A Toxic Cloud Over A’s Town

KCBS and the Merc have stories on Scott Specialty Gases, a business on 5121 Brandin Court in Fremont. SSG’s Electronic Materials Group is located there, and it supplies various semiconductor firms with gases used in manufacturing. According to Fremont officials, Wolff and Co. would have to pay to relocate SSG away from the ballpark village.

The shock value comes from mitigation measures already in place at Pacific Commons, in which various nearby stores (Kohl’s, Office Depot) would have to shut down their ventilation systems in the event of a toxic cloud or leak. Since the ballpark would be open air, no such mitigation would be possible – leading to the need to relocate the business.

Even if the danger is slim, the concern is well-placed. The articles only cover the possibility of arsine (yes, it’s related to arsenic) or chlorine gas endangering crowds at Cisco Field. But with the introduction of a new residential neighborhood, it’s residents that would have to be just as worried, if not moreso. So yes, SSG most certainly has to be moved to make the project work.

Is it a showstopper? I think not. While SSG has been at the current location since 1985, it’s not a business that forces it to be fixed. It’s a distribution facility, not a plant, so we’re not talking about uprooting manufacturing facilities or potential groundwater leaks. It’s a fairly nondescript industrial building with no tanks (correction: there are a few tanks outside) or smokestacks outside. In other words, it’s not a Tosco or Chevron. That’s no to say there aren’t special facilities built in to properly store the chemicals – it’s just that it’s merely a cost to be factored into the relocation. And that has to be the real sticking point. There’s plenty of land and other buildings elsewhere in Fremont’s Industrial zone that can be utilized for SSG’s relocation.

It’s all a matter of price. The property is assessed at $1,954,210 including improvements for slightly more than 1 acre. I’ve seen a CBRE listing for a 4.65-acre property with a 76,500-s.f. building for $5.7 million, so the SSG property has to be worth less even with relocation costs included. SSG is a national firm, not some mom-and-pop, so don’t expect them to get fleeced. Wolff’s known for his negotiating skills. We’ll see how long it takes, but it will happen. Remember that there are a handful of businesses in the area that will need to be relocated for this project. Personally, I’d much rather deal with a handful than dozens, as would have been the case with Coliseum North. Not to be ignored is the fact that Fremont has stood firm on its stance that these types of costs have to be borne by the developer.

Hetch Hetchy Hitch

The Niners keep running into obstacles with the Santa Clara site. First it was the power substation, which can be avoided without much difficulty in the design phase. Now comes the old Hetch Hetchy aqueduct, upon which nothing can be built. According to Matier & Ross, the aqueduct, officially called the Bay Division Pipelines 3 & 4, could be a bone of contention from both land use and political standpoints. But how big a deal is it?

First, let’s take a look at the land use aspect. The pipelines run south through Fremont and Milpitas before turning west through North San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale. Where they run through residential neighborhoods, you’ll find narrow landscaped greenbelts. In industrial and office parks, the aqueduct usually runs underneath surface parking lots.

The red area represents the lot the 49ers are targeting. The blue line is the aqueduct. I placed the Coliseum there because it represents a possible footprint (sizewise) for the stadium. As you can see in the photo, the Coliseum fits quite snugly between the substation and the pipelines’ right-of-way. There’s another graphic put together by the Support Our Niners advocacy website but it’s a bad perspective for understanding how the right-of-way relates to the rest of the land.

The stadium is doable without moving or reconfiguring the substation, as was discussed for the Diridon South ballpark site. The pipeline right-of-way can stay intact, and when the time comes for the pipeline itself to be replaced, a partnership of the SFPUC, the City of Santa Clara, and the 49ers can jointly build a walkable plaza that would beautify the buffer between Great America and the stadium.

As for the political side of things, you can’t count out the possibility of the City of San Francisco making things difficult through the PUC. It wouldn’t be the first time I used the word cockblock with this situation.

