SC County Judge declares A’s-San Jose land option illegal

Just in from Santa Clara County Superior Court: Judge Joseph Huber, who has presided over the smaller Stand for San Jose-vs.-City of San Jose case for a few years now, has called the land option agreement between the City and the A’s against the law. Wrote Huber:

“The city is and has been in violation of (the law) for several years and it does not appear it will comply with the terms in the foreseeable future.”

Combine that with the blows that San Jose has received in federal court, and you have to think that any chance of a ballpark happening in the South Bay is toast, short of a miracle. Yet it all comes down to some serious strategic errors on San Jose’s part that could have strengthen their case, in this local venue and the federal one.

Remember that it was former mayor Chuck Reed who wanted to go to the ballot box in November 2009 (!), then March 2010. The deal would’ve set up the possibility of a voter-approved stadium deal in San Jose. Instead, he had a discussion with former MLB president Bob DuPuy, who relayed then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s desires to keep the deal on the shelf. Reed complied, there was never a referendum or initiative, and San Jose’s position has looked significantly worse ever since. All San Jose has right now is a prayer for SCOTUS to take the case, which isn’t likely. Throughout all of the various legal battles, at different levels, the weakness of the option agreement has been cited. The A’s have little vested interest in San Jose, and the City is no closer to putting together a deal than it was six years ago.

Now that even Lew Wolff has for all intents and purposes given up on San Jose, the spotlight is on Oakland, where that city faces an uphill battle at Coliseum City and could entertain an A’s proposal should the football stadium plan fizzle out. That brings to mind three scenarios.

  1. If Oakland can’t get Coliseum City done and the NFL doesn’t allow the Raiders to move to LA, the Raiders would either be forced to limp along at the Coliseum indefinitely or consider a move to either San Antonio or even St. Louis. The former would be a continuation of the awkward status quo, with no new venues in sight for either the Raiders or A’s.
  2. Should the Raiders vacate, they would clear the path for the A’s to build a new ballpark at the Coliseum, infrastructure or other public contributions to be up for significant debate. Or maybe no new infrastructure (no baseball village) because no one has figured out how to pay for it.
  3. If Oakland gets Coliseum City to work out with only a football stadium (the NFL’s and the Raiders’ preference – no one sane is buying into the multi-venue fantasy at this point, right?), the A’s are pushed out (per lease terms) and have no obvious backup plan. Would MLB direct the A’s to start looking in the East Bay and maybe the broader Bay Area for ever diminishing land opportunities, or start playing hardball and making threats as it does with so many other markets? How does a stifled San Jose factor in? And what of the Giants?

It’s just as well, we’re so overdue at this stage for a stadium that San Jose will soon have to deal with Sharks owner Hasso Plattner on his designs for a makeover at the 21-year-old arena that bears his company’s name. And if the goal is to get on par with the best new hockey arenas, it won’t be cheap. That discussion is for another day.

P.S. – The scant output over the last month was an intentional move on my part to see what would happen if I chose not to be swayed by every little gesticulation in the media over the A’s or Raiders. While readership was down a little, I felt it was the right move because there was no need to blog about mostly vague details or the rumor mill. Therefore I’m getting to stick to publishing 2-3 times a week while using Twitter to get out quick notes or retweets. If you haven’t already, follow the feed. Things should pick up again in June with the next set of Coliseum City deliverables is expected to be released.

Opening Day success, Wolff says San Jose “Not worth nasty battle”

Well, that was nice. The A’s finally won on Opening Day for the first time in forever, Sonny Gray nearly pitched a no-no, the scoreboards were a huge success (with a few hiccups), and many new A’s made solid debuts.

Off the field, Lew Wolff broke his own news, courtesy of Phil Matier:

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said a possible move to San Jose is ‘not worth a nasty battle’ over territorial rights with the San Francisco Giants, and is hopeful the city’s new mayor can helpthem get a new stadium built in Oakland.

Wolff also fought back against the constant critics, while reserving praise for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. I’m not sure what’s going to convince the critics that Wolff is serious besides an actual groundbreaking ceremony. I’m glad that at the very least Schaaf doesn’t have the same combative tone as her predecessor.

Whether Wolff was told outright by The Lodge or not, San Jose is not in the plans anytime soon. And if Wolff actually wants to get this done while’s he still breathing (something he’s alluded to in jest more than once), Oakland’s the only path. The only way San Jose opens up is if a Raiders’ plan is approved, kicking the A’s out. Then you have to deal with the payout, the CBA, all these things that The Lodge has avoided like the plague over the last two CBA ratifications and would prefer to avoid again. Of course, many of the A’s brass are totally on board with building in Oakland. Broadcasting veep Ken Pries, from last July:

From our position, we just don’t think that (Raiders project) is going to happen – we are betting it doesn’t.

