Three parties appeal EIR certification

Following last week’s certification, three parties have appealed the planning commission’s decision.

The San Jose Sharks, Stand for San Jose (a coalition backed by the San Francisco Giants) and a resident who lives near the stadium site allege that the report, which the commission approved last week, does not adequately analyze or disclose potential impacts from traffic and parking, among other issues.

Chances are that the City Council will move forward despite the appeals. It’ll be up to the various parties to see whether or not a lawsuit is filed. The important piece of news to come out of this is the date of the council’s hearing: June 15.

Rangers file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Strange goings on in the Metroplex. Tom Hicks’ mismanagement of his sports empire has finally caught up with him, with his HSG Sports Group filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to avoid paying off some $540 million in debt.

Here’s how bad the situation is:

In January, Mr. Hicks reached a deal with Messrs. Greenberg and Ryan to sell the Rangers, the Ballpark at Arlington, and some 150 acres adjacent to the stadium in a deal valued at about $530 million, although the value has escalated with the rising amount of liabilities the new owners are prepared to assume. According to court filings those liabilities include almost $25 million that the team owes slugger Alex Rodriguez in deferred compensation and almost $13 million it owes pitcher Kevin Millwood. Neither player is with the team anymore.

The “Ryan” in the above paragraph is possible future Rangers managing partner Nolan Ryan, who wrote an open letter to the team’s fans in the Dallas Morning News. It’ll be interesting to see how much longer it takes for this to be resolved, as it must have MLB’s undivided attention at this point. Perhaps the league won’t broach the A’s situation until the Rangers’ issues are resolved. Not that they’re in a hurry, mind you.

Supreme Court strikes down NFL’s antitrust bid

As part of the NFL’s ongoing legal battle with former cap vendor American Needle, the league decided to make a claim that it had a “single entity” structure which allowed it to make unified business decisions of all kinds, not just branding. In a 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the claim, which if granted would have put the NFL closer to the antitrust exemption that MLB enjoys.

Soon-to-retire Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion, which included the following gems:

“Although NFL teams have common interests such as promoting the NFL brand, they are still separate, profit-maximizing entities, and their interests in licensing team trademarks are not necessarily aligned.”

“Although two teams are needed to play a football game, not all aspects of elaborate interleague cooperation are necessary to produce a game.”

The NFL Players Association, which has been seeking any kind of leverage in its difficult negotiations with the league, thinks it found some in the decision.

“The Court’s decision affirms our belief that the NFL should not be allowed to operate as a monopoly to the detriment of fans, players and the government. In a country where competition and fair play are so highly-valued, the Court wisely declined to give the NFL a leg up by usurping the role of Congress and ignoring both the letter and the spirit of its anti-trust laws.”

Obviously, the league disagrees. In any case, I don’t expect the situation to get much less contentious, even though some observers think that the decision could get the two parties back to the table more quickly. The NFL just did this as a tactic, whereas the actual debate between league and union are about major dollars-and-cents issues, several of which have the two sides miles apart (revenue sharing formula, first round draft pick salaries). As for American Needle? The case now goes back down to the lower courts.

More on the case and issues can be found at SCOTUSWiki, Forbes’ SportsMoney blog, the National Football Post, and the Wall Street Journal.

Quick Note On Attendance

You’ll notice that today marks the first date this season in which the A’s attendance has surpassed last season’s attendance (thanks, Giants fans). The Green and Gold head out for a 10-game road trip and don’t return until June 4th for a 3-game weekend series against the Twins and a 4-game set vs. the Angels.

To stay ahead of last season’s pace, attendance would have to average 18,600 fans for that week’s worth of games. Here’s to a successful road trip, and to rally the troops when they come back…

(Yes, I know that Rob Schneider happens to be a Giants fan. He’s also half-Filipino. You take what you can get.)

So THAT’S Why They Got Chris Townsend

Before the beginning of the season, longtime pre-pre-game radio host and overall nice guy Marty Lurie was unceremoniously dropped by the A’s/KTRB. No reason was given, only an announcement that former KNBR update guy and Sports Byline late night host Chris Townsend would inherit the position. While I liked the direction because of Townsend’s edge and SJSU ballplayer roots, I felt bad for Lurie, who is as congenial and full of history as anyone local gets. I’m glad he was able to continue his work on the other side of the bay.

Townsend came in and didn’t immediately try to set the fanbase on fire. He measured the audience, sought to gain their confidence and a trust, which is not the easiest thing to do – Robert Buan was often vilified by anyone who wasn’t a regular caller to the post game show. Over the first month or so, that edge started to show itself, as Townsend implored callers to “bring it.”

