Category Archives: San Jose
The last public statement Bud Selig made on the A’s-San Jose lawsuit was at the beginning of the World Series, when he held court for the assembled national media. The session included the obligatory question on the A’s situation, which included Selig’s reflection on the lawsuit because Judge Ronald Whyte had recently thrown out many of San Jose’s claims in the case. Here’s what MLB.com’s Paul Hagen wrote then:
A judge, ruling on a lawsuit filed by San Jose against Major League Baseball, recently upheld MLB’s right to determine when and where franchises may relocate, but left open the question of whether the city of San Jose may sue for damages. Selig said, however, that this doesn’t impact the timetable for a resolution.
“I wouldn’t say so. We were very pleased with the decision, obviously. But nothing has changed,” Selig said. “We’re working on details. Look, I know everybody says it’s taking so long. But the more our group has gotten into it, the more complex it is. If people really understood all the complexities, they would understand. But it’s a situation that needs to be dealt with.”
Selig was asked if the complexity was the San Francisco Giants’ claim that they have territorial rights to San Jose.
“The complexities are all the parties,” Selig replied.
A month earlier, Selig went on John Feinstein’s radio show to complain about the A’s and Rays’ stadium problems. At the time Selig referred to the state of the Coliseum.
“It’s a pit,” Selig said. “It reminds me of old County Stadium and Shea Stadium. We need to deal with that. I’ve had a committee working on it for two or three years, and there’s no question we’re going to have to solve that problem.”
But hasn’t the committee been working on it for a long time? What’s the hold-up?
“We have, John, but I’ll tell you it’s far more complex,” Selig said. “Look, you have one team that wants to move and the other team doesn’t want them to move, and it’s a very complicated situation. Before I leave, I’m satisfied we’ll work out something.”
Now let’s pivot to the most recent revelation of a letter “formally” rejecting the A’s proposal to San Jose. MLB didn’t release the letter with the recent court filing, so we’re left to guess as to what the letter truly contained. The filing characterizes the letter as a final decision on the A’s move request. Since the news broke, several reporters have gotten unnamed sources to characterize the letter as a rejection of the proposal as written, but not a rejection of San Jose. Selig’s statements above – made three and four months after the rejected proposal letter – don’t sound like any decision, final or not, has been made.
Since we know nothing about the proposal, we can only speculate on its terms. Some of the discussion on this blog has been about the need for a greater public contribution. That may be the case, but I suspect that MLB wouldn’t focus on stadium deal terms that far afield. There’s always the matter of negotiation with between the team and the city when it comes time to write a DDA. Instead, I’m certain that the issue boils down to the overarching issue at play: territorial rights and compensation.
From the start of the San Jose talk in 2009, the Giants have never publicly stated a price. Lew Wolff has joked that he’d prefer to pay the same amount the Giants paid for Santa Clara County in 1992, which was $0. Since then, Wolff has hinted that he’d be willing to pay compensation based on actual demonstrable losses suffered by the Giants, not a big lump sum payment. Given that the Giants sell out regularly, demonstrable losses could be difficult to prove. If anything, MLB wants a serious compromise between the two sides, and isn’t satisfied with Wolff’s definition of compensation. While Wolff may be loathe to pay anything to the nemesis Giants, ponying up something is probably the only way to get down to San Jose.
At the same time, the proposal has to work within other written (and unwritten) rules MLB has set forth. Consider these additional issues at stake:
- How much additional debt does the club have to take on to make the ballpark happen?
- If the land encumbrance issues at the Diridon site can’t be resolved, what backup sites are being considered?
- Does the proposal involve the A’s staying on revenue sharing for some period of time?
- Are the A’s sticking to the small, 32,000-seat concept, or will they move to 36,000 or higher?
