Ballpark fever in February

Last week I felt like getting a glimpse of Mark Appel, the Stanford hurler and East Bay product who may eventually be the #1 pick in the June draft. So off I went on Friday to Stanford’s Sunken Diamond, one of the many immaculately kept athletic facilities at The Farm. My baseball cravings have come early, too early to be sated by spring training. College baseball is an excellent, affordable brand of ball, and I have to admit being more curious than usual thanks to my recent reading of The Art of Fielding, rookie novelist Chad Harbach’s work about baseball at a small, fictional Midwestern private university.

An unusual 70 feet from the plate to the backstop at Sunken Diamond. Nevermind that as Stanford P Mark Appel rarely had to make C Eric Smith do more than reach down to rein in a pitch.

What started with Appel toying around with the Texas Longhorns to the tune of 10 K’s turned into a mad dash all over Northern California to see baseball wherever I could find it. (This is what happens when you’re not married, have no kids, and you’re comfortable seeing your friends only twice a week.) Sunken Diamond is a pleasant, serene environment, with more than ample foul territory and trees beyond the outfield that effectively block out civilization. The Friday night game, with a published attendance of 2,624, was typical for Stanford baseball: a very family friendly environment with kids running up and down hills to grab foul balls.

On Saturday I drove up to Sacramento because I felt like being environmentally irresponsible. On the way to Cowtown I stopped in Stockton, where there was nothing happening at Banner Island Ballpark. Not wanting to stay in Stockton any longer than humanly necessary, I jumped back on I-5 and headed north. I stopped at Raley Field, hoping that someone was there or that a gate was open. Thankfully, as I arrived a college team (JC?) entered the gates and was getting ready to take the field. There was a sign advertising National Anthem singers, though I didn’t see any staff on hand to guide any audition process. I quickly went in and took a few snapshots, which I’ve never had a chance to do with Raley Field empty (I’m sure if I called the River Cats’ media relations they would’ve granted it but I tend to operate by the seat of my pants). The field was in fine form, just waiting for its masters to handle grounders and make great catches on it.

Ready to go in West Sacramento

Three (!) years ago I wrote an article about how difficult it would be to expand Raley Field to MLB size. Rain caused major changes in construction methods, including a change from enormous steel columns to poured-in-place concrete columns and light steel trusses supporting the press box and suite/club level. This is what that structure looks like:

All of this would have to be scrapped to make way for multiple decks and/or suite levels.

This is what a properly sized (overengineered) column at Busch Stadium looks like:

Now that's a knife column.

After the brief stop at Raley, I crossed the river and went to the train station, which as far as I know is the closest the public can get to the Railyards site where the planned arena will sit. I’ve written enough about that so I won’t bother with that subject in this post. Once I got my fill of downtown, I headed east to the CSU-Sacramento campus, where the Hornets were getting ready to play a day game against Seattle University. If Sunken Diamond is one of Northern California’s nicest college ballparks, Sac State is one of the most spartan. The grandstand is all aluminum, with mostly bleachers and a smattering of real seats in the first few rows. There is no press box and no actual restrooms. Tickets cost $5, but I could have easily gotten a good view for free from the parking garage in left field. The PA announcer sounded like an older Rick Tittle. Ambience was provided by a busy rail line across the street and a handful of coeds who cheered on every player on the Hornet squad. Regardless, I enjoyed the experience.

View from the 6th floor of the student/faculty garage just beyond the left field fence.

I got my fill of Hornet baseball after about six innings. The UC Davis baseball team was on the road over the weekend, so I skipped The other Farm and headed back to the Bay Area. My last stop was scheduled to be Albert Park in San Rafael, home of the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent North American Baseball League. That leg of the trip was ruined when I got a hankering to visit Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, a half-hour and another county away. By the time I got to Albert Park it was completely dark and a few transients were lingering about. That’s just as well, since only yesterday did a Marin County judge allow the Pacifics to start operating in full with ticket sales and improvements to Albert Park. The old fashioned covered grandstand will be expanded from 800 to 900 seats. Tickets will start at $10 for general admission, though you have to think there will be numerous merchant nights to provide free or heavily discounted ducats. There’s even a tryout on March 17, so if you have a few tools and you aren’t dunk by noon, you may want to drop by for a tryout.

