What is infrastructure, anyway?

In the past month we’ve heard a lot about costs associated with the ballpark village. The $500 million figure for the ballpark itself is quite fuzzy, and depending on the final scope of “A’s Town” the final value of the project could be well over $2 billion. It could be very easy to lose sight of the hidden costs of the development. There’s much speculation about who is going to foot these hidden costs, but I sense that much of this speculation comes from good old-fashioned FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). That’s not unfair since we’ve seen municipalities get burned time and time again over the last 20-30 years on sports facility development. In this case there’s less chance of that because a project of this size has to have all details fleshed out before it gets approved. Why? Because if you take away the ballpark, it’s simply a housing and retail development, and as such it should get treated like any other housing and retail development.

Don’t let the ballpark fool you
The ballpark is the anchor of the development, and it’s expected to retain virtually all of its revenue including concessions and parking. Unlike most retail anchors such as department stores, it’s not expected to directly benefit the city through significant sales or property tax revenues. That may vary based on who owns the ballpark and land, but for now let’s work with the notion that when it comes to sales and property taxes the ballpark represents zero direct net benefit to the City and County. (Ancillary development may brings huge tax revenue for both the City and County but it’s too early to project how much.)

Okay, but what about costs associated with the ballpark? Wolff said last week that the A’s will pick up the tab for police presence. Is that simply police within the ballpark village area or the ballpark itself? What about traffic management? Or how about public safety at whatever transportation facilities are built there? Fire and emergency services? All of that stuff adds up. It’s possible that the A’s could capture those costs in their ticket and concessions prices. They could partner with the city on a ticket tax to fund such services, which would be a roundabout way of doing it.

Or they could look at another source of tax revenue within the city itself. Section 5-1206 of the Fremont municipal code covers revenues from recreation and entertainment:

(a) Every person conducting, carrying on or managing any business consisting of entertainment, recreation or amusement shall pay an annual business tax of $1.50 for each $1,000.00 of gross receipts. This classification includes but is not limited to: Archery ranges/instruction, bowling alleys, firearm shooting ranges, golf courses/instruction, ranges, indoor and outdoor motion picture theaters, pool and billiard halls, rental animals for recreation riding, skating rinks, sporting events, swimming pools, theaters at which live entertainment is presented, vehicle courses/racing, game or computing arcades.

That means the tax rate for the A’s would be 0.15% in Fremont. That’s favorable compared to Oakland’s 0.45%, though I don’t know whether or not the A’s actually pay this tax in their current situation. 0.15% may not sound like much, but when talking about a baseball team, it’s actually good revenue. Consider this breakdown:

If Fremont and the A’s were to split the cost of gameday police and emergency services, that $171,120 would go along way towards paying for it. Keep in mind that this is tax revenue that would otherwise not go to Fremont. If there’s a possible source for these expenses or even a rebate for the A’s, this is it.

Permanent infrastructure
There are other types of infrastructure associated with residential or mixed developments. Roads, schools, and parks have great upfront costs, but are ongoing expenses usually covered by existing budgets. In Fremont, the city has had to cut some services and eliminate positions to keep the budget balanced. “A’s Town” would bring some nearly 8-10,000 new residents into the city via townhomes and other types of attached housing. Typical residential and commercial developments these days require developers to foot the bill for water, sewer, and other utilities, as well as building of streets within the development. That cost should not be an issue. It’s the other stuff that needs to be defined.

Arterial roads and freeways
Two major roads feed into the Pacific Commons area, Auto Mall Parkway from the east, and Cushing Parkway/Boyce Road from the north/south. A major piece of infrastructure was completed a couple of years ago when Cushing Pkwy was extended north from Fremont Blvd, officially connecting the two parts of Fremont’s Industrial Redevelopment district. Prior to this, drivers had to take 880 or cross the freeway to get to Auto Mall Pkwy. Cushing is perfect for ballpark traffic as it runs 4-6 lanes and empties directly into 880 South. Auto Mall Pkwy is modern and wide in the Pacific Commons area, but it narrows as you move further east towards 680. It’s this portion of Auto Mall that is a concern because it performs double-duty as a commuter corridor. Widening to a full six lanes from 880 to 680 is imperative, and that includes an overpass section that avoids rail lines, including the planned BART extension. Should that widening happen, Auto Mall may be used as a carpool route, which would be helpful for fans coming from 680.

Modern interchanges connecting to 880 in the area are already complete. Pacific Commons is in the middle of a massive redevelopment zone called “Industrial.” After the creation of the 3,000-acre zone west of 880, roughly $24 million per year in property taxes was diverted away from their usual destinations, in part, to fund four 880 interchanges: Auto Mall, Fremont, Mission/Warren, and Dixon Landing. All but Mission/Warren are finished, and the Mission/Warren interchange is due sometime in 2008. Debt service on the bonds used to finance the interchanges will run through 2013. Even if the A’s were to reverse position and ask for a bond issue – which they haven’t – the city would likely be averse to acquiring more short-term debt.

In a previous comment thread, someone asked if perhaps the CHP weigh stations could somehow be used to route traffic coming from 880. That isn’t likely with the east side station since it’s frequently used and houses other facilities. The station on the west side of 880 (South) is intriguing since it isn’t used much at all and is strategically placed adjacent to Pacific Commons. If the developer, city, and state could come to an agreement, it’s possible that the station’s entrance and exit could be utilized. That would mitigate much traffic that would normally use the Auto Mall exit. The challenges here are A) whether it’s actually possible to use a weigh station in this manner, and B) if Wolff can acquire the private parcel needed to complete the road that would run between the weigh station and Christy Street. I doubt a purchase of just the required easement would be feasible, since it would significantly reduce the existing facility’s parking. Then again, who knows? The road would only be 600 feet long and covers 1/2 acre.

The municipal code dictates that for every 1,000 residents, five acres of parkland should be set aside. Using the projected additional population of 8-10,000, that means 40-50 new acres of parks. The developer could pay a “park land dedication fee” in lieu of some amount of land, but good parks tend to raise the value of surrounding neighborhoods, so we should expect some modicum of parkland. It’s possible that the developer would dedicate adjacent parcels to the city and Fremont Unified School District to create a shared school/park facility.

Coincidentally, the city owns 40 acres at the west end of Auto Mall, part of it to be used for the ACE/Amtrak station. It’s land Wolff covets for parking – and if parking is in its future, a public park isn’t. Perhaps a trade is in order…

The nearest public elementary school is across 880 from Pacific Commons, which makes sense since there is no residential development currently at Pacific Commons. Introducing 8-10,000 new residents means that at the very least a new elementary school is in order. Junior and Senior High Schools are at least 1.5 miles away. Again, the developer will be asked to dedicate land for the construction of a school, some 5-15 acres.

A fairly new fire station is located at Auto Mall and Grimmer Blvd, just across the freeway from Pacific Commons. The hospitals in the area are located closer to city hall and the BART station. No change likely here.

This issue is the big elephant in the room. It’s worthy of a series of posts to cover potential solutions, so I won’t cover that right now. Soon, very soon.

When look at infrastructure, it’s important to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sure, there are many details, but many of them are either already addressed (roads) or will be addressed within the auspices of the project’s master plan (utilities). While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of the information that must be studied, once residents get a real visual of the concept it will be easier to appraise. Until then, I’ll keep doing whatever I can to help shed light on the process.

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