While all of these are legitimate concerns, I still think that it all comes down to the compensation issue. In February, Bill Shaikin reported that MLB gave the A’s temporary guidelines in order for Selig and the owners to approve the move. If there were guidelines given to the A’s, then it’s up to Wolff and John Fisher to comply with those guidelines. Otherwise they’re just spinning their wheels. Shaikin wrote then that compensation was not “among the list of matters for the A’s to resolve.” Sure, as long as the A’s are in compliance. If they proposed a different form of compensation or different terms, suddenly that issue is front and center.
If MLB convinces Judge Whyte to grant a stay in the discovery phase of the lawsuit, we probably won’t find out the substance of that letter or proposal. That would be, to put it mildly, unfortunate.
Michael McCann’s Sports Law Blog, which has been keeping track of the legal maneuverings in the MLB-vs.-San Jose case, has uncovered a bit of a bombshell (hat tip Nathaniel Grow). From the most recent filing (defendant’s section):
In fact, MLB denied the Athletics’ relocation request on June 17, 2013, one day before this lawsuit was filed. On that date, Commissioner Selig formally notified the Athletics’ ownership that he was not satisfied with the club’s relocation proposal. The sole basis of Plaintiffs’ only claims that remain after the MTD Order—the purported failure of MLB to render a decision within the initial two-year term of the Option Agreement—is therefore meritless.
MLB is arguing that the land option agreement the A’s and San Jose entered into in late 2011 is invalid, making the case moot. To back up its claim, MLB cites this heretofore (and still) unseen letter, the ongoing Stand for San Jose-vs.-City of San Jose lawsuit, and the lack of a public vote. To be clear, that last part is because Commissioner Bud Selig discouraged a vote way back in 2010 (which to this day I consider a strategic error on San Jose’s part). MLB wants to keep the letter confidential and doesn’t want to show it unless the plaintiffs agree to confidentiality.
Of course, that’s the opposite of what San Jose wants, because they’re pushing for complete discovery. From their filing:
In fact, Defendants’ sections of this CMC Statement are filled with Assertions of fact. This Court should order immediate commencement of discovery so that these “facts” (and others) surrounding the Athletics proposed move to San Jose and their reasons for entering into (and then not exercising) the Option Agreement may be explored.
MLB is fighting hard to avoid any degree of discovery.
Timing is the issue here. MLB argues that Selig sent the letter 19 months after the option agreement was signed, and that 19 months was reasonable timing for a decision, even though MLB started formally addressing the ballpark issue and San Jose two years earlier. Did San Jose file the lawsuit upon receiving the letter, or did MLB send the letter preemptively, knowing that the lawsuit was coming? I knew the lawsuit was coming the week it was filed, and I figure MLB did too. Addtionally, what other communications could be brought up that could contradict the letter?
It is of course possible, and perhaps even likely, that MLB would reconsider the move [to San Jose] in the future.
While we’re left to wildly speculate on everything, let’s consider the idea that MLB doesn’t like San Jose’s proposed contribution of land-and-infrastructure, and wants more than that to seal the deal. And understand that all the activity we’re seeing is happening because of the lawsuit. Everything should be understood within the context of the lawsuit. For better or worse, that’s where we are. I won’t be in town next Friday for the hearing, but I’m sure it’ll be juicy.
Lost in all the owners’ meetings, MVP awards and other sports news was a little story out of Sacramento. It involves a stadium for a second-tier soccer team – that will be built in five months.
That’s right, five months. And it was only announced today. The stadium will have a capacity of 8,000 and be constructed on a parking lot at Cal Expo for the Sacramento Republic soccer club. The Republic is aiming to become a future expansion team in MLS. By building this 8,000-seat facility (nearly the size of Buck Shaw Stadium), the hope is that MLS will be impressed enough to grant the franchise’s “promotion”, leading to a deal for a larger MLS stadium in a few years. The neat trick to the deal is that the club is partnering with Cal Expo’s concessionaire to build the stadium, a potential win-win for both parties.
