Fairweather Owner

You’ve probably seen John Fisher’s letter to fans from a couple days ago. In case you haven’t, here it is:

To our friends, family, and colleagues,

I hope each of you and your families are safe and sound during this challenging period.

I am writing to you personally today because you are our fans, employees, and members of our A’s family. This has been a tremendously difficult day and I wanted to share some important updates with you. While I normally stay behind the scenes, mostly because I believe in the leaders who run the team day-to-day, I felt that you should hear this news directly from me given the extraordinary nature of these times.

I am very saddened to let you know that we have implemented a significant temporary furlough of staff positions, and reduced compensation for staff members who are not furloughed. We are also suspending compensation for the A’s minor league players.

Our first priority is to those who are being impacted by these decisions, and we will do everything possible to support them during this time. Many of those affected by these decisions have been loyal to the A’s for years – some even decades. I want to apologize to every person impacted.

Baseball is more than a job – it is a way of life. People who work for our team are our family – our very foundation — and they work tirelessly to help the A’s compete in this most precious game. COVID-19 has brought a tragic loss of life and sickness to so many in our community, and it has impacted us all in ways we could have never imagined. Our organization, like so many others across the country, has had to make tough and painful decisions. We all miss baseball, and we want it back as soon as possible. We want the season to get underway soon, and we believe that the healing power of the game will help bring our community here at home – and across the nation — together again.

I know that many of you will wonder why the A’s are cutting costs now. Nobody knows how this pandemic will evolve over the long term. What is clear is that our revenues will be dramatically reduced this year. None of this diminishes the pain of today’s actions, but it is an honest acknowledgement of the circumstances of the moment.

I became involved with the A’s because I love the game of baseball. I love the drama that can unfold in a few innings, or even a single pitch. I love rooting for our team. I want our employees and fans to know that we remain deeply committed to the long-term future of the Oakland A’s, including our new ballpark, which we know can be a positive force for the City of Oakland and the East Bay. With this said, above all else, my concerns today are with every single person in our organization who is being personally affected. Through no fault of any of our staff, today’s actions are hard.

We look forward to welcoming employees and fans back to the game as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

John Fisher
Oakland A’s Managing General Partner

Fisher’s communiqué, his first as the true face of A’s ownership, is a sharp contrast from what we’ve seen from Lew Wolff and Dave Kaval, who were both brought in as frontmen to interface with fans and the business community in order to rally support for new ballpark initiatives. Since Wolff was moved from the control person role to an emeritus one, Fisher has taken a more prominent role, at least during baseball’s owner’s meetings, possibly at baseball’s behest. Though Fisher has behind practically all of the tough decisions made by the front office since 2005, this is the first time he truly had to put himself in the position to weather the backlash.

A’s ownership is getting to a crucial point, part of cycle that has been repeated since they were born over a century ago.

*Omitted the Schott-Hofmann group from the tweet because of the 240-character limit.

Fisher bankrolled most of the 2005 purchase of the A’s for $180 million. Forbes’ 2020 valuation of the team (presumably done pre-COVID) was $1.1 billion, which means that whatever was used to finance the purchase was paid back and then some. Everything after that is pure equity, especially when you consider the minimal capital improvements (ballparks and facilities) made by the ownership group since ’05. Most of the expenditures in recent years have been in sales and development, of the Howard Terminal plan and A’s Access at the Coliseum. When I spoke to Wolff many years ago about how a ballpark would be financed, he said it would be equity-based, but demurred on the details.

As for Fisher the individual, much has been made about his net worth. Also according to Forbes, as of April he was worth $2.1 Billion, not too shabby. That obscures the fact that only 2 years earlier, he was worth $2.8 Billion. Most of the $700 million loss was due to the the flagging fortunes of GAP, the family business.

No one’s shedding tears for Fisher now or ever. He was was rich before the pandemic, he’ll still be rich after. Furloughed scouts and minor leaguers not getting mere stipends don’t have that luxury. The cycle of A’s ownership, which may be repeating itself, remains troubling. It’s not a unique story. Pro sports franchises are hobbies or playthings for their owners, who usually buy those franchises with proceeds from other endeavors. Fisher has the family GAP money. Walter Haas was from Levi’s. Charlie Finley sold insurance. Only Connie Mack made his name as a baseball man from the start, which made it difficult for him to withstand the Great Depression and limited his income.