The high nets at Schott Stadium are a necessity as the field is only steps from traffic.

Sunday was a day of rest and no baseball. With no games scheduled on Monday, I chose to take in a game at Schott Stadium at Santa Clara University on Tuesday afternoon. The park is tightly wedged into a corner  of El Camino Real and Campbell Avenue, surrounded on two sides by university apartment housing and a few industrial buildings. There are a good number of permanent seats, and while there are plenty of bleachers, you can tell that a few corners have been cut there. The bleachers are basically standard aluminum sections that aren’t connected to each other. Even though the park is only seven years old, the bleachers feel rickety. The dugouts are not set much below grade, so the roofs of the dugouts obstruct the views down the line. The PA system is distractingly loud. Other than those niggles, the experience is quite pleasant. Schott Stadium is across the street from the main campus and down the block from the Santa Clara Caltrain station. A small parking lot next to the stadium has a space reserved for namesake and former A’s owner Steve Schott.

The whole trip reminded my of one of my other ballpark trips in the Midwest or East Coast, except that I didn’t have to shell out for hotel rooms. I’ll try to do one of these with the various minor league parks later this year, and perhaps another trip involving more college ballparks.

News for 2/29/12 (Leap Day)

A good amount of stuff to report today:

  • Oakland’s CEDA Committee approved an action to have the City Council vote on EIR funding for Coliseum City. The City Council will take up the action next Tuesday night. A’s Fan Radio did a stalwart job of covering today’s proceedings. A similar action was taken prior to the City Council voting on Victory Court in December 2010. If the City Council approves the expenditure, two things need to happen: A) The work has to actually happen, unlike Victory Court, and B) A plan must be clearly articulated to show how the teams and venues will be accommodated. That last bit is probably the most important to the leagues, who are the real gatekeepers. Update 12:10 PM: As Bryan Grunwald notes in the comments, the 980 Park concept will be included as an alternative.
  • The Santa Clara City Council approved the 40-year ground lease for the 49ers stadium. This was considered a formality because the Council approved the lease to the Stadium Authority, which is simply the City Council wearing different hats. The interesting note to come out of the session was dissenter Jamie McLeod’s mentioning the ongoing California Supreme Court case over a potential new referendum. The case could be decided in the next week.
  • A new grassroots group trying to keep all three teams in Oakland has been formed. The group is called Save Oakland Sports. Seems a bit late to do something like this, but it can’t hurt. Besides, Baseball Oakland has gone largely dormant since the Victory Court plan was scrapped.
  • Frank McCourt has been unwilling to sell the parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium, and several bidding groups have dropped out as a result. One of the drop-outs was the group led by Rick Caruso and Joe Torre, considered one of the frontrunners. The parking lot attendant has truly come full circle.
  • The Kings arena deal looks complex. And yes, it does look like the Maloofs will be borrowing to put up their share. The term sheet is due for public release on Thursday.
  • The City of Miami approved funding for rubber wheel trolleys that will run between downtown and the Marlins Ballpark in Little Havana.
  • San Francisco’s America’s Cup will be missing one major venue going forward: Piers 30 & 32. The piers were supposed to be used as a large staging area for teams. Costs may have proved prohibitive. The race will continue as planned, but there will be huge distances between the venues.
  • MLB and the MLBPA are finalizing details of the revised playoff system that will include a fifth team in each league and a wildcard playoff game.

Radio ratings were released last week. The winter results show a sort of stabilization. As baseball season begins, KNBR-680’s ratings should rise. Will The Game’s? As the Warriors end their season early, KNBR-1050 should take a hit.

Arbitron ratings for the last three months

If you’re wondering, former A’s station KTRB finally showed up in the ratings book last month. The rating? 0.0 in the SF market.

Sacramento, Kings, & NBA announce new arena deal framework

On Saturday I took a drive up to Sacramento. I went to Raley Field and took in part of Sacramento State Hornets baseball game. While I was up in the capitol I dropped by the train station, which is immediately south of the Railyards, the site of the proposed arena entertainment and sports complex. 240 acres of dirt and old buildings will make way for an arena, a new intermodal transit facility to go with the historic rail depot, and future ancillary and related development.

