News for 10/30/11

A few newsbytes as the week begins:

  • Matier and Ross report that the 49ers are gunning for a 2014 opening of the Santa Clara stadium, even though the finances – especially the stadium builder licenses – aren’t ironed out yet.
  • One of the reasons the CEQA/EIR process exists in California is that municipalities and citizens can identify issues that need to be addressed and take care of them early. In Miami, the Marlins ballpark is being built with no significant new transit infrastructure in an area that desperately needs it. The Orange Bowl/Little Havana neighborhood is at least 2,000 spaces short of what should be supplied for a full house, and on-site parking totals well less than 5,000 spaces. The nearest Metrorail station is almost a mile away, and shuttles to take fans from that station and other parts of Miami are currently unfunded.
  • Speaking of transit, the California High Speed Rail project will face renewed scrutiny with the release of an updated (and final) business plan on Tuesday. The Merc’s Mike Rosenberg paints a pessimistic view, as federal funding has dried up and has made continuation of the project an extremely difficult decision. So far, $650 million has been spent on planning and engineering studies.
  • Side note: If HSR goes down in flames, the combined cost of that project and the shuttered Solyndra plant in Fremont would be $1.1 Billion. That would pay for the 49ers stadium and change, or an A’s ballpark in Oakland/San Jose and a Sacramento Kings arena. Before you scoff, know that the total annual revenue for just the NFL and MLB combined ($16 Billion) surpasses that of the movie industry – box office and DVD sales – on an annual basis ($15 Billion).
  • Not only are the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees forced to spend the year barnstorming while their ballpark is renovated, they won’t be able to keep the Yankees team name in the future. The Yankees brand is to be exclusive to the club in the Bronx. The same will go for all of the other Yankees minor league affiliates. Way to keep it in the family, Steinbrenners.
  • Commissioner Bud Selig may have to determine the proper compensation for the Red Sox allowing Theo Epstein to escape to the Cubs, since the two teams can’t come up with mutually agreeable terms on their own.
  • Wondering if Selig will actually retire after his contract ends in 2012? The establishment of an office at his old alma mater in Madison might be the ticket. Selig apparently wants to write his memoirs and participate in the history department at Wisconsin, including the hiring of a professor to teach the history of sports.
  • In addition to Selig’s endowed chair, three members of The Lodge (baseball team owners) also set up a scholarship in the names of Selig and his wife, Suzanne, as part of the university’s Great People Scholarship program. The owners? Three who are incredibly indebted and linked to Selig: fraternity brother Lew Wolff, current Brewers owner Mark Attanasio (who bought the team from a trust headed by Selig’s daughter), and Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner (who was a major beneficiary of the three way Boston-Florida-Montreal ownership swap deal). What do you get for a man who has everything? A scholarship in his name, of course! Now that’s a going away present.
  • One thing to keep in mind regarding Occupy Oakland: the horrific injury suffered by Iraq War veteran and Wisconsin native Scott Olsen will almost assuredly result in a lawsuit against Oakland/OPD, one which is not likely to come out well for the City. Whenever that judgement is rendered, it’ll be more money that Oakland simply doesn’t have for projects such as an Oakland ballpark.
  • On the bright side, the Oakland Tribune and other local papers will keep their names after all.
  • Tony LaRussa goes out on top.

Good stuff to come later in the week.

Congrats to the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals

The reign of the SF Giants is OVER. (not so much the outdated Taco Bell ad campaign)

Dodgers may push A’s decision to backburner

The Chronicle’s Susan Slusser sheds more light on the San Jose land deals, adding this tasty bit at the end:

It is unlikely baseball owners would consider the A’s stadium at their meetings in Milwaukee next month because the Dodgers’ ownership situation is expected to dominate the agenda. Meetings scheduled for January might be more likely.

This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if it weren’t for the twin news items of Frank McCourt reaching a settlement with Jamie McCourt, then MLB reaching a settlement with Frank over a likely sale of the Dodgers. The Dodgers bankruptcy trial has been postponed, pending the outcome of both of those issues. The divorce settlement could be court-approved on November 14, right before the Winter Meetings. Assuming that it is approved, the Dodgers could easily push the A’s to the backburner, with the agenda already packed with the Astros-to-Crane sale and ongoing CBA talks.