GAP is a strange mirror image of the A’s, forgoing rent and laying off workers by the thousands. In both cases there is a single fundamental truth to both businesses: there is no revenue. When revenue dries up, you look for expenditures to cut. You start with non-essential positions, like the bizdev folks the A’s hired during the Howard Terminal push over the last two years. Then you go with the minor leaguers and staff, who have no union and are considered more fungible than MLB. Those salaries are paid by the big league club’s player development budget, not by each minor league affiliate. In the past that amounted to $40-50 million annually across all minor league levels.

Going into 2020, the A’s had some money coming in. They had deposits and monthly installments on season tickets of different types, plus spring training revenue through the middle of March. I don’t know how the other game-related revenue deals (broadcasting, ads, concessions) are structured so I can’t comment on that. There’s also money from the league’s revenue sharing plan, which thanks to the current CBA was phased out gradually for the A’s (25% of a full share in 2019 or approximately $5 million, fully phased out in 2020). That aspect of the deal was premised on the A’s building Howard Terminal and emerging as a fully self-sufficient franchise when it opened in 2023.

In good times, pushing all your chips behind Howard Terminal makes sense. As we’ve seen as the plan progressed, its success depended on everything falling into place, from the environmental approvals to the working agreements with neighbors. The margin for error on a plan that complex was remarkably slim, especially when you take into account all of the external factors and how they could affect the day-to-day operation of the team. (BTW in case you’re wondering, there’s still no published draft EIR). Those external factors have created a sort of perfect storm moment for the franchise, rendering them broke in the face of the pandemic. We’re seeing what happens when you don’t make contingency plans on small and large scales, to horrific effect.

As the calendar moved from March into April and May with play stopped and no clear date to resume, I could see all the line items, the various expenses that Fisher and the rest of the ownership group would have to decide to retain or cut. Longtime minors coach Webster Garrison was spared from furlough as he recovers from COVID-related illness this spring. To treat him like the rest of the staff would’ve been a PR disaster of epic proportions, as if it isn’t already. The brutal truth of it all is that $5 million in reduced revenue sharing funds is already not going to go very far. The Rule 4 draft is two weeks. The Marlins and Padres were recently cited positively for continuing to pay players and minors staff for the next few months. Good for them! They still get revenue sharing! They should pay everyone accordingly! MLB owners and players are still divvying up the what’s left of the revenue pie for 2020, and the A’s have effectively painted themselves into a corner. If, as rumored, the ownership group has been squirreling away the revenue sharing checks into a rainy day fund, well, 2020 is a damned monsoon, John. Do what you will.

One Horse Town

Say goodbye to the bad guy.

Over at NBC Sports Bay Area, Scott Bair reported yesterday that the Raiders, who had an option to play at the Coliseum in 2020 just in case Allegiant Stadium didn’t get completed in time, recently declined the option. They had until April 1 to renew.

With the Raiders leaving Oakland behind, we can officially leave behind silly concepts like this:

Or this:

And especially this:

It was never going to end well. At least one team had to leave which grew to two. There are lessons to be learned. Memories to savor. Once we get through the current crisis, Oakland can get back to what it was like when baseball ruled the town.

October 3, 2012

When the dust settles, the A’s and A’s fans will have to pick up the pieces. What world will we live in? What restrictions will be placed on our movement, or on limits to assembled crowds? It’s more than a little ironic that the cavernous Coliseum could work in an era of social distancing – at least if the crowds are limited to 20,000 or less.

MLB is saying for now that the start of the season is postponed until mid-May at the earliest. Until then confusion reigns, as teams are deciding where to set up camp for the season. A’s staff and players have it relatively easy, since they can easily shuttle between Oakland and Mesa. Players often have offseason homes in Arizona. Other teams have more complicated logistics. Take always-an-Athletic Sean Doolittle and Eireann Dolan, who described their living arrangements, which included the specter of dual concurrent leases.