How could all of this come together in only five months? The stadium is considered temporary. When we envision stadium projects, we usually see the dark side of environmental review because these structures are meant to last for 30-40 years or longer. However, if you build a temporary facility, you can largely sidestep CEQA law. After all, the point of CEQA is to understand and mitigate against long-term environmental impacts, so if you can prove that your project won’t have a huge impact, you may be able to get a CEQA exception. One of those exceptions is for temporary or seasonal structures. They’re planning to put in the stadium, which will only be used 15-20 times per year during a 6-7 month window, and take it apart when the new stadium is ready. Project proponents can argue that there’s little impact since the stadium site is already a parking lot. Stretching the definition of temporary to nine years in this case is a little suspect, but there isn’t a hard and fast definition to use. Here’s what the law says:
15304. Minor Alterations to Land
(e) Minor temporary use of land having negligible or no permanent effects on the environment, including carnivals, sales of Christmas trees, etc;
Similar exceptions are available for additions to existing structures, such as the musical chairs situation I described last month. It would involve temporary additions to Raley Field and San Jose Municipal Stadium. A tougher case could even be made for a larger, 20,000-seat ballpark in San Jose. Let’s say that there’s some currently undeveloped or underutilized but properly entitled land somewhere within San Jose city limits. It could be publicly or privately owned. If the A’s struck a deal with the landowner, they could get permitted to build a temporary ballpark on that land. Sites could include the Airport West site near the Earthquakes stadium (though we’ve seen the difficulty building there), the County Fairgrounds, or other privately owned land. There are even sites near downtown.
That said, we’re at a late enough stage that it’s practically impossible to pull off a temporary new ballpark in time for the 2014 season. Expanding Raley would make more sense in that timeframe. As transient the whole thing sounds, it’s definitely a path of relatively little bureaucratic resistance as long as you get willing partners. Since it wouldn’t involve public money, a referendum wouldn’t be required.
The Merc’s John Woolfolk (recently assigned the the City beat), tweeted this about the San Jose-MLB case less than an hour ago.
San Jose, MLB lawyers agree to put off mediation on remaining claims in city suit over A's move (tht MLB allegedly messed w/bpark land opt.)
— John Woolfolk (@JohnWoolfolk1) November 12, 2013
I’m not going to go so far as to say that there’s a deal in the works, but there has to be a reason for both sides to agree to postpone mediation. Certainly San Jose’s stance has been to get depositions and open the books to make MLB squirm a little. MLB’s desire is to get rid of the lawsuit altogether. Something’s up. The owners’ meetings are happening this week.
Woolfolk responded to this post with another tweet:
@newballpark my guess, both sides see greater potential in taking remaining case to trial at this point than settling.
— John Woolfolk (@JohnWoolfolk1) November 12, 2013
If true, well, thanks for trying to get the two sides to hash it out Judge Whyte.
UPDATE 11/13 1:55 PM – The Coliseum Authority cancelled a previously scheduled Friday meeting. It’s probably related to the ongoing lease negotiations.
In the meantime, San Jose lead attorney Joe Cotchett said this at a San Jose Rotary Club function (courtesy of Merc columnist Sal Pizarro):
Attorney Joe Cotchett makes bold prediction to San Jose Rotary that SJ will have an MLB team or a contract to get one within 2 years.
— Sal Pizarro (@spizarro) November 13, 2013
More bluster? Or something else?
Saturday, September 7 was a fairly ho-hum day at the newly-renamed SAP Center, formerly HP Pavilion, Compaq Center, and San Jose Arena. There was an event, a mariachi festival called Vivafest. Preseason hockey wasn’t scheduled to start for two weeks, the regular season for a month. It seemed like there wasn’t much to celebrate.
Oh, but there was. September 7, 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of the arena, affectionally known as the Shark Tank (the Sharks would play their first home game on 9/30/93). Though it’s 20 years old, the place still looks nearly new and spiffy, with Sharks ownership and the San Jose Arena Authority committed to maintaining the venue to ensure its place as a premier sports and concert venue, and to keep up with rival franchises. Even though the structure is mostly precast, poured and block concrete, the glass entries and color highlights make the place feel more friendly and inviting than a largely concrete structure should. The steel cladded façade proved to be an aesthetic mistake, though it shimmers nicely at night. I joked shortly after the arena opened to some friends that the City needed to figure out a way to keep the arena in the dark all the time.
