Category Archives: Politics

Why a temporary ballpark is a distinct possibility

Lew Wolff brought up the the idea of a temporary stadium to the SV/SJ Business Journal’s Greg Baumann this week. Wolff looks at the concept as potentially necessary if another extension at the Coliseum can’t work out. He had already expressed concern when MLB pushed the Coliseum Authority (JPA) into a two-year extension through 2015. The thinking in November was that no new permanent home could be built in that two-year span, and if Coliseum City’s phasing and the Raider owner Mark Davis’s preference of building on top of the current Coliseum footprint take hold, the A’s would no longer have a place to play. Combine that with Larry Baer’s comments about allowing the A’s to play at AT&T Park while an Oakland solution was being hammered out, and you can see all of the moving pieces and the complexity therein. Because of that complexity, let’s break the situation down into its basic components.

To start off, there’s the Raiders. The Raiders are the first domino here, because they are the team in some sort of negotiation with Oakland and the JPA. Even though Davis has labeled the talks as discouraging recently, reports coming out of the Coliseum City partnership should bring everyone back to the table in the next month or so. Then Davis can decide how to move forward: either partner in Coliseum City, or decide that CC doesn’t pencil out and look elsewhere. So far Davis has stuck with the idea that the Coliseum is the #1 site. That could change quickly as the numbers are released and parties have to make fiduciary commitments.

The A’s can’t do anything without the Raiders’ move. As much as Oakland waterfront ballpark proponents would love for Howard Terminal to become the apple of Wolff’s eye, the many questions and doubts that hang over the site continue to make HT a nonstarter for Wolff. Coliseum City had the A’s in a new ballpark no earlier than 2022, unacceptable terms for Wolff and MLB. However, if CC falls apart for the Raiders and Colony Capital, the Raiders could leave for Santa Clara, LA, or elsewhere. Wolff could easily call for CC to dissolve and put together a development plan of his own at the Coliseum, one that he would control. It could make room for the Raiders as well, but the football team would end up on the back burner, not the A’s. If Davis were to stay for several years at Levi’s Stadium while gathering up the resources to build anew in Oakland, such phasing could work out. Then again, the Jets spent nearly two decades “temporarily” at the Meadowlands while not working out any new stadium deal in the five boroughs of New York City.

Next, this idea isn’t new. Wolff floated the temporary venue concept in 2012, when he initially tried to get a lease extension. Wolff has reason not to go down such a path due to the expense and amount of upheaval. Should lease talks once again turn difficult, a temporary move becomes more a value proposition than a logistical problem.

If the JPA couldn’t come to an agreement on a new ballpark with Wolff – say, for instance, the JPA chose not to eat the $100 million left in Mt. Davis debt – Wolff would likely go back to MLB and again ask for a decision on San Jose. San Jose brings about one of two temporary ballpark scenarios. The first comes if the A’s are left homeless after 2015 and MLB somehow allows the move south. That’s a long shot at best, but can’t be completed discounted. In this case a temporary ballpark would have to be built somewhere in San Jose for 2-3 years minimum while Cisco Field was being built at Diridon. Besides the process of getting league approval, a temporary site would have to be found. In the Bizjournals article, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed claimed that multiple temporary sites were available. In all practicality, there are probably only two sites. Many of the previously studied permeant ballpark site candidates are either in the process of being redeveloped (Berryessa, North San Pedro) or face logistical hurdles that make it difficult to ensure that 20-30,000 people could make it in and out easily (SJ Fairgrounds, Reed & Graham cement plant).

Instead, there will probably two or three sites in play: the old San Jose Water Company site near SAP Center (site owned by Adobe), the spare parking lot south of SJ Police headquarters between Mission and Taylor Streets (a.k.a. the Cirque du Soleil lot), or the land adjacent to the under construction Earthquakes Stadium (under control by another developer). The SJWC/Adobe site would be the easiest to convert for a ballpark, is the right size, and has an existing building that could be leveraged for ballpark use. It’s also directly underneath a San Jose Airport landing approach, which could cause red flags by the FAA. The Cirque lot is smallish, though large enough for a small ballpark. There’s lots of parking nearby, and potential makeshift parking on the other side of the Guadalupe River. Light rail is only 2 blocks away. As for the Earthquakes Stadium-adjacent site, there were enough problems getting it prepped for that project that it should give pause to anyone considering even a temporary ballpark there.