This isn’t hard to figure out. A’s ownership knows that the money is in San Jose. Anyone with a brain can figure that out. Wolff and Fisher also know that they are boxed in, try as they did to escape that box. With the Raiders’ future up in the air, the A’s should take advantage of a potential Raiders departure. As I mentioned Saturday, there are still issues to work out in terms of revenue sharing, but they’re minor compared to a T-rights fight, whatever that may entail.

Unlike Coliseum City, there’s no real timeline or framework for the A’s to do anything. So far their strategy is to wait the Coliseum City process out. If they, like MLB, are gambling on Coliseum City failing, the Coliseum should be delivered on a silver platter. Then again, Wolff did hedge a bit by re-signing that land option in San Jose.

Hey, Lew’s gotta have a Plan A and Plan B, right?

We’re All Screwed

Great sentiment to take into a new season, isn’t it? Things may not seem that dire, but consider that I’ve been writing this blog for ten years and we’re no closer to a stadium than we were in 2005. As Howard Bryant explains in his latest ESPN The Magazine article, we may actually be further from a solution than before. There remains a single site in the Bay Area that baseball is willing to consider, and it is encumbered by a competing development process (Coliseum City). Everyone involved has acted and looked bad and has generally failed abysmally:

  • A’s don’t want Oakland, still covet San Jose
  • Giants remain greedy and recalcitrant
  • MLB provides no leadership
  • Oakland interests trashed A’s ownership, tried to force sale of A’s to no avail
  • San Jose sued MLB, making them a non-entity in terms of negotiation while lawsuit was ongoing

Bryant goes on to explain that MLB is banking on the Coliseum City falling through and the Raiders leaving, which would leave the A’s at the Coliseum to work out a deal, a solution presenting itself with no intervention required on Commissioner Rob Manfred’s part. Convenient, right?

Of course, progress made recently on the EIR process won’t necessarily translate into actual deal success. City archives all over the state are full of dead EIRs from projects that were never built.

An under construction Coliseum in more hopeful times

An under construction Coliseum in more hopeful times

Nevertheless, that’s the outcome MLB sees. It’s one that A’s management is willing to play along with, for now at least. It doesn’t mandate getting a ballpark built right away or even soon, thanks to a lease that can take the A’s through the 2024 season.

Like Lew Wolff assuming that The Lodge would work out a deal for San Jose, MLB assumes that the Raiders are in LA after 2015. But even that’s difficult to forecast at this point. Stan Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium plan has the most momentum at this point, and the Carson concept is being spearheaded by the Chargers. Both teams have plans to accommodate a second team, though they have both declared that a second team is not a necessity. The NFL wants no more than two teams in Southern California (including the San Diego market). Those two teams could be the ones spearheading separate stadium projects. Or they could partner together on a single stadium. The Raiders, not having their own stadium plan to push, have to hope that Kroenke’s plan falls through and Carson succeeds, allowing the Raiders and Chargers to be the LA teams. If Kroenke gets his stadium, it doesn’t matter whether the Chargers stay in San Diego, move to Carson in their own stadium, or partner at Inglewood, the Raiders are the odd man out. There’s the odd chance that either the Chargers or Raiders could move to St. Louis, but few outside of St. Louis are considering the idea seriously.

Therefore, MLB’s hopes rest with a very silent man who has little interest (and zero actual financial interest) in baseball. Kroenke owns or has owned franchises in every other major sport, including top tier English soccer (Arsenal).

Whither the A’s in all of this? As usual, that depends. If the Raiders are shut out of LA because of the Rams’ and Chargers’ activity, the Raiders would effectively be forced to work on a stadium in Oakland, ostensibly at the Coliseum. Naturally, that would conflict with the A’s and MLB’s plans. Don’t believe for a moment that either team or league is going to actively work with the other on a joint development plan. With no public subsidy in sight, the Raiders and A’s will look to horde whatever revenue-generating opportunities they can, whether we’re talking entitlements or parking. Either way, that will run into conflict with Oakland’s designs on the Coliseum land, which are to create a new neighborhood with up to 10,000 new residents. Strangely enough, a “same as existing” use plan for the Coliseum lands would work best for entrenched interests in the area, including East Oakland residents concerned about gentrification and businesses west of 880 fighting against losing industrial land.