Whenever the season starts, it will be truncated and condensed. You might see many more doubleheaders (hooray!) and expanded rosters, perhaps six-man rotations. Gotta get the games in somehow. Fortunately, there won’t be anymore $250k baseball-to-football-to-baseball Coliseum conversations to plan this year, maybe forever. There is also the matter of the Raiders locker rooms. The A’s will have about two months between now and the start of the season. Should the team choose to keep all their training in Mesa, they can continue to use the old cramped clubhouses with few complaints. If they choose to move more of the team to Oakland before the official start of 2020 season, they’ll need the extra space. And while a scant two months is a tough timeline to hit, that should be enough to make sure the plumbing works, install new carpeting, and slap a new green-and-gold paint job on the joint.

Modern NFL locker rooms are vast, perhaps overkill for the A’s (photo: Flickr user rocor)

The benefits would be enormous. It’s a larger space to house the entire 40-man roster and camp invitees if needed. The facilities on that level are newer and more functional than the old baseball clubhouses (insert plumbing joke here). The team will still run the shuttle between Oakland and Mesa as needed. Parts of each football locker room could be cordoned off for press use or other functions. And outside on the field, Clay Wood and his stalwart crew can focus on keeping the turf and infield as pristine as possible without much worry about divots, dealing with the gridiron, or 300-lb. dudes trampling everything.

It’s no vaccine for the coronavirus. It could help the team be more competitive with the rest of the American League, and if the theme this year is to strike while the iron is hot, I can’t think of a better way to prepare for this season.

Howard Terminal neighbors challenge CEQA streamlining effort

I was wondering when the Port private interests (PMSA, trucking and transport companies) would file their first lawsuit. They laid down the gauntlet yesterday, suing the City of Oakland to stop the CEQA streamlining process for Howard Terminal.

I expected the first lawsuit to be filed after the draft EIR was released, not before. What made the Port group fire the first shot? A technicality, of course. Governor Gavin Newsom didn’t certify the project for streamlining by the end of 2019, which opponents are seizing on as something that should disqualify the project from streamlining altogether. Absent the streamlining, the project would have to undergo the exemption-free CEQA process, dragging on potentially for years.

The A’s applied for CEQA streamlining through AB 900, which was passed nearly a decade ago. If you look at the list of projects that were certified for streamlining, you’ll see a number of high profile examples such as the Apple Campus (certified 2012) and the planned Clippers arena (certified 2019). You’ll also see a listing for Oakland Sports and Mixed-Use Project at Howard Terminal, which to date is not yet certified for streamlining. This is despite the fact that AB 734 was passed separately to help assist with the process.

A draft version of the EIR was expected to be released at the end of 2019 in February sometime this month. (We’re past the Ides of March, as you know.) At issue were a number of environmental issues such as the project’s carbon footprint and the difficulty in getting 20% improvement over the Coliseum, a requirement that was going to be difficult to hit given the lack of transportation options at the site.

Mayor Schaaf’s office also had some feedback:

A judge will have to determine if HT qualifies regardless of the missed deadline. Maybe after that we’ll get to read the EIR. Maybe not. It can be hard to grasp how difficult a puzzle this is, and perhaps I haven’t done a good enough job spelling it out. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out. Perhaps if this drags all the way out and there is a groundbreaking, everyone will be able to appreciate the effort. Until then, as usual, never mistake activity for achievement.

P.S. – The Clippers and A’s were in roughly the same place process wise as the main legislative session was winding up in Sacramento last summer. Both teams got their respective bills passed. The Clips doubled down on their plans by offering to buy out their chief legal opposition, MSG, taking the Forum off MSG’s hands and building a bunch of affordable housing in the process. So far, the A’s say they want to build affordable housing too! As far as buying out opponents, we’ll see about that. Unlike Inglewood, the two sides aren’t natural competitors.

There’s a reason I consistently talk about whether or not Howard Terminal is prohibitively expensive. Getting rid of opposition is a huge factor, and the A’s have proven time and time again that they’re unwilling to pay to get rid of opponents. We may be getting to the tipping point for Howard Terminal.

MLB Pushes Opening Day Another 8 Weeks

My only question is: Does this mean that the A’s can skip over the usual horrid start to the season?

 

EIR will come out eventually (advanced thumb twiddling)

UPDATE 11:30 AM – The A’s are trying to respond to all the questions.