That’s not to say that San Jose is the only place for a temporary ballpark. Wolff was quoted as looking at the entire Bay Area:

“I am hopeful of expanding our lease at the Oakland Coliseum for an extended term. If we cannot accomplish a lease extension, I hope to have an interim place to play in the Bay Area or in the area that reaches our television and radio fans — either in an existing venue or in the erection of a temporary venue that we have asked our soccer stadium architect (360 Architecture) to explore. Looking outside the Bay Area and our media market is an undesirable option to our ownership at this time.”

The East Bay is in play for both temporary (if needed) and permanent venues. MLB won’t hand over the South Bay to Wolff, yet MLB has also allowed Wolff to enter agreements with San Jose, so it’s clear that MLB is hedging big time. A temporary ballpark could be built on the old Malibu/HomeBase lots near the Coliseum, in Fremont, or even Dublin or Concord. Fremont’s Warm Springs location could enter the discussion again because the Warm Springs extension is scheduled to open in 2015.

It’s also possible to read into Wolff’s statement the possibility of the A’s playing at Raley Field on a temporary basis, since his description of “area that reaches our television and radio fans” covers CSN California and the A’s Radio Network.

Warm Springs could be in play because CEQA laws that govern environmental review largely don’t affect temporary facilities. Generally, seasonal installations such as carnivals or circuses that don’t create any permanent environmental impact are exempt from CEQA. The challenge, then, is to create a temporary ballpark that can also fit this model. That would be tough because of the large-scale consumption of water, food, and energy during a single game. Still, the A’s are already familiar with major recycling efforts, and if trash can be properly contained there should be little permanent impact. Just as important, Warm Springs remains within the established territory, so MLB wouldn’t have to negotiate anything with the Giants. Finally, if the experience is positive it could provide enough political goodwill to convince Fremont to again consider being a permanent home.

Strategically, the Baer vs. Wolff war of words (what happened to the gag order?) has only gotten more interesting. Baer’s statement is cajoling Oakland, not Wolff, to get its act together. Wolff’s response is to say that the A’s don’t need the Giants’ help, especially if he can get San Jose. Keep in mind that if Oakland fails, the East Bay as a territory loses value, hurting Baer’s argument and supporting Wolff’s. What’s left is for both rich guys to let the processes in Oakland and in the courts play out, and prepare for next steps. At some point, the leagues are going to ask Oakland to either step up or step out ($$$). While some local media types continue to believe that the teams can carry on indefinitely at the Coliseum, at some point the conflicts become too great to bear. For those of us who have been following this saga for so long, it’s good to know that actions are being taken to make new homes for the teams. Even if one of those homes is temporary.

Santana out, Blackwell in as Oakland City Administrator

After unsuccessfully trying to get similar positions in both Phoenix and Dallas, Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana resigned on Monday. Santana served three years at the job. Previously she served several years as Deputy City Manager in San Jose. It’s not clear where Santana will go next, though it is known who will replace her: Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell.

You may remember that Santana goofed a year ago when she said that Lew Wolff asked for a lease extension only through the media, not via a letter to the City. The letter was found in a pile of furlough mail, which forced some rather embarrassing backpedaling on her part. Nevertheless, Santana never seemed interested in the various stadium plans that hatched during her tenure, preferring instead to focus on budgetary impacts. From the outside, Santana was definitely the biggest budget hawk Oakland has seen in a while. She ran into friction with protestors over her handling of Occupy Oakland and her decision to close off the balcony at City Council meetings, while also encountering tension with some Council members over their inability to follow rules.

Blackwell, on the other hand, is more of a redevelopment guy than a budget guy. He was tasked with overseeing the development of some of the big ticket City projects, such as the Oakland Army Base, Brooklyn Basin (O29), and Coliseum City. Blackwell has been instrumental in getting the various interests (developers, financial backers, the Raiders, the JPA) on the same page regarding Coliseum City, though that has been with a struggle. Blackwell has been more directly associated with Coliseum City than Howard Terminal, but he considers both sites viable, a position supported by Mayor Jean Quan.

What Blackwell apparently lacks is serious fiscal experience. Prior to his ACM stint in Oakland, he was the redevelopment head of the small agency in San Francisco (compared to Oakland CEDA and San Jose’s RDA it’s tiny), and director of SF’s Community Development office. Blackwell’s fiscal expertise, such as it is, isn’t an imperative at the moment because Santana paved the way by crafting budgets during her tenure. It’ll be more interesting to see if Blackwell keeps his job after the election.

