Whether or not I agree with their work, Scott Herhold’s piece in today’s Merc is why I’m glad there are still veteran reporters and columnists at the Bay Area papers. Herhold takes the wayback machine to 1991, when another Merc employee, Susan Strain, led the charge for a referendum on any stadium or arena project of 5,000 seats or greater.
Strain, now in New Orleans, was then living in Hyde Park, a quiet northside neighborhood framed by the old City Hall and County Government Center to the west, 880 and 101 to the north, Japantown to the south, and light industrial businesses to the east. She and other Hyde Park residents objected to the possibility of a homeless shelter opening in their neighborhood (IIRC an emergency women’s and children’s service center opened instead). Frustrated by the lack of response by City Hall, Strain really got Mayor Tom McEnery’s attention by organization a referendum push, a requirement that still exists to this day. Though it’s short, the article gets Strain’s and McEnery’s sides of the story, and is a good read.
In hindsight, the referendum requirement has probably prevented multiple sports opportunities from happening in San Jose, by scaring off teams or their parent leagues looking to build or locate teams there. The leagues’ M.O. for the last several decade or so has been to avoid a vote as much as possible (Target Field, Marlins Ballpark), even when it involves getting into legally suspect territory regarding financing.
The actions leading up to the San Jose Arena vote should also provide lessons to all parties in the ongoing stadium debates in Santa Clara and San Jose. Petitioners looking to reopen the 49ers stadium deal on financial grounds had to compete with local IBEW members looking to dissuade the public from signing any petitions. The San Jose ballpark is already going to vote so it’s unlikely to follow the same script, but you can bet that labor will be out in force to support the project if there is any sign of it being in jeopardy.
P.S. – Speaking of the Niners, they’ll be paying $12.5 million to Cedar Fair to get the Great America operator to drop its lawsuit. All that for four Sundays a year? Well played, Cedar Fair.