Yesterday, after the Gio gem, we finally got to see that edge fully unleashed, and the callers (as well as this listener) fed off it big time. Was it emperor nobody who had what amounted to a nice, lengthy segment? And did Bleacher Dave seem a bit restrained, yet insightful as usual? Whatever the case, Townsend was in fine form as his San Diego boy roots showed, along with his full and complete hatred of the Giants. He ripped into bandwagon fans, Will Clark not becoming the next Ted Williams, the 51 years of no rings, and I was loving every minute of it for the entertainment value. (If you’re wondering, I don’t hate the Giants myself, I only pity them and their fans.) There was even room for T-rights and Oakland-vs.-San Jose in the discussion, and without the usual vitriol.

What you’re hearing is a changing of the guard. Townsend took over for Buan and Lurie. It’s only a matter of time before Carney Lansford takes over for Ray Fosse. Now, Carney definitely needs more seasoning at the analyst desk before he steps into the broadcast booth full-time, even if it’s the TV role. For the future, especially if it’s in San Jose, Carney’s the bridge to the previous era. He’s from Santa Clara and sent his sons to Bellarmine St. Francis. He also was part of Baseball San Jose, and I fully expect him to pop up in a TV ad here and there prior to the November election. Come 2012 I would love to have Cotroneo/Lansford in the TV booth (where there’s more room for mistakes), and Korach/Hendu in the radio booth. Of course, there is the possibility that newly retired Eric Byrnes could step in, but I suspect he’ll have a national job coming soon enough, perhaps with MLB Network.

As I write this over Sunday brunch, washing it down with a Sierra Nevada, I have to say the future is bright.

Wolff says Fremont still not happening

I stand corrected. Warm Springs is a no go, according to Lew Wolff, because of a lack of a residential component as envisioned in the Pacific Commons plan.

“The entire activity in Fremont was based on the ability to sell residential entitlements,” he said.

And Wolff doesn’t anticipate the market supporting the magnitude of housing envisioned in the ballpark village plan. “I think we missed our opportunity,” he said. “We have to be in an existing downtown.”

Oh well. Now that we’ve heard ownership’s perspective, the circle is complete. (Thanks Matt Artz/Argus)

Three’s Not A Crowd: Tesla + Toyota + A’s

In what can only be described as a miraculous turn of events, Tesla and Toyota have worked out a deal to build the upcoming, <$50k Model S sedan at NUMMI in Fremont. Toyota’s providing the shuttered plant and $50 million of funding, Tesla will 1,000-1,200 jobs back to the plant in South Fremont.

Strategically, it’s a great move for both. Let’s look at what each company gets. Toyota gets:

  • Some good PR back from the NUMMI closure
  • A cheap investment on all-electric technology, which is not currently in its portfolio (Toyota has bet largely on hybrid powertrains).
  • A use for the original plant that is compatible without having to pay for cleanup

Tesla gets:

  • Toyota’s legitimacy in the industry
  • An already built facility only minutes from the headquarters
  • Access to a good, capable workforce trained the right way
  • Tax breaks from the state on equipment
  • Rail access, which is important for suppliers

Of course, you’re wondering how this could affect the A’s. According to Argus scribe Matt Artz, it wouldn’t affect a ballpark project much at all. Straight from CEO/Iron-Man 2 cameo Elon Musk’s mouth:

“Tesla doesn’t have any objection as long as it doesn’t impact production of vehicles, which I don’t think a ballpark would.”

Imagine that! A ballpark and a plant may be compatible after all. Wonders never cease. As stated previously, Tesla’s space requirements are far less than what’s available at NUMMI (20k cars/yr vs. 400k cars/yr under NUMMI), it wouldn’t be surprising to see some of the unused plant facility reused as warehousing for suppliers. Tesla also operates on a build-to-order model, so you won’t expect to see large numbers of cars on the massive prep lot. It’s likely that plenty of space on the north end will be available for development, whether that’s offices, retail, or a ballpark – any or all of which could work together with the plant.

Could anyone see this coming? Probably not. It seemed that Tesla was set on a factory in Downey, but this all came together extremely quickly. Whether or not anyone at Fremont City Hall can legitimately claim credit for this, the quick change happened on its watch. A green, progressive business that has the cachet that most cities would kill for? That kind of political currency heading into the next election is, well, priceless.

In my estimation, this news does nothing but make a Fremont ballpark a much more tangible option. Whether or not Wolff/Fisher have made the same conclusion is anyone’s guess.

EIR Certified

Darryl Boyd is doing a brief presentation on the SEIR (“S” for supplemental) process. So far, letters have been submitted by the Shasta/Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association, the San Jose Sharks, and San Jose Giants. Staff recommends certification due to no new impacts after studying the modified project.

Now Dennis Korabiak is giving an overview of the project. Notes that there are 29,000 parking spaces in the downtown area.

So far, two commenters recommend not certifying the EIR, Eloy Wouters on the grounds that parking and traffic analyses are flawed, another because of fiscal responsibility concerns. A member of S/HNPA recommends the creation of a citizen oversight committee, similar to what was done with the arena. Another commenter recommends the 237/Zanker site as an alternative for the ballpark.