Looking east across Tower Bridge towards downtown Sacramento. The Railyards is off-picture to the left.

So I guess I was fortunate to get a glimpse of things before today’s announcement by the City of Sacramento, NBA, and the Kings about a Railyards arena deal (City press release). The $387 million arena plan has been in the works for the last year, with a complete term sheet to be put up before the City Council by March 6. Details have been coming out in the last week as negotiations between the City, team, league, future arena operator AEG, and Sacramento County have caused the numbers to shift considerably as all parties rushed towards the league’s deadline (originally March 1).

When I wrote about the project two weeks ago, I opined that as usual, the devil would be in those details. Now it appears that the deal is on fairly solid footing because of the Maloofs and AEG providing more money to bridge known funding gaps. Those raised contributions, when taken in conjunction with the selling off of parking rights throughout downtown, should provide enough money to get the plan off the ground. The tenets of the deal are these:

  • $190-200 million from selling future parking revenues to private operators. To make this work, the City will have to guarantee some $9-10 million per year in revenue, which means the City may have to make up a shortfall if revenues don’t come in as expected. Sacramento County has apparently pledged revenue from three lots it owns for the effort. Existing debt the Maloofs owe to the City would be refinanced. The “cash” the Maloofs are pledging may actually come some kind of loan, though the loan wouldn’t come from the league.
  • $75 million upfront from the Maloofs, plus $75 million from future rent payments and perhaps a revenue sharing deal. Part of the upfront contribution would be $25 million in land in Natomas near ARCO/Power Balance.
  • An unknown amount from AEG. Initially this was speculated to be $50 million, but the fact that AEG will probably split gate and concession money with the Kings makes this more difficult to assess. There was also talk that AEG’s contribution would actually be part of the Kings “cash” share, but I’ve seen nothing to confirm this. AEG’s updated contribution is expected to be $60 million.
  • A 3-5% ticket surcharge being assessed by the City will not be used to pay off the arena. Instead it will go straight to the City’s general fund in order to offset the lost parking revenue. (Back of the napkin math has this at $3-5 million in revenue annually.)
  • ICON/Taylor, the developer planning the arena, is pledging to handle cost overruns.

From what I know of the area, I have to believe that for the project to get through the CEQA process at least one additional exit/interchange on I-5 between J Street and Richards Blvd. will be necessary. 7th St to the east of the Railyards is merely two lanes wide, so it’ll probably have to be widened to handle traffic not just for the arena but also for the other area development. Remember the Cal Expo plan floated in 2010? There were tons of traffic concerns associated with it, with no clear way to deal with it. Fortunately the Railyards arena will be very close to light rail and Amtrak service.

Now that the plan has been hammered out, it’s all process from here on out. The project EIR started in October, which means a draft should come out of it in the next six months. The tricky part of sequencing everything is that if the parties are all still aiming for opening in May 2015, they’ll have to certify the EIR in only 15 months in order to start building in January 2013. If the project goes to a public vote, there’s little chance that vote can happen before the EIR certification. It would seem more prudent to aim for a October 2015 opening to coincide with the start of the NBA season.

Will this get the job done? It’s a lot better looking plan than any I’ve seen for the Kings in the past decade. That’s a major improvement over the sense of impending doom that shadowed the team last April. It’s clear that this is the final shot for Sacramento to get something done for the Kings, and it’s a decent shot at this early juncture. The losers at this point are Seattle and Anaheim, both of whom were looking to poach the team. If there’s a winner, it’s David Stern, who has somehow come off looking magnanimous while not loaning or otherwise spending any league money to get the ball rolling. A year can make a lot of difference, though Kings fans should be cautiously optimistic. The Railyards arena plan is fragile at best, and while Mayor Kevin Johnson characterized today’s news as hitting the front end of a one-and-one (free throws), plenty of players and cities have bricked that second free throw.

San Jose to start Autumn Parkway work + Coliseum sign restrictions

It figures that on a weekend I chose to do a mini ballpark trip, news breaks. More about the trip later.

