure out a different way to freeload off the gameday spread at various sporting events. They can look ahead to a couple years from now when the environment is better for big stadium plans. We all think short term because we’re forced to, because that’s what the circumstances dictate for us. Them? Not so much.

So could we please stop it with the economy crap? No one’s building anything right now, or even a year from now. When it’s time to talk turkey we can see how the economy and market respond. Until then, it’s a red herring.

MLB projects 5-10% attendance drop in ’09

A Reuters piece projects that this season, MLB attendance will drop 5-10% from 2008. In the article is some information from Lew Wolff, which indicates how well/poorly the A’s may do at the gate:

The A’s, who cut ticket prices by an average of 5 percent, are at 87 percent of their targeted budget for season-ticket revenue, where normally they would have finished by now, Wolf (sic) said. The club budgeted for a 9 percent decline in attendance.

Of the paid attendance, there will be additionally high numbers of no-shows due to already prevailing factors or the economy. If the A’s are way out of contention at the ASB, the expected fire sale, Holliday and all, will drive attendance down even further.

Get nervous satellite users

The Merc’s John Ryan has an update on the DirecTV-CSNCA stalemate: No news is not good gnus. It’s not an unfamiliar tale, as illustrated by the previously mentioned KJZZ-DirecTV tussle. Dish Network is also in the same situation. Sadly, the broadcasters and the distributors often have seen fit to turn these situations in long, draw out staring contests, pissing off customers in the process. Earlier this week, Ryan reported that Comcast may stop carrying the NFL Network after May 1. That’s not such a big deal during the offseason, but as the young network continues to expand its game offerings, tensions will heat up.

Bring on a la carte programming, I say!

Lew: San Jose deserves a MLB team

I’ll let the text from David Goll’s SV/SJ Business Journal article speak for itself:

Lew Wolff, co-owner and managing partner of the Oakland Athletics, said Thursday San Jose should have a professional baseball franchise, but stopped short of saying his team would fill that role.

At a breakfast reception for the media at The Fairmont San Francisco hotel, which is owned by Wolff, the A’s owner said he thinks the Bay Area’s largest city “deserves” a Major League Baseball team.

That, folks, is news. A bunch of grousing by the chattering class? Not really news. That said, what happened to your moratorium on speaking about the ballpark situation, Lew?
Update: More articles. First, from CoCoTimes’ John Simerman:

“I’m not blaming the community. Even if the market was there, we don’t feel there’s a physical opportunity for us,” Wolff said. “The effort we put into finding a spot in Oakland was tremendous. They’re still talking about sites we were studying in 2001. “… We’re asking for direction from Major League Baseball. We tried in Oakland, despite the sound bites. Now we need some help.”

Next, Eric Young of SF Business Times:

“We’re sort of in the hands of baseball now,” Wolff said Thursday during a breakfast meeting with reporters in San Francisco. The A’s search for a new home “is a baseball issue now more than an A’s issue… Ultimately it has to be determined by baseball, not by me.”

The Lodge works in mysterious ways. Also, Rich “Big Vinny” Lieberman appears to be upset that no one’s taking his Coliseum parking lot idea seriously. CoCoTimes’ Gary Peterson piles on because of Wolff’s “piling on” of Oakland:

You could characterize that as willful ignorance of the economy. You could also portray it as disingenuous posturing in advance of a serious play for San Jose.

It also could be construed as piling on Oakland. For this, Wolff should be ashamed of himself, especially in the wake of the horrific slaying of four police officers that has left Oakland looking for all the feel-good it can get.

I struggled with making any mention of the tragic death of the four OPD officers, two of whom worked at the Coliseum and helped make it a far safer place than the unfair reputation it garnered. (I really didn’t want the resulting comments thread to turn into yet another city bashfest.) But for Peterson to link their deaths to the business dealings of a baseball team and try to build a guilt trip – well, not even Mayor Dellums did that.

The Merc’s Denis C. Theriault has the last word for the moment, including Wolff apparently shooting down any thoughts of moving to Las Vegas or Sacramento:

“If we want to stay in Northern California,” Wolff said, “we don’t want to get on a plane and go to another city” to attend games. “I won’t name that city.”

Wolff goes on to entertain a potential referendum if required in San Jose, or a sale of the team if San Jose Northern California doesn’t work out.

Drip drip drip

Earlier today, A’s GM/minority partner Billy Beane was interviewed by the Baseball Tonight crew on a range of topics, first being the state of the ballpark chase. When asked where Lew Wolff was going next, Beane kept the party line by saying Wolff was “looking at options.” Ooooookay.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that San Jose is the most likely next option. And though Wolff broke and then kept his promise to wait until Opening Day to talk ballparks, that hasn’t stopped him from sending others to work out some other details. According to Soccer Silicon Valley founder Colin McCarthy (via BigSoccer), Keith Wolff and Michael Crowley were both at a SJ City Council session tonight to discuss last year’s Airport West land deal for an Earthquakes stadium. The 75-acre former FMC site is sandwiched between SJC and SCU. Parking and additional commercial development would flank the stadium. Public transit is good here as fans would be serviced by both Caltrain and a future BART terminus if/when that extension gets built.