Can you imagine what this will be like if March comes and goes without delivery of the EIR?

The problem with this step of the process is that it’s opaque and inscrutable. So we wait.

ORIGINAL POST

Any day now.

I hope you readers understand why over the past several months I haven’t devoted many posts to the EIR process. Having read the completed reports for Levi’s Stadium, Earthquakes Stadium, and Chase Center, I wanted to wait until there was a finished (draft) work product for the Howard Terminal ballpark. And so we wait for that product.

Good thing we have spring training to pass the time. Until the report arrives, enjoy the spring. There’s plenty of other things to read. Or other diversions.

More on Radio

Last season, the Cincinnati Reds celebrated long-time Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, whose announcement of his retirement came at the beginning of the season. The celebration continued through the last homestand of the season. The last fan giveaway of the last series Brennaman worked was a transistor radio, to the first 20,000 fans.

The giveaway was sponsored by grocery giant Kroger, with the Reds logo alongside and Brennaman’s signature call, And this one belongs to the Reds!, printed underneath. The radio wasn’t set only to WLW-AM 700, the team’s longtime radio flagship. Instead there was a familiar dial, allowing fans to tune into Reds broadcasts throughout the Ohio and Northern Kentucky area, or other AM or FM stations if they so chose. It probably runs for hours if not days on two cheap AA/AAA batteries, and has a headphone jack. Street value is around $10-20.

I got my own portable transistor radio as a kid. I would tote it around to the park, on trips with my parents, and to A’s games. In my teens I got the first of many Walkman-style cassette radios, which were supplanted by separate CD players and pocket radios. Eventually I upgraded to an iPod paired with a digital Sony Walkman model, which looks like this:

When the A’s were on The Game I put 95.7 on the first FM preset

I did a quick look to see where I left this radio. Couldn’t find it. I have three smartphones, three laptops, two desktop computers, and other devices that can pull internet audio streams. The only radio I can find is the one in my car. Sony doesn’t appear to make the version pictured above anymore.

The hunt for the lost Walkman got me thinking about what kind of device the A’s would have to sell or give away to promote their all-streaming worldview. Think about what the requirements would have to be to make such a device:

  1. Cellular and WiFi radios plus SIM tray
  2. Some sort of minimal display, probably touchscreen or small keyboard or other input method
  3. Speaker, headphone jack, or Bluetooth output
  4. Decent-sized lithium-ion battery (irreplaceable)
  5. Android operating system to run TuneIn app
  6. USB port for software maintenance
  7. Pushbutton access to A’s Cast (and the software complexity therein)
  8. A wireless data plan

Absent such a not-inexpensive beast, we’ll all have to lean on our smartphones even more. I work in tech. I support the move to streaming as I’m ready for it and have been living it for years. For me, it’s better to carry a single device that performs a multitude of functions than to bring multiple devices (phone and radio) with me. When you consider the requirements to put together a modern streaming-only replacement for a cheap transistor radio, it looks like climbing a technological mountain. And that’s without the support sherpa some will need to set it all up.

Then I saw this Dave Kaval reply to a Bruce Jenkins column:

What followed was the usual meme fest congratulating Kaval for dragging Jenkins, as well as the finger wagging by much of the rest of Bay Area sports media. Once the dust settles from the social media rage, two outside factors will determine how well this works for the A’s. The first comes down to this claim by Kaval:

I’m skeptical of this. Even if the A’s do a wholesale revamp of the Coliseum’s in-stadium WiFi network, there’s still a transition from outside, whether you’re driving in or taking BART. Until that becomes seamless, it’s an annoyance at the least, a deterrence at the worst. If a fan is mowing his lawn on a summer day and listening to a radio, latency isn’t a big issue as there’s no perception of latency (as long as phone alerts don’t come in first). A fan at the ballpark is not going to have as much patience for a streaming delay from what’s happening in real time, right in his/her eyes.