The Merc’s John Woolfork reports that $500,000 in design work has been approved by the City of San Jose for the Autumn Parkway project. It’s a small procedural step in getting the important roadway finished. For the Shasta/Hanchett and St. Leo’s neighborhoods trying to reach the Target on the other side of the tracks, making their way there currently involves a 1.6 mile drive along the Alameda and Taylor/Coleman or a 2 mile drove along Santa Clara and Market/Coleman. All that for a store that’s only 0.6 miles away using the crow flies method. With Autumn Parkway completed, the trip will only be 1 mile long, while providing an important alternate route for visitors to HP Pavilion and a future Cisco Field.

Apparently that’s not enough for Stand for San Jose and its surely well-paid San Francisco-based consultant/spokesman, Dan Newman. (BTW, does Stand for San Jose have any actual San Jose people running the place who know what’s going on?)

For his part, SJ transportation director walks the political as best he can.

Larsen said the roadwork isn’t required mitigation for the proposed ballpark. But because environmental studies on the project assume the improvements will be done, getting them under way bolsters the city’s case against critics who might seek to stall the project with litigation.

“It’s a little nuanced,” Larsen said. “It’s not technically a mitigation, but an assumed condition, so from that perspective, it’s cleanest to have it done that way.”

Odd. All this time I was under the impression that Autumn Parkway was a necessary mitigation. I suppose that if there’s little-to-no new parking being built along with the ballpark, a direct artery leading to it may not be critical. Let’s be frank about it though, it’s very important. Not just from the standpoint of providing that new artery for both residents and sports fans, but also from the political standpoint that the residents need to be thrown a bone. Autumn Parkway is a basic part of the covenant, whatever for the final mitigation plan takes.

While the Giants’ astroturf group keeps grinding, Larry Baer continues to wear a white hat when asked about territorial rights. From the AP:

“We continue to be respectful of the process, and there is a process,” Baer said from his team’s Scottsdale Stadium spring training site. “The game is bigger than any internal machinations. I think it’s not good for the game to have whatever internal back and forth between teams. That’s not good for the game. We want to be respectful and see the game flourish in our market, in all the markets.”

Who needs internal back-and-forth when you can have an external political group do your dirty work?

Going back to the Autumn Parkway project, the $22 million cost does not have any specific funding attached to it as of yet. The city’s redevelopment agency is dead, which means the project falls back to City. They’re looking for some federal funding, but I don’t believe a grant will cover more than a quarter or third of the project’s cost. Whether the City finds the money in its couch cushions or by asking Uncle Lew, it remains an important step even if it isn’t officially linked to the ballpark. My worry is that due to the money crunch, Autumn Parkway will be delayed for a year or several beyond the opening of Cisco Field, which will make a lot of locals and fans upset.

For their sake I hope the signmakers pick a more technologically competent shop than the one the Knope campaign used. (The shop was named "Signtology".)

For their sake I hope the signmakers pick a more technologically competent shop than the one the Knope campaign used. (The shop was named “Signtology”.)

We’re six weeks away from the true home opener, yet one new rule is being laid down at the Coliseum and a lot of people aren’t going to like it. According to the Trib’s Angela Woodall, a new restriction on signs will be in place, in which no sign larger than 3′ x 6′ can be used at the stadium. That’s a big deal, since virtually all of the anti-Lew Wolff signs have been very large in order to be captured on TV. The A’s are instituting the rule because the signs have a “negative aesthetic impact”. Frankly, I’m not sure why the team bothers unless certain fans or sponsors are complaining about the signs. Bringing up signs again only brings attention to the signmakers, while their near-constant presence in past years has practically rendered the signs as background scenery.

The new rule presumably means that the “Keep the A’s in Oakland” and “Lew Lied He Didn’t Try” signs will have to change to be used. I suppose they could use bodypaint or a series of small signs. Oh well.

Finally, Woodall also noted in a tweet that the Coliseum City EIR is expected to go before Oakland CEDA in committee next week. Sometime after that, it would be expected to go before the full City Council for expenditure approval. If it goes to the Council (which it should), I’ll be sure to attend that session. I wonder if it’ll be as raucous as the one for Victory Court?

