Eminent domain the last hurdle for San Jose
I want to point out something before we begin. Whether it’s this story or the quotes from Susan Slusser’s articles, let’s remember that none of it are statements from the A’s, MLB, or San Jose. As close as they seem to the situation, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there so take all of this with multiple grains of salt.
I was at a bachelor party in San Diego this past weekend. A San Jose city council member was part of the group and we discussed the A’s in detail.
What he told me was this:
1. ATT is being a “pain in the ass” and will not move unless forced to by eminent domain. Even re-zoning the land for ATT in West San Jose did not help the cause at all. In fact the city council in hindsight would have never agreed to it had they known ATT would still refuse to leave.
2. The city will not use eminent domain on ATT unless MLB gives the OK that the A’s can move to San Jose. Therefore this is not a “race” between OAK and SJ. San Jose like Oakland is in a holding pattern waiting for MLB to make a decision…..Two cities, same boat.
He told me that they cannot “justify” using eminent domain on ATT without MLB approval to move forward.
3. He stated to me their RDA is pretty much done and he “implied” to me Wolff will have to buy the last 2 parcels himself but would not out right say it when I tried to question him more on it. The city council knows full well that Wolff will pay for it because everyone knows it is a “drop in the ocean” of the overall cost of the stadium. He also mentioned SJ unlike most cities did not misuse their RDA funds and used it for several successful developments across the city.
4. He agrees with me Lew Wolff has some kind of “backdoor” deal with Selig as being a former lawyer he does not understand Wolff’s patience with the situation. The city has brought up an anti-trust lawsuit to Wolff and he has told the city “not to sue” and to let the process play out despite San Jose having an excellent case in anti-trust court, which he agreed with me is “solid”.
5. Without Wolff supporting an anti-trust lawsuit San Jose is stuck in mud and he is very pessimistic the A’s to San Jose will ever occur. Although he is still holding out some hope.
6. He also agreed San Jose is getting the “best ballpark deal” of any city in history of MLB. The city is not paying for anything outside of what they have so far. Diridon will be re-developed regardless of the ball park but not for several years to come. BART or High Speed rail would have to be within 3-5 years of being in San Jose.
I wanted to share this info with everyone as this is first hand info from a SJ city council member that is as recent as yesterday.
AT&T owns the largest remaining property within the Diridon site. Its reluctance to sell will force San Jose to use eminent domain to acquire AT&T’s land (and possibly one other piece) in order to complete the site. There is no way to build a ballpark without the AT&T land.
Even though Lew Wolff has expressed a willingness and confidence in the ability to acquire all of the ballpark site, not having a willing seller creates a big time hitch. San Jose can’t force AT&T and the A’s to negotiate on land. Instead, San Jose can acquire the land, then negotiate on the relocation and replacement land costs, then have the A’s reimburse the City. Making things more complicated is the fact that public-to-private exchanges tend to be politically unpopular. That may cause a final step in which the A’s buy the land, then convey it back to San Jose for free so that the site (and maybe the ballpark) are publicly owned. The Quakes stadium site is a publicly owned “island” surrounded by Quakes-owned land. Wolff indicated there are numerous ways this could play out, and these are just a couple different permutations.
Adding to the complications is the still lingering fate of redevelopment, which won’t be decided until January. Right now no agency is allowed to buy anything even though the state Supreme Court granted RDAs a six month stay to operate. San Jose is trying to bypass this roadblock by moving assets to its San Jose Diridon Development Authority, a redevelopment wing thinly disguised as a joint powers body. Keep in mind that San Jose has not made its ransom payment to keep its barebones redevelopment group running, choosing instead to sue Governor Jerry Brown over the new redevelopment laws. For that matter neither has Oakland, and Oakland could require eminent domain on multiple landowners to clear Victory Court.
Despite this major hurdle, all we’ve heard over the last week is a growing confidence in public statements by both Wolff and Billy Beane, indicating Sid’s item #4 may well be in play. If that’s the case, here’s how I see this playing out:
- Wolff gets green light during November owners meetings.
- San Jose seizes upon this and makes one last offer to AT&T before the end of the year. If AT&T continues to holdout, City notifies that it will start the eminent domain process via SJDDA.
- City can’t actually start eminent domain without a referendum, so if it’s required a special election will be held during the early spring (with MLB picking up part of the tab).
- City procedes to acquire the land and begin relocation, which should take 3-6 months to complete.
- Demolition and site clearing would have to be done throughout the summer and fall of 2012.
- Groundbreaking happens in November or December 2012.
It’s important to note that there’s always that final offer. Eminent domain is every bit as much a threat as it is a tool and may be used simply to bring parties to the table. AT&T knows that San Jose is hamstrung by the referendum requirement and other political realities, so it may be playing its own special brand of hardball. A supposed quid pro quo deal between City and AT&T over rezoning an old work site near Santana Row may have been AT&T playing City like a fiddle. The Death Star of telecom is no stranger to strongarm tactics. This is the company that thinks eliminating a wireless carrier by acquiring it will actually bring more competition to the industry.
FWIW, I’ve been consistent in my feeling that no one in the South Bay camp has the stomach for a lengthy antitrust challenge to MLB. As for the “best ballpark deal”, with the A’s on track to pay for everything ($450 million ballpark and up to $100 million in land and improvements), yes, it would be better than the deal for AT&T Park and any other MLB ballpark deal in the last century.