The other big factor has nothing directly to do with the A’s. Last August, KNBR owner Cumulus chose to turn one of its Bay Area assets, longtime FM rock stalwart KFOG, into a simulcast station for KNBR. Now the Bay Area has four sports talk stations:

  • KNBR (AM 680)
  • KTCT (AM 1050)
  • KGMZ (FM 95.7)
  • KFOG/KNBR (FM 104.5)

Since the revamped KFOG is a simulcast station, there won’t be any new programming. Instead, the move enhances the Giants’ already vast hegemony over the market. The 49ers, who were already pushing into the East Bay as the Raiders depart the Bay Area, will also benefit from the simulcast. The Game will remain the Warriors’ flagship and the other place to talk Giants/Niners. With three sports stations at its disposal, Cumulus can keep KNBR-680 as its Giants station (the Giants partly own it) while the 49ers can stay on the Ticket and KNBR-FM. The Warriors will be the only team on The Game, which is what the Dubs have been wanting for years if not decades. Most radio stations, especially the ones with the high-power transmitters that can blast 50,000 watts, are owned by one of a few radio conglomerates (Cumulus, Entercom, Bonneville), making format changes largely strategic in nature with stations as pawns.

The Giants and Cumulus effectively crowded the A’s out of the Bay Area radio market, with an assist from Entercom. The A’s tried to make it work with Entercom by sticking out a few years at The Game with dwindling support from the station. Now the A’s are persona non grata at The Game even as they are currently the hottest pro team in the Bay Area.

There’s something seductive in the sales pitch the A’s are making about going the streaming route. It’s Silicon Valley. It sounds disruptive. Is it, though? If radio truly is a dying medium, the A’s are blazing a trail. A trail to what? To me, it’s like the being the first team with a website (which they were), or the first to embrace the Moneyball concepts. It gets the team attention, but it probably won’t put the team over the top without significant further investment. Same goes for streaming. The problems with the streaming-only strategy are two-fold: the A’s can’t dominate streaming the way other teams dominate other forms of media, and it papers over the fact that the A’s are a lesser player in local media than they were two years ago. The A’s are making it harder to enjoy audio of A’s games, full stop. Furthermore, the move smacks of a certain pattern of impatience I’m seeing from the team. When the A’s see resistance to their efforts, they’re likely to fold and move on to the next vision, however fanciful or grand. It happened with all of the previous ballpark sites and now with this disappearance from local radio. If the A’s return to some other station in 2021, we’ll know that they didn’t have the patience to see this through. There may be a way for the A’s to innovate their way out of this jam. So far, they’re not offering that kind of innovation. Maybe that’s more in line with tech’s current direction than anything else.

P.S. – A decade ago, the A’s had a chance to buy KTRB, the same station they used as a stepping stone to streaming last year. They could’ve used more patience back then, too. 

Radio Training Wheels Are Off!

Last year, when the A’s announced their plan to go with a streaming broadcast model, they kept rights with Bay Area AM station KTRB-860. At the time, many including myself considered the terrestrial station to act as a transitional step.

I’m not sure if the A’s deal with KTRB will go longer than 2019. I suspect that the A’s are using this year as a platform to launch the streaming offering.

The team announced today that they’re going with TuneIn exclusively in the Bay Area. That means no traditional terrestrial radio anywhere in the Bay. At least the broadcasts are free in the Bay Area.

As I don’t live in the Bay Area anymore, I found out quickly that I was outside the broadcast territory, so I couldn’t get the games or the pre/post-game content on the TuneIn app without some finagling. I decided to play around with all of my available options. I got a VPN app to spoof my location to the Bay Area, and bought a TuneIn Premium subscription for the year. The subscription ends at the close of Cactus League play, which works out quite conveniently for me.

As the 2020 Cactus League starts, they’re still getting the kinks out.

When I saw I was blocked from getting broadcasts despite my paying for workarounds, I decided to declare it all a sunk cost and went with the MLB app instead. The tradeoff there is that I got the game regardless of location, but little-to-no pre/post-game coverage. This year, I might go with MLB.tv for the A’s only (it comes with audio as well) and call it a day. It’s the price of innovation, I suppose.

Until then, I’ll keep trying with what they’re making available.

Strangely, there is still an A’s Radio Network that will operate outside the Bay Area. And there will be continue to be Spanish-language broadcasts on existing Bay Area Spanish-language stations. Those broadcasts will also be carried on TuneIn. It’s hard to beat good old radio, especially the AM variety, when you could “lock it in and rip the knob off.” In the digital age there are no knobs. There are a lot of unresponsive virtual buttons, cryptic error messages, and a creeping sense of dread as your data gets used up, inning by inning, game after game.