Wolff on KLIV, Comcast to buy FSNBA

Lew Wolff will be on San Jose AM station KLIV Tuesday night @ 7 p.m. (repeat at 10 p.m.). From the KLIV website:

Please tune in this Tuesday night (February 27) for an engaging and interactive conversation with Lew Wolff and Dave Holland.

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolfe (sic) and Cisco Systems Executive Dave Holland will join The CEO Show, on 1590 KLIV.

Lew and Dave will discuss the plans to bring the Oakland A’s to the City of Fremont, and the high-tech, state-of-the-art ballpark they envision for their fans.

The weekly talk show (starting at 7pm with a 10 pm repeat) features prominent CEOs and Senior Officers who impact our Valley, State, Nation and World, for an unrehearsed discussion on the key issues facing our Valley’s economy and quality of life. It is a show about Silicon Valley for Silicon Valley.

The show includes a call-in portion for interested listeners who would like to participate in the conversation. The call-in number is 408/575-1600.

I hope you can join us this Tuesday, February 27 at 7pm, or the repeat broadcast at 10pm for an engaging conversation with Lew Wolff and Dave Holland.

KLIV is a low-power station that can’t be picked up anywhere outside the valley, and as far as I know they don’t webcast.

The San Jose Business Journal reports (subscription required to read full article) that Comcast is closing in on buying Rainbow Media’s 60% share of FSN Bay Area. The long-discussed deal would give Comcast control over both Northern California regional sports networks, its own Comcast Sportsnet and FSNBA (40% owned by Fox). What are the ramifications of this arrangement?

It would be double-edged sword. FSNBA and Comcast have long had a good working relationship as content provider and cable operator, respectively. The entry of CSN to the Bay Area a while back made CSN a potential competitor, but FSN smartly locked up all of the Bay Area teams to long-term deals that shut out CSN. Without good local content, CSN had little reason to heavily market in the Bay, choosing instead to wait until FSN’s agreements expired. Since CSN would own part or all of either channel, it could choose to be more aggressive since it would win either way. Here are some possibilities:

  • CSN could remake itself as an Expanded Basic channel, not a Digital Only channel (400). Such a move would make CSN available to almost as many subscribers as FSN, though arrangements would have to be worked with independent cable providers. It would be the costliest move for Comcast since they might have to deal with the displacement of an existing Expanded Basic channel.
  • CSN could stay Digital Only, which would limit exposure but reign in costs. I could see this happening CSN were to be established as a lower profile network compared to FSN, with lower cost/ratings programming. It’s possible that the scenario could be flipped with CSN getting the prime spot while FSN is pushed aside.
  • CSN and FSN could have a programming sharing agreement with lots of cross promotion. The two networks could be peers, or one could be the “backup” for the other. That would probably mean the end for FSN+.
  • CSN could withdraw from the Bay Area completely, leaving FSN/FSN+ as the sole regional sports provider.

Whatever happens, it will make for a definite landscape change among the Bay Area teams. Wolff has expressed interest in creating a regional sports network, which I dismissed previously due to Comcast’s 800-lb. gorilla status. The time might be ripe for a new alternative RSN, but there are startup costs and programming questions to be answered. A new RSN would only work if there’s enough programming (not just baseball) to warrant it. That means pairing with a winter sport and having other deals in place. I could definitely see an A’s-Sharks-Quakes relationship happening on either CSN or Wolff’s channel.

One other thing: there will certainly be questions about HD content. Right now delivering HD has a premium associated with it, about $30,000 per game in production costs. That should go down over time, but right now it’s pretty hefty.

Progress or so they say

Article’s like today’s AP piece are a good way to keep Cisco Field in the public conscience. As of 9 p.m. tonight, it showed up on 69 newspaper websites (according to Google). There’s talk of progress, but no indicators. There’s nice warm-fuzzy stuff about taking batting practice and shagging fly balls. Readers can sense the passion and commitment by Lew and Keith Wolff. Great. We get it.