Should the Raiders look elsewhere in the East Bay, the A’s would be in the driver’s seat for the Coliseum. Yet as previously investigated sites are eliminated – Camp Parks and Concord NWS have their own plans underway – the Raiders will be even more boxed in at the Coliseum. Worst case they stumble to Santa Clara, where they would play tenant to the 49ers instead of the JPA. Chances are that they’d partner with a developer (SunCal?) for the Coliseum. Finally, that choice that I’ve been talking about for years, the one nobody in the East Bay has wanted to talk about publicly, would have to be made.

That doesn’t mean any choice would be made immediately, let alone a stadium built. Look at what happened for the San Jose Earthquakes. The team was reborn in 2008, had a stadium promised in 2010, didn’t start construction until 2012, and didn’t open until 2015. Seven years, and for a city that Lew Wolff actually loves. It’s easier to start construction when you’re absolutely sure the checks will come in.

Having to privately finance an entire stadium is hard enough, now the A’s would have to do so in small market Oakland. It’s not even so much about whether Wolff and John Fisher want to do it, does MLB want to subsidize it for 30-40 years via revenue sharing? If the A’s are going to carry a big mortgage in Oakland with iffy corporate support, revenue sharing seems an absolute necessity to keep the A’s in good financial health. That’s the alternative to negotiating with the Giants.

And if the Raiders build at the Coliseum instead? Well, the A’s would be able to leave the Coliseum, but for where? San Jose is not a player in this scheme, but you’d be surprised at what avenues can open up once MLB runs out of options and leverage. That might mean Diridon, it might mean Howard Terminal. It would be fitting for MLB to actually do something after years of actively sitting on its hands. As long as the A’s remain in the Bay Area, even severely delayed progress would be well worth it.

Corey Busch talks Blue Ribbon Committee on CSN

Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area provided a bit of a surprise on Yahoo! Sports Talk Live, when they had Corey Busch, former Giants executive and member of the three-person Blue Ribbon Committee (Irwin Raij & Bob Starkey were the other two). Busch explained some of the panel’s activities and charges. Jim Kozimor did his best to pry what little information he could out of Busch, who didn’t answer a number of key questions because of the state of the San Jose-vs.-MLB lawsuit.

Corey Busch interview Part 1

Corey Busch interview Part 2

Busch clarified the territorial rights deal that occurred in 1991, giving the Giants control of the Santa Clara County, which prior to that point had been an open territory. He also called San Jose’s lawsuit a mistake on their part. While you may glean additional information from the segment, you’ll probably come out of it even more frustrated than before, whether you’re an Oakland or San Jose partisan or are location-agnostic. My preference for the show: Ray Ratto in a talking head box in a corner, providing running commentary as Busch answered questions. Good work on the interview Koz, and maybe we’ll get to uncover the bodies when the lawsuit business is over. Busch promised!

Happy Opening Day, Earthquakes

Sure, they did a dry run a few weeks ago with a 10,000-strong crowd, but this was to be the test. Opening match at Avaya Stadium, full house, new infrastructure in place, systems tested to the fullest. The Quakes scored two quick goals and then held on for dear life, 2-1 over the Chicago Fire. The fans were ebullient, raving about the home they’ve wanted and deserved for more than 40 years.

I asked about how people were doing with with transit or parking. Some of the feedback:

All in all, it seemed as if the team, the fans, and the league got everything they wanted out of the experience. A privately funded stadium with great amenities, but not done in a way that would take the focus away from the game.

The original vision for the stadium, unveiled during the throes of the recession, had no club seats or suites. The horseshoe-shaped bowl was the same, including the huge double-sided scoreboard at the open end. As the economy improved and the team reached out to the community, there was interest for luxury seating options, though in implementation they weren’t like those at other stadiums. The result is a tight seating bowl configuration with a steep rake, allowing for great sightlines. An extensive roof over the bowl provides ample shade and holds in noise. And the price tag rose from $60 million to $100 million. About $10 million will be paid for by real estate sales in South San Jose. It’s a refreshing example of restraint that somehow comes without a great deal of compromise. Even Don Garber, the MLS commissioner who approved the previous Quakes incarnation’s move to Houston, understood:

“Not every stadium’s got to be several hundred million dollars. It’s actually got to have them built in a way where the economic model makes sense. That’s what we have here.”

The biggest issue going forward is the fact that there’s no room to accommodate an expansion. There’s always Levi’s and Stanford for the bigger crowds. For decades to come, this is home. It’s something to be proud of, no need to make any apologies. I suspect Quakes fans will be savoring it for some time to come, sellout after sellout.

P.S. – The USGS, which has an office in Menlo Park, set up a seismograph at the stadium.