That may depend on his ability to complete Coliseum City. With most cities’ redevelopment powers curbed, Blackwell was left to focus on these high profile projects, which have their own current and potential funding sources. Spring’s big deliverable is a market research report, and the Raiders (and perhaps the A’s and Warriors) are supposed to be signed onto the plan by the summer. If the report looks bad or Mark Davis is hesitant, it’s largely on Blackwell, not that he can control much of it. Most of the circumstances that will dictate Coliseum City’s feasibility are largely beyond his reach. He can continue to sell the concept to investors and teams, but in the end, they’re the ones who’ll be doing the heavy lifting financially, not Blackwell. Then again, Blackwell’s new job will give him to latitude to craft a deal, similar to the plan Robert Bobb had to bring the A’s uptown in 2001. Blackwell could succeed where Bobb failed in getting the Mayor to sign on, a good possibility since Quan already endorses Coliseum City. Will the numbers add up? That’s the real challenge for Blackwell, one that, unlike his predecessor, is not his strong suit.

Howard Terminal maritime bids rejected, what’s next?

On Thursday, two weeks after the Board of Commissioners at the Port of Oakland was expected to reject three maritime use bids at Howard Terminal, the Board finished the job. The issue was tabled during the previous meeting when the Board decided to hold off making a decision while coal shipping company Bowie Resources Partners provided additional information. Despite the delay, the decision was expected to be a formality, since Bowie’s bid raised serious environmental concerns and the other two bids were considered incomplete.

With that procedural move out of the way, the possibility of a change to a non-maritime use, such as a ballpark, grows. East Bay Citizen’s Steven Tavares noted that the ballpark concept was not discussed during the meeting, but is the obvious elephant in the room. The Port has created an ad hoc committee to discuss long-term uses for Howard Terminal, though it meets in closed session next week. I figure that the committee will need to have more open meetings in the future to avoid potential Brown Act violations. There’s a good chance that the committee will talk ballpark, as well as the ENA (exclusive negotiating agreement) that ballpark booster group OWB has offered to sign in a show of progress for MLB.

However, the maritime use question is not done just because the Board rejected bids. The Port has to keep pushing to get some use out of Howard Terminal while the process to convert to a different use takes place, since they’re losing $10 million per year for the next several years due to HT’s vacancy. Plus the Port and City of Oakland are not in full control of the final land use decision, because they’re considered trustees of waterfront lands controlled in the end by the State of California. The State Lands Commission, which makes the final decisions on these matters, gave some very clear insight into their process in a letter of support for the Giants’ lawsuit over a height restriction ballot measure under consideration in San Francisco.

However, the State’s grant of these lands to the City did not end California’s supervision and control of these lands. California still remains the ultimate trustee of these granted lands. The actual use made of the lands granted by California to its municipal trustee is a matter of statewide importance and one that directly impacts the Commission’s jurisdiction. The courts have described California’s continuing role by stating that, “Upon grant to a municipality subject to a public trust, and accompanied by a delegation of the right to improve the harbor and exercise control over harbor facilities, the lands are not placed entirely beyond the supervision of the state, but it may, and indeed has a duty to, continue to protect the public interests.”

As such, the City serves as a trustee, both as to the lands themselves and as to the revenue derived from trust lands. The trust lands are not held by the City in a municipal or proprietary capacity, but rather for the benefit of all the people of the State of California. The legislative grant created a trust in which the City is the fiduciary/trustee, the State is the truster, and all the people of the State are the beneficiaries. The legal consequence of this trust relationship is that the proper use of the tidelands and tideland revenues is a statewide affair. While the day-to-day management of these public trust lands was granted to the City, the State, through the Commission, retains trustee and oversight authority over the City’s administration of these lands, and the Legislature remains the ultimate trustor.

The exact same language can be used for Howard Terminal: the City/Port is the trustee, the State has authority, the Legislature is the trustor. It’s not hard to see legislation being required to make any Howard Terminal conversion final. There’s already a precedent in the Brooklyn Basin project (a.k.a Oak to Ninth), when Don Perata got a bill passed in 2004 that allowed for a land exchange that made the project possible. If overall Bay Area Port capacity is to be diminished some significant amount, a plan must be enacted to make up for the lost capacity. Such plans would have to be shaped by the SLC and the BCDC, which has its own regional seaport management plan.

In other words, don’t expect this process to be quick. It’s doable, as was the case in San Francisco, but Howard Terminal’s conversion will have to take place within the context of it benefiting the entire Bay Area and the State of California, not just Oakland or some developers. That’s only fair.