Dead-market team

If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure you read USA Today baseball writer Jorge Ortiz’s team capsule of the A’s. And I mean read all of it. There are some choice quotes from Billy Beane, like this one on trading Cahill/Gio/Bailey:

“We’re not doing it to be mean,” says Beane, aware of the trades’ impact on the team and its shrinking fan base. “It’s not like I come into this office like I just jumped off the stage of Wicked with a green-painted face and go, ‘How can I trade my guys?’ We do it because we have no other choice.”

Cue someone in the RF bleachers pasting a giant, green-tinted, smiling Beane face on Elphaba. Or maybe Brad Pitt’s face? It’s hard to tell them apart these days.

Then there’s ESPN Magazine cover boy Brandon McCarthy, who may have displayed a little too much of his trademark candor when he said this about how the A’s operate:

“It makes team-building and the competitive aspect that much harder here,” says right-hander Brandon McCarthy, the A’s likely opening-day starter. “It’s not even being a small-market team. It’s being a dead-market team.”


Later in the article, Wolff provides two crucial pieces of information that I had not known previously.

  • Moving the team to San Jose should increase revenue $80-100 million annually.
  • The TV rights deal with CSN California runs 25 years with an opt-out at 15 (2024).

In last October’s post titled “$230,000,000“, I attempted to estimate what the A’s revenue model could look like if they moved into Cisco Field in 2015. I figured it would be $64 million more than they get currently. Clearly, Lew Wolff is aiming higher, though he may be using a lower 2010-11 revenue estimate of $150 million or thereabouts to make the comparison (which would fall in line with a +80 million target). In any case, he and the rest of the business side seem to have a pretty good idea of where they’re going.

The A’s TV rights deal with Comcast, which unlike most other recently negotiated team TV deals, did not have its numbers or length revealed, is of similar length to others negotiated by the Rangers, Angels, Astros, and Mariners. I hope the deal isn’t a flat, non-escalating deal, because if it is the A’s will surely be forgoing revenue during what should be considered their competitive window from 2015 through 2020 and beyond. The flipside of that is that at least it’s comforting to know that the A’s are locked in somewhere for at least 15 years. That’s a lot of time to build brand equity, and it’s a damn sight better than the broadcast musical chairs the A’s had to deal with during the pre-cable days.

Comparison of current and future AL West TV rights contracts

I had theorized that the A’s were getting $15 million per year via their cable deal, though I’ve been too lazy to actually verify this. Based on the actual revenue the A’s report or the Forbes reported figures, I can’t see how it’d be much higher than $20 million. Either number is a pittance compared to what the division foes are getting, and will be even less competitive once the M’s negotiate a new deal in the near future. While the A’s can’t control what other teams get and appear to be locked in with CSNCA, they should at the very least have the opportunity to get the $80-100 million Wolff claims he can get via a new ballpark. Because if he can’t, Brandon McCarthy will be more correct than anyone would’ve had the temerity to suggest. For all intents and purposes, the A’s will be in a dead market. Or as he said towards the end of the article:

“It’s a major issue,” says McCarthy, who also has pitched for the Rangers and Chicago White Sox. “I think it’s one of those things that’s crippling this franchise. I’ve never seen anything like this where something like that could just become the rolling avalanche of things not being the way they should. A decision has to come.”

No fan wants to hear this type of thing, whether they’re in Oakland, San Jose, or Springfield. It belies the optimism that spring should bring. But whether you believe McCarthy is simply regurgitating the team line or he’s a blunt, independent thinker as he’s repeatedly shown, he’s right. Something needs to happen. Hopefully McCarthy will stay healthy enough to get a nice payday next year, even if it isn’t with the A’s.

P.S. – McCarthy and Dallas Braden were interviewed by The Rise Guys this morning. Good audio.

San Jose 2/22/12 Planning Commission Meeting Liveblog

9:15 PM – Appeal denied, Planning Commission approves permit 6-0, Chair Hope Cahan not present. Vice Chair Bit-Badai urges Earthquakes to continue working with residents.

9:07 PM – In a follow-up to an issue brought up earlier, City staff indicates that FAA audit will likely not be successful, and would have little financial impact. Commissioner Kamkar wants to approve project. 