The lawyer from Stand for San Jose asserts that the traffic impact analysis for the weeknight 6-7 PM makes no conclusions and does not properly identify mitigation measures. Essentially this is a question of whether or not the SEIR properly states all of the impacts. Cites a couple of lawsuits in LA and Oakland.

A member of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association is concerned about traffic along CA-87′ though he also says that the ballpark would be a huge economic impact for downtown and San Jose. He wants VTA to make a commitment to provide improved services in the area, based on the success of transit usage in SF.

Michael Mulcahy (Baseball San Jose, friend of the Wolffs) is giving his sales pitch.

Another commenter criticizes the large environmental impact, while the last commenter critiques the traffic study.

Dennis Korabiak summarizes, notes that the project will require a vote due to the land contribution. Council decision to place project on the ballot would occur in June. Commissioner Zito asks if the various mitigations that will be needed have been disclosed. Korabiak replies yes. Commissioner Kamkar asks if the A’s will be paying for the police and traffic enforcement. Answer is that it will have to be negotiated by the A’s and City, with recommendations provided by the Good Neighbor Committee.

Public hearing closed. Now the rest of the planning commission has questions.

PG&E – What happens? No intention to acquire and relocate the substation.

Staff clarifies that the project is not in the “fair analysis” realm, which is often used to create legal challenges for an EIR. I’m not sure if I’m interpreting this right, but it may be because no major new impacts have been identified, compared to the old EIR. If true, that’s huge. Staff also says that regardless of a day or night game situation, there will be enough parking throughout downtown – though I have to say this is a flawed argument given the broad and one-sided definition of what downtown is.

8:33 PM – Motion to certify by Zito. Makes a statement to clarify that certifying the EIR is not about being for or against the project, it’s about whether or not the document itself is complete. Commissioner Jensen seconds. Commissioner Platten will not support the motion but considers it close, thinks there may be a lawsuit. Commissioner Klein thinks all of this could have been done with an amendment instead if a SEIR.

8:38 PM – Vote taken. Motion passes 4-1 with two commissioners absent. See ya in June.

SJ EIR Certification Hearing Wednesday

It’s an important night tomorrow night, as the revised ballpark EIR will have its certification hearing. Should the document be certified, the City Council will take up when it expects to have the ballpark issue on the ballot. Of course, the closest date is the November election, so there’s no real drama there. I have heard that ballot language is already being tested.

The Merc’s Tracy Seipel covers some of the uncertainty regarding the final shape of the project. Key to this is the location of a new parking structure. Of the two new parking options, the one with the most traction is a garage on the main arena lot, adjacent to HP Pavilion. It’s not the most optimal site distance-wise from the ballpark site, but it is the site that creates the least upheaval thanks to it being city-owned land, not privately-owned land. Some area residents have also preferred this site because it would mean no garages in the area between the ballpark and the arena. I’m not sure that this is feasible long term, but it’s worth considering if only from an aesthetic standpoint. There has been some hubbub about the Sharks not liking a “no parking” option, which makes sense. They have an agreement with the city to have a certain number of spaces available for events, and a ballpark would encroach upon that.

The issue here is not whether a garage will be built, it’s a matter of where and by whom. While the ballpark is a big part of the Greater Downtown area, it’s only a part of a broader development plan. Depending on the final configuration and footprint of a ballpark, there may actually be room for some parking right next to it. A garage there could be financed any number of ways and would probably require its own EIR since it would change the project, but that’s a bridge to cross if it is ever reached.

Simply put, a garage next to the arena makes the most sense. It satisfies the Sharks/SVSE, some transit advocates, area residents, city requirements, and perhaps even the A’s (though they don’t have a voice). The thing is that A’s and Sharks ownership is tight, so it wouldn’t be beyond the Sharks to act as a proxy for a party that doesn’t officially have a voice yet, such as the A’s.

There will be a liveblog on Wednesday.

Trib takes Oakland to task

Guess we should’ve seen this coming. The Oakland Tribune’s Editorial page criticized Oakland’s approach towards retaining the A’s, in effect saying that the effort is too little and perhaps too late. The argument is summed up in a simple two sentence paragraph.

With so much at stake, the city should have jumped into the fray with San Jose much earlier and fought much harder to keep the A’s. Having monthly meetings doesn’t cut it.

Those of you who read this here blog frequently know that the writers here feel exactly the same way. Since December, we’ve been looking for something substantive, something that could approach in effort the work that has been done in San Jose and even Fremont. Sadly, the only report we’ve seen is basically a sales pitch to move the A’s to JLS in order to boost the city’s tax revenues and make area development more lucrative.

Don’t believe that last part? In the report, JLS and surrounding neighborhoods are divided into seven areas to gauge potential spillover effects from a ballpark. Area 7 is the Oak-to-Ninth (O29) site, still waiting for development by Signature Properties (the Ghielmettis). On page 57, a table shows that Area 7 would be 100% built out with a ballpark, 85% without. When I read that, I did some quick math and estimated that the difference has to be some $100-200 million. You can guess which business interests helped bankroll the report.