Since its opening, the Tank has hosted multiple NCAA basketball men’s regionals, the women’s Final Four, the US Gymnastics and Figure Skating Championships, pro wrestling, boxing, and MMA, and countless concerts. While in my relative youth I had reservations about the publicly-funded nature of the arena, the fact that Sharks ownership (led by the late George Gund at the time) spent a good sum of money upfront to ensure the arena would an industry leader, and the venue has held its place as a highly competitive, well-run NHL arena ever since. Unlike most other arenas, the team ran the venue themselves, parlaying that experience into the acquisition and operation of other venues in the area.
SAP Center didn’t mention the moment on either its Facebook page or Twitter timeline. There was no special event. Maybe this was because the Sharks franchise celebrated its own 20-year anniversary in 2011, which would’ve made this celebration a bit much. Perhaps it’s a mark of the Hasso Plattner’s ownership. Whatever the case, San Jose should’ve celebrated the anniversary. It’s the best thing San Jose’s now shuttered Redevelopment Agency has accomplished. It’s worthy of praise, so I’ll do it here, admittedly in belated manner.
Happy Anniversary, Shark Tank! Here’s to 20 more years of great events at the arena. San Jose wouldn’t be the same without you. Take a bow.
UPDATE 2:07 PM – I’ve uploaded a copy of the ruling. It’s worth a read.
Additionally, San Jose Mayor Reed’s office released a statement in reaction to the ruling:
I am pleased that the judge has allowed our case to move forward. Major League Baseball’s unfair and anti-competitive actions are costing San Jose residents millions of dollars in annual tax revenues that could go towards paying for more police officers, firefighters, libraries, road repairs and other critical services.
San Jose filed this lawsuit after waiting patiently for more than four years for a decision from Commissioner Selig. The court’s decision this brings us one step closer to paving the way for San Jose to host a major league ballclub.
Update from the Merc’s John Woolfolk on San Jose’s antitrust lawsuit against MLB:
judge mostly rules against San Jose in antitrust lawsuit against MLB, sides with city on state tort claims
— John Woolfolk (@JohnWoolfolk1) October 11, 2013
And other tweets:
— Raj Mathai (@rajmathai) October 11, 2013
BREAKING: Federal judge grants MLB's motion to dismiss San Jose's lawsuit IN PART. Federal antitrust claims dismissed; state claims survive
— Wendy Thurm (@hangingsliders) October 11, 2013
During the hearing last Friday, Judge Ronald Whyte gave indications that he would back MLB based on the standing issue, while allowing San Jose to rework its case and try it in a state court. MLB had pushed for Judge Whyte to dismiss all claims, including those that could be covered by California’s more stringent antitrust laws. San Jose hoped Judge Whyte would rule that the City had standing, which would move the case forward and start a potentially damaging discovery phase for MLB.
Assuming that the tweets above are correct, baseball’s antitrust exemption remains immune to a legal challenge. Instead the case will be about tortious interference, or MLB’s stalling that has prevented San Jose and the A’s from getting a ballpark built. San Jose claimed initially that this amounted to $1.5 million per year in tax revenue, and could be awarded treble damages as a result. Over 30 years that comes to $135 million, not adjusted for inflation.
If San Jose can force discovery into the dealings of its “Blue Ribbon Commission” and other activities related to San Jose and Oakland, it could also force MLB to make a deal since they’re against any kind of opening of their books. There’s a lot more to the TI argument than standing.
A press conference may be in the offing. If it happens I’ll see if I can head out to City Hall.
For now I’ll end with this Bill Shaikin tweet:
Judge in San Jose vs. MLB writes that baseball's antitrust exemption makes no sense but that he is bound by precedent.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) October 11, 2013
Hooray for inertia!