Such articles can only go so far and will be quickly forgotten once the public has real details to scrutinize. For a guy who has claimed that he wouldn’t negotiate through the media, Lew’s done a good job communicating to the public through the media (the Ronn Owens visits, San Jose speeches, etc.). We’re getting close to dealmaking time. And frankly, I can only stomach so many of these types of articles.

NBA softens stance on Vegas

David Stern may be getting ready to open the Pandora’s Box that is Las Vegas.

SI.com reports that the NBA commissioner and Sin City mayor Oscar Goodman may be close to bridging a philosophical gap that kept a NBA franchise out of the city. Stern, who previously has refused to buckle on his stance to never place a team in Vegas unless the city’s casinos take NBA games off the books, appears open to a compromise.

Such a compromise could involve two things:

  • Betting for the Vegas team’s games would be prohibited (a.k.a. “UNLV rule’). This is a major concession by Stern, one that could be an admission of how outdated the pro sports leagues’ thinking is about gambling and especially Vegas. There’s no way that any league will win this battle with the gaming industry, not even the NFL. The UNLV rule dictated that all state university football and basketball games (Nevada and UNLV) be taken off area sports books.
  • The majority of owners would have to approve of having a team in Vegas. While the NBA doesn’t have antitrust protection over its franchises like MLB, moves generally aren’t done without the consent of the owners’ fraternity and the commish. Recognizing the dollar signs and the lackluster performance of the newer Southern franchises (New Orleans, Memphis), having a NBA franchise in Vegas would certainly boost league revenues over most other mid-markets, including Sacramento. The difference this time is that Stern revealed that he wouldn’t “stand in the owners’ way” if a Vegas team was what they really wanted.

Speaking of Sactown, the Maloofs have preemptively announced that they’re committed to staying in Sacramento, even though they’re pulling out all the stops as hosts for All Star Weekend and have no Sactown arena deal in sight.

Stern qualified his statement by saying that the two sides aren’t close to coming to an agreement, a perfectly diplomatic thing to say if you don’t want to piss off existing constituent cities. As the prospect of a NBA team looms closer, the question becomes: Will it be an expansion team or a relocation? Expansion would net a nice franchise fee ($500 million), but it would also further dilute an already questionable talent pool. Relocation might make the most sense considering the dearth of cities willing to pay for new arenas (see Seattle, Sacramento), but obviously the franchise fee wouldn’t be there.

Las Vegas Kings? Sounds fitting for the hyperbole-driven city.

Keeping up with the Joneses – Winter ’07

Last October I posted an article that kept track of other teams and their ballpark suits. Some news about other ballparks came out this week, so it’s a good time to revisit those other cities.

First, let’s look at the A’s.

Site acquisition is the major progress point here, as the Cisco deal and surrounding purchases have all but sewn up the land piece provided the project and rezoning are approved by Fremont (and perhaps Alameda County). I’ve also moved the A’s up on the funding meter, as I figure that Wolff wouldn’t commence with the land acquisitions unless he had some generally positive feelers on financing from one or more institutions and potential investors. The political process meter hasn’t budged since the A’s haven’t formally submitted a proposal for consideration. Construction, of course, has not started yet.

The Twins’ project has stalled over a land cost dispute. You’d think this would be the first thing they got out of the way. Alas, the two sides are caught in a risky game of chicken, one that threatens to severely delay if not derail the project altogether.

The political process and funding meters haven’t changed, as legislation passed before October. However, the funding part isn’t complete because the land cost remains an X-factor. There’s a myriad of opinions on what to do about this. One columnist suggests that Twins owner and billionaire Carl Pohlad should bridge the gap, while another thinks that it’s time to ditch downtown for suburban Anoka County, where a football stadium proposal recently failed and money (and land) may be available. While a judge has cleared the way for eminent domain proceedings, there’s still no set value for the land and county/ballpark officials aren’t budging from their $13.5 million offer for the 8-acre parcel and the county has said on more than one occasion that a cap on the $522 million project prevents them from offering more. The scary part: Unveiling of the design is scheduled for this Thursday.