A’s to get huge discount on SJ ballpark land

As part of the complex land deal the City of San Jose is trying to complete in order to assemble the Diridon ballpark site, City is selling five acres of land it has already acquired to the A’s (and Lew Wolff) for $6.9 million, according to the Merc’s Tracy Seipel. Indexed for inflation, that price is only a quarter of the original purchase price and half the land’s market value. The land in question includes the former Stephens Meat plant (now a parking lot), the vacant former KNTV studios, and other properties along West San Fernando. The land sale will be voted on at the November 8 City Council meeting.

If the Quakes land deal is any guide, City will do the following assuming they get the green light from MLB:

  • Make final offers to holdout landowners including AT&T, threaten eminent domain if needed
  • Allow A’s to step in and buy properties at market value plus relocation costs
  • A’s deed all land back to City
  • City arranges for nominal ground lease for A’s to build ballpark (similar to China Basin)

Ballpark site parcel map as of March 2010

The whole package would have to be voted on be the citizens of San Jose sometime within the next year. I expect City to push hard for a special election sometime in the early spring – perhaps during spring training or as the baseball season begins – instead of choosing for the 2012 June primary or November general election.

Mayor Chuck Reed continues to express confidence (bravado?) in the City’s ability to finish the land deals without resorting to eminent domain. To that end, an AT&T spokesman gives a sufficiently cagey answer when asked about selling the Montgomery work center.

Within the span of nine days, we’ll have three major developments in this neverending saga:

  • November 8: San Jose City Council votes on land deal
  • November 10: Oral arguments begin on redevelopment court case in San Francisco
  • November 15: Territorial rights may be taken up on the owners meetings agenda (not guaranteed)

I’ve cleared my schedule properly to cover all of this, in person for the local stuff.

2012 MLB Schedule Analysis

Normally I do a review of the schedule immediately when it comes out. This time, I decided to step back in order to review the entire league. I’ve noticed a few things about how the schedule is put together, so I figured it would be best to take time to gear this post towards the traveler. I’ve done several ballpark trips over the years, and I’ve always been frustrated by the lack of tools available for those who want to take similar trips. Knowing this, I’ve taken the 2430-game 2012 MLB schedule and turned it into a grid (PDF), showing all games by home team and date. The teams are organized by geographical area (West Coast, Northeast, etc.) so it should easy to see how a traveler could hop from one city to another, catch a game in each market, then take a short trip to the next one. This first step is next season’s MLB slate, to be followed by all minor league teams. Then I’ll branch out to the winter sports, with the NHL to start, then NCAA basketball, and the NBA once if it gets its act together. I’ll round out the works with 2012 schedules for MLS and NFL/NCAA football.

[Tentative 2012 MLB schedule download in PDF format]

I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve noticed in previous baseball seasons there are generally two “hot periods” for travelers to schedule ballpark trips for maximum efficiency. The first is mid-May, when interleague action starts. The other is around Labor Day. Those are the times when baseball tends to stray the most from its tendency not to schedule two teams in the same market concurrently. By allowing concurrent scheduling, fans can enjoy short travel distances between games and even the occasional two stadium, day-night doubleheader. This can be particularly effective on the East Coast and in the Midwest, where trips between markets are frequently four hours or less by car or train. Of course, the problem with having the “hot periods” occur in May and September is that they aren’t during the summer, when families are most likely to take long trips such as a weeklong pilgrimage to a few ballparks.

Shown in the spread format, there are a few other quirks about the schedule:

  • The A’s gave up a Sunday game (April 8) and a Thursday game (July 5) to accommodate the two “home” games to be played at the Tokyo Dome on March 28-29.
  • The A’s have another Sunday date with no game – August 26. For some reason, a three-game set with the Rays is scheduled for August 23-25, Thursday through Saturday. Update: This is due to a Republican National Convention event (thanks Nathan).
  • 16 marquee games are on the A’s home slate: 3 vs. the Giants, 6 vs. the Red Sox, 7 vs. the Yankees. 3 games vs. the Dodgers may also count. Expect these games to have premium pricing for non-season-ticket buyers.
  • The Miami Marlins play their inaugural game at the yet-unnamed, unsponsored ballpark on April 4, then don’t play another home game until April 13.
  • The Marlins have had 26 rainouts and 154 rain delays in their tenure at what used to be called Joe Robbie Stadium. MLB must really be looking forward to that going away for good.
  • There’s a unique opportunity from June 17 to June 26 to catch numerous games along the Northeast Corridor (Boston-NY-Philly-Balty-DC). If you don’t mind not watching the A’s, this is a flexible stretch during the summer.
  • The schedule PDF is poster size. Don’t expect it to look good being printed on a letter size sheet.