Baer says he’s willing to let the A’s share AT&T with the Giants – with a catch

Giants President/CEO Larry Baer slipped a rather shocking note into the festivities surrounding the spring training opener, when he said that he’d be willing to allow the A’s to play temporarily at AT&T Park.

Of course, there are conditions. From Merc scribe Alex Pavlovic’s article:

“They’ve got to come up with a long-term plan. Once that’s arrived at, then maybe you’ll take a step back and say, ‘Is there something we can do to be helpful?’ As a neighborly thing.

“Obviously, they’ve got to come up with what their plan is and we’ll go from there.”

The A’s have a long-term plan, but that’s in San Jose, the city that Baer is loathe to give up. That means that Baer is perfectly willing to be neighborly, as long as the A’s stay in Oakland.

If you want to read between the lines, you can consider this a memo to Oakland ballpark backers to get off their asses and get something done. He’s willing to be neighborly, up to a point. He’s willing to appear magnanimous in his willingness to share the jewel at China Basin, up to a point. As long as there’s some motion towards a ballpark in Oakland, it helps Baer’s cause.

Strategically, it’s easy to see why Baer is going this route. Now that the Giants have practically paid off their ballpark, they need another rationale for preserving the split territorial rights regime currently in place. They can talk about protecting their fan base in the South Bay, but frankly, the issue is Oakland. Simply put, can a ballpark be built in Oakland? If it can – and it pencils out for the A’s financially – then the current T-rights scheme can remain in place, whether Lew Wolff and John Fisher are the owners or someone else takes their place. If Oakland can’t be done, which Wolff has been arguing, the East Bay itself is done, and MLB will be forced to consider an alternative method of drawing up territories. Immediately that means the South Bay is the only other place in the Bay Area, with Wolff preferring that as opposed to leaving altogether, which Baer has hinted in the past he’d be okay with.

Baer’s little nudge should provide motivation for Oakland boosters, though Baer can’t make it easier to build in Oakland. Nor is it likely that the Giants will help Oakland out monetarily. News coming out of Raiders camp can’t be encouraging, as Raiders owner Mark Davis indicates that nothing is happening with Coliseum City, at least as he sees it. Davis characterized Coliseum City as perhaps Oakland’s last chance to keep the Raiders. By NFL rules, Davis has to make a good faith effort to keep the team in its current market, and Davis has certainly done that so far. If Coliseum City breaks down, the Raiders could leave for LA as early as a year from now, and Roger Goodell can’t say much about it. Sure, the NFL holds the purse strings, but by that point they’ll know full well the challenges of building a stadium in Oakland as much as LA. Like the A’s situation, if it doesn’t pencil out in Oakland, there may not be an East Bay alternative. Already he’s backing away from the Concord Naval Weapons Station and Dublin’s Camp Parks, which makes me wonder if he’s only feigning interest in those sites in order to appear thorough.

Davis also referred to the impact of the Oakland mayoral race, indicating that developers wouldn’t get off the fence until after the election. That runs counter to the idea that the various mayoral candidates could make Coliseum City progress by stumping for it along the way. The project has its own schedule and milestones, with the next big one, the Market Data Analysis, due in March. By spring we’re supposed to find out how feasible Coliseum City is, and by summer teams are supposed to be signed on to be partners – at least according to Mayor Jean Quan. Movement will come from making the numbers work, not magic. Davis is not the only person to wonder what exactly is happening with Coliseum City. We’re going through these phases with CC, where some small amount of progress happens, followed by a huge informational vacuum, then a sobering dose of reality, and then another small step forward. Eventually that cycle will be replaced by real discussions, actual reports, and true political and financial support (or a lack of it).

Going back to the Giants and Baer, I suppose that since he’s offering his place as a 1-2 year airbnb stint for the A’s, we can start talking about what that would look like. That’s for another day. For now, it makes the most sense to focus on Oakland. In the near term, that’s where the only future for the Raiders and A’s lies.

Port of Oakland tables motion to reject 3 maritime proposals at Howard Terminal

Following a staff recommendation made last week, the Port of Oakland’s Board tabled a motion to reject three proposals for maritime use at Howard Terminal. The motion will be considered at the next Board session in two weeks. Located just west of Jack London Square, Howard Terminal has been touted as the latest great ballpark site by many Oakland boosters and city officials because of its waterfront locale and proximity to downtown Oakland.