The A’s are partnering with TuneIn, a good choice from a business standpoint for both as TuneIn gets a high-profile client and the A’s probably get some of the production costs handled by TuneIn. I wonder about the wisdom of this decision in the long run, though. This is a move fraught with friction. Last year I chose to go away from it because of that friction. I did some A/B testing against the MLB App, and TuneIn consistently had more latency than MLB. It didn’t matter if the A’s were at home or on the road, or if I was at the Coliseum or not. Given the state of affairs, I have no interest in renewing. A while back MLB allowed smartphone users to rebrand the normal MLB app with their preferred team’s logo, making it a sort of one-stop shop for baseball fans. That same app is what A’s fans will use to watch video highlights or entire games from their smartphones on the go. Yet there is a second, unrelated app that is preferred for radio. Way to make it easy, A’s. If the team wants to remove some of that friction, they should follow the branding lead and put all their audio streams in the MLB app for easy access. No offense to TuneIn, I also occasionally listen to audio of MSNBC, CNN, and the local NPR station on the go. For A’s games, it makes less sense. I already use Overcast for pre-recorded podcast listening. That’s not going to change despite the incursion of streaming giants into the podcast world.

First world problems? First world problems.

Adapt or Die

My usual route to the gym takes me through Papago Park, the former spring training home of the A’s. Every time I drive down 64th Street/Galvin Parkway, I see this:

The old training fields are visible from the street, with Phoenix Municipal Stadium (now home to ASU) situated downhill at the south end of the park. The baseball sculpture is a friendly reminder of Papago’s sports history, and though the A’s are now in Mesa, it’s nice to know that Papago will get its own improvements before the Giants move there from their current facility on Camelback and Hayden Roads (Indian School Park). As much as I like the A’s situation at Hohokam, like the rest of Mesa it’s pretty sleepy.

Papago Park baseball fields under construction

Occasionally I would hear talk of the Giants building their own ballpark/training center complex near the Scottsdale/Tempe border, where there remains some undeveloped land. Instead the Giants struck a deal with Scottsdale to get some improvements at Scottsdale Stadium. The main thrust of the work is an expanded clubhouse that will also serve as an event center/club facility, the better to attract Giant fans with fat wallets and expense accounts. The event center is claimed to be the largest such space in the downtown area, which is somewhat surprising given the bevy of hospitality options in the city. While the stadium will remain in Scottsdale’s Old Town, the training facility at Papago Park will be just outside Scottsdale within Phoenix city limits. Moving to Papago required a separate negotiation. Indian School is 1.5 miles away from the stadium. Papago is a whopping 2.5 miles away. It’s not quite the convenience of having a single campus like the Cubs or Dbacks/Rockies at Salt River Fields, but it’s an easy drive or bike ride between the two and most Giants fans will prefer to be around the Old Town scene during and after the games.

Construction sign emphasizes the Event Center aspect

The East Valley (defined loosely as the communities within the Loop 202 freeway plus Scottsdale) is the economic engine of the area. Teams that call the East Valley home are in enviable positions relative to their Cactus and Grapefruit League counterparts. After the trend of huge campuses that helped save and expand the Cactus League a decade ago, it’s refreshing to see a return to renovated facilities, even if they’re split. The A’s and Giants are unlikely to go anywhere for years if not decades. The Brewers also renewed their deal in Maryvale. All teams are consolidating player development at their facilities, further establishing permanence while also endangering some minor league cities.

New clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium replaces an auxiliary field

There’s even more baseball this spring. A college tournament is set for Salt River Fields in two weeks, plus Olympic qualifiers are slated for late March. We’re eleven days from pitchers and catchers reporting. I might be able to take more advantage of the Spring Training Ballpark Pass this year. I’m already seeing a lot of people around here in shorts. Spring always comes early to the Valley of the Sun. ASU hosts numerous wintering teams this month, an early spring ritual. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Gone Baby Gondola

2018 gondola route map (with older ballpark design)

Two related bits of ballpark-related news came out of FanFest over the weekend. First, the Chronicle’s Phil Matier picked up on the transportation study that shows that people will continue driving even if the A’s come to Howard Terminal, which belies the notion of an “urban” ballpark. On a related note, Oakland’s Department of Transportation is now downplaying the prospects of a gondola bridging the nearest BART station (12th Street/City Center) and the ballpark. After all the hubbub coming out of last year’s FanFest, this news is what I feared. Dave Kaval remains optimistic. I have my doubts.