9:03 PM – Commissioners have been speaking, trying to define scope of what they are discussing. Commissioner Platten emphasizes that the soccer stadium is not a harbinger of what will happen for the ballpark. The issues are: 1) Adequacy of noise study, 2) Proper communication with other governing bodies, 3) Proper communication with community. Platten urges permit to be passed and appeal denied.

8:52 PM – Newhall resident asks for SoundPLAN study in order to be thorough. Asks for the gap between the rim of the seating bowl and the roof to be closed. Re-emphasizes that residents are not against Quakes or stadium in general.

8:48 PM – Lew Wolff implores commission to make a decision and not delay things any further. Planning commissioner Kamkar asks about a 31-foot sound wall that was in the original EIR that is not in the new stadium concept, and the use of aluminum risers. Keith Wolff says that the design of the stadium blocks the noise so the sound wall won’t be needed, and that as long as the aluminum risers are constructed without gaps they should not leak noise.

8:44 PM – Keith Wolff is taking his five minutes, Lew Wolff at his side. Keith Wolff mentions that the City came to the Quakes with the site, not the other way around. Talks about concessions made (no concerts, distributed sound, meetings with residents four times a year).

8:43 PM – Last two speakers are in favor, after Marc Morris (S/HNPA) also implores more study. Planning commissions should have questions for the applicant next, followed by the vote.

8:29 PM – Quick point – SJC Airport noise contours are set to expand for 2017 and 2027. The Newhall neighborhood would fall within the 60 dB noise contour. That’s a good deal greater than the “comfortable” 55 dB ambient noise, though not double (+10 dB = double). 

8:15 PM – A group of Newhall Neighborhood Association residents have put together a presentation about the neighborhood. They appear to be sequenced to complete the preso. Apparently soccer has impacted quality of life in their “quiet” neighborhood. Planning commissioner asks what “quiet” means, considering the location near trains and planes. Speaker says he is referring to loud bursts of noise (crowd cheer, drums). Another speaker says that ambient noise is <50 dbA, 90% of the time. Noise with stadium would go up 862% (disturbing peak events of >58 dbA) with stadium. Use of aluminum risers as opposed to concrete (at Home Depot Center) may increase noise. Newhall residents are arguing that the stadium approved via the EIR are not what the Quakes are presenting, and that time should be taken to reflect that change.

8:09 PM – Someone from MLS in New York flew out to speak. Big surprise there. Mentions that this is the first time he’s spoken for a stadium project in which he wasn’t asking for public money.

8:08 PM – Supporter quote of the night: “I’m married to a Brazilian and I would appreciate it if you could work to keep our marriage together.” 

7:54 PM – More supporters have spoken. Balandra is part of the Shasta Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association, as are Jonathan Martinez and Helen Chapman. Sounds like at least a few individuals are practicing their arguments for the next round. As Chapman speaks, several fans hold up “BUILD IT NOW” signs. S/HNPA’s argument is that the neighborhoods and the process should be respected, and that their arguments are not against soccer or the Quakes in general. I get the feeling that the fans don’t want to hear anymore about process.

7:40 PM – Terri Balandra, citing her own question of Lew Wolff at the Rotary Club luncheon, asks Wolff to “go overboard” to mitigate light and noise. Also mentions an FAA audit which may show that the City misused federal funds on Airport West in that the funds were supposed to go towards potential airport expansion and eventually did not. Those funds may have to be returned, and if that’s the case Balandra asks if the land deal could fall through. My instant response to that is that the City did evaluate using the land for expansion, but the project was too costly and not cost-effective. Because of this they’ve chosen to sell the land to Wolff. If someone wants to extract blood from that turnip, they might as well try to build a time machine to send everyone back to 2007, before the economic crash. Then they’d might get something out of it. 

7:36 PM – Chris Wondolowski‘s aunt is speaking in favor. How often do you get a player’s relative speaking in favor of a stadium? I haven’t seen it before.

7:35 PM – I’m not keeping a tally of for vs. against speakers, but so far it is only two against, everyone else for.

7:29 PM – Jonathan Martinez asks the question(s) of the night: “Noise? In that neighborhood? Are you kidding me?”

7:25 PM – Belated stream link.

7:16 PM – At least two sponsors of the team have spoken in support, as well as a youth soccer coach and a worker for a community-based nonprofit.

