A pithy piece on stadia and politics comes this week from an unusual place: a law firm. Attorneys Christopher Bakes, Scott Anders, and Jeremy Vermilyea of West Coast firm Bullivant Houser Bailey PC penned a succinct rebuttal (on Lexology) to a recent Wall Street Journal article on how municipalities are more averse to publicly financing stadia than before.
Bakes, a lawyer for the firm’s Sacramento office and an avowed Giants fan, represented the City of San Francisco in 1992 when the team threatened to move to Tampa, which gives him a pretty unique perspective on how stadium deals work. In his and his colleagues’ view, the problem for most stadium initiatives is not so much public financing as much as proper education of the public. That might be better termed “selling” the concept, in any case it’s part of the process. Here’s how they explain it:
Why stadium and ballpark initiatives fail. The key point missed by The Wall Street Journal is why so many stadium proposals became — and continue to become — problematic in the first place. It has far less to do with public funding than it does with good governance and public engagement, or (more likely) the lack of public engagement. This is because despite repeated failures at the ballot box and elsewhere, public officials and team owners almost never correctly interpret what is actually going on.
Voters don’t reject great ideas, they reject great ideas that aren’t carefully explained to them. When first proposed, ballpark proponents rarely list as a first priority the need to educate the public on why a ballpark is beneficial. It is as if the good public officials of Seattle (or San Diego, or Pittsburgh, or Minnesota) didn’t know about any of the troubles in Baltimore (or San Francisco, or Philadelphia, or Milwaukee), and simply moved along as if their new ballpark was the only one that had ever been conceived anywhere in America.
Later in the piece, the Giants and 49ers efforts are lauded for their outreach efforts with the public. It’s noted that the Giants’ plan, from conception to opening, took eight years (1992 to 2000). The 49ers’ stadium is on a similar path, with initial work dating back to 2007 and a likely opening in 2015. In San Jose, the process started in 2005 and an opening isn’t likely until at least 2014.
That brings me to Oakland. We’re about a year removed from Let’s Go Oakland’s unveiling of four sites, which apparently was done just to show that at least on the surface there was more than one. Any amount of scrutiny, which wasn’t done by local media, would’ve shown that there were really two sites, JLS West and Victory Court. Now that Victory Court is the chosen site, the clock will begin on December 1, when the first planning commission hearing for public comment is held. If the process holds true, a ballpark wouldn’t open until… 2018 or 2019.
If you think Oakland is somehow going to be able to shortcut the process, think again. The last large development project completed in Oakland was Uptown. Compare what Forest City originally pitched to what was eventually built:
- February 2000 – Forest City proposes 2,100 housing units and 100,000 square feet of retail, promises no need for a subsidy
- November 2008 – Uptown finally opens after multiple revisions to the plan and legal issues with 665 housing units and 9,000 square feet of retail, Oakland pays out a $60 million subsidy in the process.
Obviously, market conditions dictated how expansive the project became. Still, it’s likely that citizens will point to this as part of the City’s track record when it comes to executing on large projects. If MLB places faith in Oakland to get the ballpark plan done, it will do so knowing that the timeline will be quite long, through 2018 or later. And if proponents try to short circuit the process? There is no shortage of potential litigants ready to gum up the works.
Then again, as the article stated,
It has far less to do with public funding than it does with good governance and public engagement, or (more likely) the lack of public engagement.
The whole thing could get done more quickly if there’s a lack of public engagement. If that’s what happens, God help Oakland and A’s fans.