One bid from Bowie Resources involved the shipping of coal or other to the Port, which I noted in December. That bid was rejected due to the use not being green enough as the offloading and storage of coal would release pollutants in the air, hurting Oakland’s air quality. The bid also would have built storage domes up to 150 feet high. Coal storage domes are probably not the kind of visual icon Oakland wants along its waterfront. The CCIG bid faced a staff rejection because it was considered incomplete, whereas the bid from Schnitzer Steel was similarly not considered because it only used a small piece of HT land. Representatives from Bowie were on hand to press their case that staff had not thoroughly vetted their bid. This may be a case of delaying the inevitable, since the prospect of bringing coal to Oakland’s waterfront is likely to bring out the full force of the Sierra Club, not to mention enormous amounts of CEQA red tape.

The Port had no choice but to pursue maritime uses in the wake of SSA Terminals vacating Howard Terminal and consolidating operations at Berths 60-63 in Middle Harbor. That’s because the BCDC’s Seaport Plan considers HT as part of its “Port Priority Plan,” meaning that any designated maritime (shipping, cargo) use lands should be kept that way unless additional capacity can be found elsewhere to make up for it. With Howard Terminal, the idea is that SSA’s (and Matson’s) consolidation should be able to make up for any lost capacity from converting HT. From the report:

Using Howard Terminal for non-maritime uses conflicts with this designation, and de-designation of lands from Port Priority Use requires a Seaport Plan amendment, which is a fairly lengthy and involved process. To pursue an amendment, the Port would be required to provide evidence that sufficient capacity exists within the remaining Port seaport properties, or elsewhere within the Bay Area Port priority lands, to support the long term maritime growth demands for the region. BCDC would then independently analyze that information before proceeding with an amendment.

Such a move has a major precedent in San Francisco, where huge swaths of waterfront along The Embarcadero were converted to commercial use after Loma Prieta, along with the teardown of the Embarcadero Freeway. That conversion allowed Oakland and Richmond to take up much of SF’s cargo shipping capacity. Note that there’s no mention in the report or agenda item of HT being used for anything other than maritime uses in the report, even a ballpark. But that’s how ballpark boosters see the plan progressing, with the hope of the BCDC’s blessing. OWB, the group offering to negotiate a lease for a ballpark and additional development at HT, can’t negotiate anything with the Port until the maritime use question is resolved. Even then, other agencies could easily gum up the works, as the Warriors are seeing with their SF arena project.

Additionally, the State Lands Commission could get involved because much of the waterfront part of HT (including a wharf in the southeast corner) is Tidelands Trust land, which also requires discussion and perhaps even legislation.

Approval from the State Lands Commission would be required for any uses of the property that are not Tidelands Trust compliant. Many non-maritime activities are not considered Trust compliant uses and thus may require lengthy negotiations with the State Lands Commission, and potential legislation, before the Port could proceed with such non-Trust uses for the property.

Sketches of a ballpark at HT show the stadium recessed from the water’s edge, perhaps enough to avoid SLC jurisdiction. Even then, it’s a gray area due to maritime use. It’s not as if Oakland needs another marina or ferry terminal, since such facilities are already adjacent to HT at Jack London Square.

The rejection was considered to be a fairly quick rubber stamp of ballpark boosters’ plans, which are supported by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Port Commissioner Bryan Parker voted to table the motion, a move that looks funny since he’s running for mayor against Quan yet supports a waterfront ballpark. That puts him in the odd position of needing to show due diligence, while trying not looking overtly political in the process. This may end up being a mere footnote in the history of a Howard Terminal ballpark (whether it happens or not), but it goes to show that when it comes to getting something built in the Bay Area, nothing is ever as easy as it seems.

San Jose files appeal in Ninth Circuit, also files state claims in Santa Cruz County

Sure, we knew that San Jose was going to file its appeal in the Ninth Circuit early this year, which they did today. The filing runs only two pages, with much more to follow.

The surprise was that the lesser state claims about economic damage via MLB’s alleged interference were also refiled – in Santa Cruz County Superior Court. That’s right, Santa Cruz County.

City attorney Philip Gregory brought up MLB’s mysterious denial of the A’s petition to move to San Jose. Although the state claims are not considered as substantial as the federal antitrust case, it’s clear that San Jose aims to dig up some dirt on MLB’s machinations, which could help their case. The denial letter, which MLB has refused to release citing confidentiality, is probably the big prize. Santa Cruz County may also have a lighter docket compared to other nearby counties, which could be a factor in San Jose choosing to look south. Nothing’s expected to happen in either Santa Cruz or the Ninth Circuit until spring at earliest. Until then, the sides will prepare their next filings.