Enjoy the schedule. I appreciate any feedback you have on it.

News for 10/24/11

We’re still three weeks from the winter meetings, at which the A’s situation is not guaranteed to be resolved. Until then we wait and stay informed.

Features to come after I finish a few things.

High Speed Rail design options reviewed in San Jose

As part of the ongoing planning process for the California High Speed Rail project, a Good Neighbor committee meeting was held tonight at the Roosevelt Community Center, east of downtown San Jose. To make the review more localized, several segments were identified and “separated” so that each could be reviewed separately. Diridon Station is not only a major transit hub, it is also the nexus of two such segments: San Jose-to-Merced and San Jose-to-San Francisco. The Good Neighbor committee, which is made up of local residents and other potentially affected parties, has been providing feedback on the station design, planning throughout the station area, the ballpark, and the most controversial piece, the prospect of either an aerial or tunnel rail segment that will run through the area. From the beginning, local residents have been opposed to an aerial option and have forced the City to include a tunnel alternative as part of the environmental review. This is in keeping with what Peninsula residents have wanted for some time, though finance constraints may make it difficult to move forward with anything other than an aerial option.

A modern, wave-shaped station may serve as the HSR terminal. It would stand adjacent to the existing depot and above the planned BART line.

The image above is only one of several possible station designs, all meant to give the public a sense of the building’s mass and volume. The apex of the new station would be 90 feet above grade, more than twice the height of the current station but 20 feet lower than HP Pavilion, which is located a block away. There could be a large public space in between the two stations or a larger, fully connected “grand” terminal.

The current view from the west along the Alameda (Santa Clara St) as one approaches Diridon Station and HP Pavilion

Same view with the aerial viaduct for high speed rail added. A mezzanine level takes travelers from the station to the HSR platform, above the commuter trains.

I’ve mentioned before that the ballpark has not received nearly as much resistance from locals as the HSR project, and the above pictures are Exhibits A and B of that resistance. The height of the rail will be 65 feet above grade, with another few feet above that for the platform and a retaining wall and/or fence. The columns and the viaduct itself appear to be buff or sand-colored concrete, which should help soften the look compared to drab, gray concrete. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that the structure itself is a behemoth. As the alignment enters and exits downtown, it will be widened to four tracks, making it the equivalent of a very tall freeway. Expect the property values for recent buyers at Plant 51 to come crashing down (at least on the side that faces the station) if the aerial is built.

The ballpark did get mentioned, insofar as there is some buzz about whether or not MLB will be making a decision on territorial rights (yes, some of those folks read this site). If the owners and Commissioner Selig decide to take the issue up (they never have officially) and rule in Lew Wolff’s favor, the decision will set a few more things in motion. Another Good Neighbor session would have to be held shortly thereafter. At that session several things would have to be discussed:

  • Design of Cisco Field and how it differs from the alternatives approved for the original and supplemental EIRs
  • Timing of the project, including land acquisition, referendum, groundbreaking and construction
  • Status of needed infrastructure improvements (Autumn Parkway)

If/when this session occurs, I’ll post a notice well in advance. I urge anyone with a passing interest to attend. (Note: A similar session to the one held tonight will be held at the MLK Library a week from tonight.)

Satellite photo showing how everything fits together. Blue line is the HSR alignment.

Twenty-five years ago, the Diridon area was partly light industrial and partly residential. HP Pavilion allowed the City to clean out many of the residences (via eminent domain). With Cisco Field, it’s expected that most of the industrial properties will go away as well, as those don’t fit in with the concept of a commercial transit hub. We touched on this two years ago, and this is yet another small step towards fleshing out the vision. The Diridon Station Area Plan, which was approved by the City Council in April, is starting its own EIR process now (PDF).