Tenth Anniversary Edition: A Decade of Running in Place

If you’ve been around from the beginning (you probably haven’t), you may have read the very first post I made to this blog on March 14, 2005. That was ten years ago. Here’s a quick, incomplete list of things that have happened since then:

  • Bud Selig stays commissioner until 2015, is replaced by Rob Manfred
  • Expos move (are bought-contracted-expanded) to Washington, DC
  • Six new ballparks open throughout MLB (in St. Louis, DC, New York twice, Minneapolis, and Miami)
  • Levi’s Stadium developed and opened
  • Warriors get new ownership, declare intent to move to SF, buy land for arena
  • AEG moves SJ Earthquakes to Houston. Team is reborn in 2008, has stadium built for 2015 season
  • A’s propose ballparks at sites in Oakland, Fremont, and San Jose – none are successful
  • Oakland is on its fourth mayor since the blog started

That same day I posted about the A’s potentially building a ballpark south of the existing Coliseum. Pending what happens with Coliseum City, we may be talking about that very same possibility in the future. Weird how things might come full circle, eh?

As we wait for good news on the stadium front, I have some good news of my own. A couple years ago I asked for donations for the site to keep it running. Many of you responded very generously. which helped keep the site and my continuing work going. This site is a labor of love, so I haven’t asked for donations much (twice to my recollection). Back in 2013, I promised those of you who donated that I’d provide a sort of digest of previous posts. I tried many times to compile and curate that digest, but over time I’ve learned that I am a much worse editor than I am a writer (which is already rather questionable). Everything read like filler, not moving the narrative forward. I put that aside for a while and swore to get back to it. It wasn’t until earlier this year, when I put together the timeline feature, that it all came together. I was able to put together all the necessary posts, with additional context inserted where necessary. So I’m proud to announce that I have that “book” ready. The download link is below. Those of you who previously donated have already gotten the link via email. Please take a look at it and provide feedback if you like. If you donated and haven’t gotten the book, send me a note/tweet and I’ll make sure to take care of you. And if you have already donated, you don’t need to do anything else, but if you want to donate again I won’t stop you.

I’ve titled the book:

A Decade of Running in Place: A Digest of Selected Blog Posts from the First Ten Years of Newballpark.org

Book download link (Scribd, PDF)

Donate Button

I’ve poured over a million words, 10,000+ hours, and my entire heart and soul into this site. The A’s getting a new ballpark has been a dream of mine since high school, when I first saw drawings of New Comiskey Park and Camden Yards. I don’t expect anyone to have the same kind of obsession with this topic that I have. I figure that I’ll be the obsessive so that you don’t have to be. Thousands of people read this site every day. About 2% of them have donated. If you value the work here and the process, please consider donating. $10 would be great.

The book weighs in at 210,000 words and 664 pages in PDF format. It’s entirely in chronological order. There are what appear to be section or chapter markers. Those are points at which I think the scene shifts. They aren’t meant to encapsulate the story.

Editing and pagination are rough, mostly having to do with the transition from web to print-ready format. I’d like to take the time to give it a whirl in InDesign, with the ultimate goal of making printed copies. A donated of $25 or more would get the ball rolling.

Since this is the 10th anniversary, I’ve started thinking of other things to commemorate this milestone. What do you folks think? T-shirts? Caps? Stickers and decals? Should I do a crowdfunding campaign? I’m all ears at this point. Some of you readers are creatives of different stripes. Send me your suggestions.

Finally, many thinks to all the readers over the years. I’ve met and become friends with many of you. We’ve broken bread, gotten beers, talked plenty of things besides an A’s ballpark. It’s been a pleasure. It will continue until the day that this blog is no longer necessary. After all this time I still hope. I think many of you do too. It’s what binds us. I don’t know how much longer it will take for the A’s to get a new home. Another 10 years? 10 months? However long it takes, I’ll be here for the ride. I hope you enjoy appreciate it as much as I do.

P.S. – Special thanks to Susan Slusser, who suggested the timeline a couple months ago while working on her own A’s history book (due this summer and highly anticipated). Without that I never would’ve gotten properly organized.

P.P.S. – This is not “the book” that I’ve been talking about writing. That book is still very much in progress.

 

San Jose City Council approves taking antitrust case to Supreme Court

Despite losing handily twice in federal courts, the City of San Jose won’t relent, voting unanimously today to take its antitrust case against Major League Baseball to the Supreme Court. While its chances of overturning baseball’s antitrust exemption remain slim, the City’s game plan is simply to have the Supremes take the case, which could cajole MLB into settling. Even that outcome is a long shot, as Wendy Thurm explained at Deadspin two weeks ago. Regardless of the long odds, Mayor Sam Liccardo seems to be spoiling for a fight:

We may know the Court’s decision by summer.