Since the $132 million deal was negotiated, several things have changed. The world, for starters. Real estate values have dropped, and while a drop in median home prices doesn’t translate into a similarly precipitous drop for commercial real estate, it’s possible that the fair market value for the land is substantially below the initial price. With that in mind, Lew’s seen fit to try to get a better price for the land. I’ve actually heard this has been a mutually agreeable situation on both sides for some time, so this isn’t surprising.

In addition, the economic downturn has made the Edenvale/iStar housing development a poor financing route at this time. For now it’s not being pursued, and the Earthquakes’ planned stadium has been downsized in accordance with the lower than previously expected funds. The new stadium is expected to seat 15,000 and may have few luxury suites. Design-wise, it may also be difficult to expand, though I don’t think this is as much of a problem as some fans think.

Now if you’ve ever had the feeling that in buying the Earthquakes, Lew got a nice back door into San Jose City Hall, you’re not alone. I’ve felt that from the beginning. Yes, the entire ownership group may be nouveau soccer fans, but that only makes their work more enjoyable, I suppose. What we’re seeing now are precedents that will set the tone for negotiations with the A’s side of the business when the time comes. Consider that acquisition of both the Airport West and Diridon South sites started in 2005-06. A fair market 2009 land valuation would be applicable to both sites. Since Diridon South is worth more per acre and was “slated for housing,” the potential discount could be greater than at Airport West. These days, every dollar saved is important, especially if the savings could be used elsewhere – say a relocated PG&E substation.

———-Begin speculative section of post———-

All this Earthquakes/A’s talk allows me to segue into what I think the overall strategy is. I see this as a three-pronged, multiphase project in which some of the key steps have already been completed. Here’s an informal timeline (per Dan’s request, separated by team/sport activity – green for A’s, blue for Quakes):

  • April 2005 – Wolff/Fisher group assumes ownership of the A’s, Beane/Crowley given extensions and small slices of team
  • August 2005 – Coliseum North plan is unveiled
  • January 2006 – Oakland officials admit that Coliseum North plan is going nowhere
  • February 2007 – San Jose publishes Ballpark Draft EIR
  • May 2006 – Wolff/Fisher group and MLS announce plan to resurrect Earthquakes
  • November 2006 – Fremont plan is unveiled
  • March 2007 – San Jose certifies EIR
  • April 2007 – Talks between SJSU and Quakes break down
  • October 2007 – Earthquakes and SCU announce deal for renovated Buck Shaw Stadium
  • 2007-08 – A’s and Fremont continue to work on Cisco Field/baseball village concept
  • July 2008 – Earthquakes and San Jose agree on terms for Airport West property
  • November 2008 – Santa Clara County Measure B passes
  • January 2009 – Sharks agree to purchase 15% of Quakes
  • February 2009 – Fremont deal falls apart
  • March 2009 – Lew quashes any hopes of staying in Oakland

Notice how all of these events had a tendency to dribble out over time? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Part of that can be attributed to process (EIR, land acquisitions) and part of it appears to be by design. Assuming that Lew & Co. can navigate all of the remaining obstacles – and there are plenty – this is how I think all of this works out:

  • Quakes play at new stadium starting in 2010-11.
  • A’s play at Diridon South ballpark in 2014.
  • SVS+E, owners of the Sharks and operators of HP Pavilion, make a deal with the A’s/Quakes to operate both of their venues. Inherent in any deal is the understanding that neither stadium competes for certain events with the Pavilion. (I think this is one reason why no stage is planned for the Quakes’ stadium.)
  • A’s/Quakes work with San Jose to get development rights to the 8 blocks between Pavilion and ballpark. A’s promise to build enough parking to handle demand at all venues, for transit use, etc.

As with the previous timeline, there is some sequencing of events. By building the Quakes’ stadium first and the ballpark second, general contractor services can be bid in a “packaged deal.” Such an extended development schedule would be amenable to contractors, labor, and the sports franchises. All of that would be completed in time for San Jose and the Sharks to figure what major renovations needed to be done for HP Pavilion or whatever it’s called at that point. No wonder the City is trying to raise its Redevelopment Agency’s debt ceiling from $7.5 billion to $15 billion.

The SJ Giants would be moved and its owners compensated (I’m thinking North Bay). That would leave the Quakes as the less expensive, family-friendly option and the A’s as the bigger ticket with more in-house diversions.