7:14 PM – A speaker from Tracy mentions his brother, who recently passed away. He said that having the Quakes here helped him get through the tough times.

7:11 PM – The team’s official Twitter feed is livetweeting the event.

7:02 PM – A speaker says he is opposed to the sites for both the Quakes and A’s stadia. Would prefer the A’s to move to Airport West, while Quakes go to 237/Zanker.

6:59 PM – Soccer Silicon Valley’s Don Gagliardi is speaking. Asks fans to stand up. My guess is 95% of the crowd is Quakes fans. Claims that in 10 years the Quakes will be more important to San Jose than the A’s (if the A’s move).

Earthquakes fans standing in support

6:56 PM – 1906 Ultras (supporters club) are holding up scarves in unison as Kaval speaks.

Kaval notes design of stadium (turned towards airport) and lack of concerts as a form of noise mitigation. Mentions that Quakes have not gotten a noise complaint in last two years at Buck Shaw Stadium.

6:53 PM – Lew Wolff is speaking in support and thanks. Considers soccer a “community asset”. Claims that even if the number of games were doubled, the actual impact on the area would be only 170 hours per year. Introduces David Kaval. Applause from crowd. Crowd admonished for applause.

6:48 PM – A representative for the appellant (who is not present?) is at the podium. Notes a petition that has been signed by 210 people. Asks to uphold appeal, deny the application, and reopen the EIR on the grounds that the noise analysis is flawed. 

  • No computer simulation noise analysis for conceptual stadium design or proposed stadium design
  • Diridon Analysis with SoundPLAN would should noise would be 3-5 dbA higher for baseball games and 5-7 dbA higher for concerts – than in the approved EIR noise study.

This could be important for a future ballpark fight, as we can expect the same issue to be brought up.

6:45 PM – City staff is going over new/amended noise analysis, the idea that the stadium’s design and use should mitigate noise, and the restrictions on noisemakers that should further make the stadium “a good neighbor”.

6:42 PM – Planning commission is going over rules and consent items. Item 3F, the Quakes stadium proposal, has been moved to go first.

6:24 PM – Council Chambers is filling up quickly. Lew and Keith Wolff, and David Kaval are present, doing brief interviews with local media.

Quakes fans message for the night

Read the KQED interview with Earthquakes president David Kaval that Nina Thorsen posted. About any linkage between the Quakes’ project and a future A’s ballpark, Kaval says this:

We’re really run as our own entity.  This process is really a stand-alone process.  Since our ownership is basically the same as the A’s, any learning from this, best practices, and how to work with communities, can be helpful to them.  But they’re not linked in the way that some people might assume.  The financing is completely separate, and obviously it’s a different sport, different league, different location.

Coincidentally, 95.7 The Game is doing one of their Lucky Break radio gig auditions tonight at 4th Street Pizza, which happens to be across the street from San Jose City Hall. Lucky Break will happen at the same time as the planning commission meeting, so you’ll have to choose which one to attend.

Quakes stadium faces final Planning Commission vote

On Wednesday I’ll be at the San Jose Planning Commission hearing at City Hall at 6:30. From all indications, so will numerous Earthquakes fans who have been patiently waiting for a final “yes” vote for construction to begin on the 18,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium near Mineta Airport.

Low profile stadium with roof, lights, and "controversial" gap

At the end of 2011, a resident from the nearby Newhall neighborhood appealed the granting of a building permit on the grounds that environmental issues such as noise and light pollution were not adequately addressed. That forced the project to go under another (hopefully final) review to determine if the design of the stadium, including the shape of the bowl and roof, would properly protect the residents of Newhall.

Newhall is actually split in two by Caltrain. The bulk of it lies southwest of the tracks and extends to The Alameda and Park Avenue, close to Santa Clara University. The resident who filed the appeal appears to be from the area across the tracks, where multiple high density developments have been built in the last decade or so. The smaller part of Newhall is hemmed in by the heavily used railroad tracks to the west, I-880 to the east, and the airport to the north, That area is an odd place for any kind of neighborhood. It’s right next to the landing approach to the airport. It’s zoned Heavy Industrial and for decades was right next to the FMC plant, which was closed and bought by the City before it was resold (an option at least) to Lew Wolff and partners for a stadium/commercial development. The neighborhood is so small that when looking at it from an aerial photo, it appears that it could fit inside the Lowe’s store that opened nearby a couple years ago.