The Marlins’ fortunes started to look up when Republican Charlie Crist won the November election for governor. Crist has expressed interest in providing some level of state funding for the ballpark, moreso than his predecessor, Jeb Bush.

Unfortunately for the Marlins, that’s the only good news so far. Napoleon-like Marlins president David Samson thinks a deal could be made by October, but there are a ton of issues left to work out. A site has not been finalized yet, though the front runner appears to be a downtown location near the old Miami Arena. The funding mix will be heavily dependent on that state source, and there’s some potential backlash if Crist works with the Marlins but doesn’t open up the state’s wallet to other pro sports. There’s also the question of whether the ballpark will have a retractable roof, the inclusion of which would certainly blow the lid off the ballpark’s budget.

After much political heartache and bad planning, the Navy Yard ballpark is well on its way to opening next year. The project website even set up a webcam to show off the progress. The bowl foundation is in place and structural work continues.

Plenty of issues remain, like the amount of parking that will be available in the area. Still, the Nats are definitely going to be the only team of these four that will open in new digs before the end of the decade. Too bad it took a fantastically horrendous deal to do it.

One more note: Next Tuesday is the first of four open houses set up by VTA to get public input on the BART-to-San Jose extension. The schedule is as follows:

For all four sessions, the Open House portion will run from 6:30 PM to 7:00 PM, with the Presentation and Formal Public Comment period to start shortly thereafter.

A’s Waterworld

Matier and Ross pointed out in today’s column that Pacific Commons is in some danger due to global warming. Should sea levels rise 1 meter over the next 100 years, it would appear that the low-lying project area would become waterfront property or at worst underwater. So which is it?

A previous Chron article included a handy-dandy map showing which parts of the Bay shoreline would be inundated. While the map shows that the project area is not within the 1 meter zone, it’s somewhat outdated because it doesn’t include the work done to create the Pacific Commons wetlands preserve. In order to maintain tidal flow throughout the area, a causeway was built for Cummings Parkway, which runs through the western part of the project area. The causeway is some 3-4 meters above the preserve.

The preserve area (light gray) is physically lower than the project site by 1-2 meters (check this space later for GPS measurements). What you’d have is the project site above the preserve, evolving from a usually dry tidal marsh to an estuary-type area. So the ballpark and the nearby housing should be relatively safe, right?

I’m not going to make any predictions. It would be nice if the subject matter were covered in the EIR. One thing’s for certain: Someone’s going to need flood insurance.

I’m including murf’s comments in this post. murf knows this particular field quite well, so his opinion is worth a lot more than mine, or a couple of columnists:

It won’t be covered in the EIR except to say that future considerations should be made, dependent on observed sea level fluctuations. That’s all that can or should be said about it right now.

An aside on potential sea level rise: 1 meter is a pretty generous (sensationalized) estimate. More recent estimates put the potential rise at 7 to 23 inches by 2100.

An important factor re: how sea level impacts are predicted. Anytime you see a number, be it 7 inches or 2 meters, it’s a prediction for the average global change in sea level. Change, we know, is most severe at the equator with diminishing severity as you go north and south away from the equator. This is because there is a major factor beyond ice cap melt that is considered in the models: thermal expansion. Water at the equator, currently and predicted in the models, fluctuates with greater variance than in the northern and southern hemispheres. Unless ocean currents are reversed (very unlikely) the California coast will still receive current from cold regions near Alaska, which predictably could mitigate some of the thermal expansion expected in warmer waters. The one thing we know for certain is that we don’t know everything about how the oceans are going to react. We’ve got a good idea, though. As for Pacific Commons, it lies within the Study Area of the South Bay Shoreline Study of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a host of local sponsors. This project is in year 2 of a 7 year study to determine appropriate steps to protect the area for the next 100 years against tidal super-elevation and potential sea level changes. (New Orleans opened a lot of eyes.) Assuming the Federal Government can pass appropriations bills in the next 100 years, PC should be safe.

It’s good to know that the Feds are learning from Katrina and could apply lessons to our situation.