Getting back to the appeal, here’s what City staff wrote was the gist (warning – 9 MB PDF):

The Appellant states “The applicant has not met the burden of proof that the design complies with the EIR, because the noise and light impacts of the proposed stadium have not been properly simulated” and requests additional analysis. The Appellant specifically identifies a “large open-air gap between the top of the stands and the roof structure” as a change to the stadium design that was not adequately analyzed and requests that the stadium design be changed to enclose this area. The Appellant also requests that the Permit prohibit artificial noisemakers, such as vuvuzelas and other horns, within the stadium and in stadium parking areas, and also prohibit distribution of such devices by the operator. An updated Noise Report (attached) has been provided in response to the issues raised in the Appeal.

And the response:

The updated Noise Report clarifies that the currently proposed stadium design would not generate noise levels greater than those studied and disclosed in the project EIR because: 1) the current proposal has an amount of open area comparable to the stadium which was used as the basis for analysis in the EIR (the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles); 2) minor proposed changes to the stadium design are either comparable or beneficial in terms of the stadium’s overall potential for noise generation; and 3) the proposed stadium would only have 2/3 of the seating capacity of the analyzed stadium, thereby reducing the potential for noise generated by people attending the soccer games. As part of this discussion, the Report clarifies that changes to the stadium design include the overall reduction in size and height, due to the decreased capacity, reorientation of the open end of the stadium away from the residential neighborhood, and the addition of a small roof structure above the stadium seating area. The updated Report concludes that as a result of these changes the current stadium design would have the potential to generate noise impacts consistent with or less than those analyzed in the project EIR.

The Appeal raises the concern that a “gap” between the stadium seating and roof structure, which did not existing in the prior design, would result in potential light impacts upon the residential neighborhood. As noted above, the stadium design analyzed in the EIR did not include a roof structure. The addition of this roof and the reduction of the overall stadium height should help to reduce potential noise and light levels emanating form the stadium. All of the proposed stadium lights would be oriented downward toward the playing field and located either underneath the roof structure, or, at the open end of the field furthest from the residential neighborhood, on a free-standing pole that would not be taller than the stadium structure. Therefore, given for the proposed stadium design the distance of separation to the residential neighborhood, the height of the stadium lights, and the shielding of those lights by the stadium structure, the stadium lights would not have an impact upon the residential neighborhood. Other structures to be built on the adjoining and intervening properties, including facilities related to the BART (and possibly the high-speed rail) projects, would further screen the stadium from the residential neighborhood.

In short, the City is arguing that noise pollution would be the same as or less than those studied at Home Depot Center, especially because the planned stadium is smaller. In doing so, noise levels would be deemed acceptable, allowing the project to move forward. The Appellant argued that the gap between the roof would cause noise to leak out of the stadium and into the surrounding neighborhood. The stadium’s horseshoe shape was designed to channel crowd and PA noise out of the open end, the northeast side closest to the airport. The roof, which is tight to the rim of the stadium, is supposed to assist with this. The lights are tucked under the roof, which should limit light leakage.

All things considered, I think the Earthquakes and 360 architecture have made great pains to conceive a stadium that would have minimal impact on area residents (though it should be mentioned that the CEQA process is about much more than impacting residents). The project should be approved. The issues identified by the appeal aren’t unique to the situation. Measures being taken to restrict noisemaking devices such as horns or vuvuzelas will help a ton. Beyond that there isn’t much more the team can do. If noise really does leak out of the gap, the team could easily wrap the gap in long vinyl panels. I’d prefer they didn’t do this as the gap helps airflow during the summer. The time has come to stop studying and start building. Let’s get the Quakes the home they’ve deserved for so long.

P.S. – If you read the staff report, including the chronology of events, you’ll notice that the process looks somewhat similar to how the Diridon ballpark EIR was approved. When a complete San Jose ballpark concept is submitted by the A’s, you can expect similar treatment, except in the A’s case the stakes are far higher and the impacts potentially greater.