I discussed the prospects of the gondola at length exactly one year ago. It saddens me that the discussion may end there, not so much because the gondola dream is dying, but because all parties seem to be satisfied with the current lack of solutions to deal with the last mile problem. The prevailing attitude seems to be that technology will solve the gridlock problem. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that.

Transportation Network Companies, from Uber and Lyft to bike and scooter share startups, are supposed to bridge that gap along with walking. Profitability remains off in the distance. Strategies are largely confined to waiting for a competitor to go under and become a default monopoly player due to attrition, then jack up fares to become profitable once the competition is gone. Another possible scenario is a merger to eliminate competition, which makes some sense given that many drivers work for both Uber and Lyft. When that consolidation occurs, and more realistic pricing emerges, we’ll start to see how many people choose ridesharing as an option instead of walking or taking a bus shuttle. The upshot is that it’s a very difficult game to make transportation that merely breaks even, whether you’re talking public or private. (Note: Not touching the impact of AB 5.)

This is the point where I have to point out (again) that the Giants’ ballpark deal in China Basin was made with SF agreeing to a light rail extension from Market Street to the ballpark along the Embarcadero. That won’t happen in Oakland. Perhaps a BART extension could happen once everyone figures out how and where a second Transbay Tube will be built (and funded). That probably can’t happen until 2050.

Take it or leave it for now

For the majority of fans who will be driving to Howard Terminal, they could reserve parking spots at participating area garages depending on how much they’re willing to pay and walk. There’s enough parking inventory in downtown Oakland to handle the demand. How fans react to longer walks to their parking spots or BART is the coming source of friction. If fans encounter a fairly tranquil day as has been experienced for the Jack London Square version of FanFest, they’ll be encouraged to keep going to games. If they see difficulty in game night traffic, the parking experience, the walk/shuttle, or a train incident blocks the way in/out, that could mean one or more fans or families that choose to go on a weekend instead of a weekday, or simply less frequently than they used to. However the A’s and the City/Port are pitching this, convenience is not the main selling point. It will be convenient for some who live in Oakland near the park or a short AC Transit bus ride away. The problem is that it isn’t an improvement for practically everyone else who lives in the East Bay. There could be improvements with the bus schedules, helpful for those who choose to take the bus. I could see more Amtrak trains and ferry service. None of those options help the rest of the East Bay, where most of the fanbase originates.

Baseball, especially in Oakland, is dependent on casual fans who choose to go on a whim instead of being season ticket holders. The A’s even modernized their season ticket plan to effectively encourage going on a whim. But it’s not a good trend if the end result is lower friction to buy tickets and higher friction to actually attend a game. Bottom line: the only infrastructure being planned so far is the transit hub, a single pedestrian/bike bridge, and the addition of bus lanes. To be honest, I’m confounded at how this passed as a first draft of the transportation plan. A’s fans, whether you live in Oakland or Concord, whether you’re young or old or need assistance, deserve better.

P.S. – I chose not to go to FanFest this year. The lack of news about the ballpark, combined with the minimal turnover in the roster, made it easy for me to look ahead towards Cactus League play. Speaking of which, the A’s brought back their Spring Training Pass for those fortunate enough to be in the Valley of the Sun for the entirety of the spring. Maybe this time I’ll be able to go to more than a few games.

 

BUILD IT NOW

During last night’s Oakland City Council meeting, Council President Rebecca Kaplan noticed a bunch of people carrying preprinted placards.

Who pray tell printed a cheer card like this?

At a previous meeting Kaplan similarly admonished the gallery for turning the City Council meeting into a planned cheering session. That warning got the A’s to lighten up on the propaganda so as to establish some decorum. Perhaps this is another warning from the dais. Regardless, the MOU passed 8-0.

I was hoping the draft EIR would be released around the time of FanFest this weekend. No such luck.

This also follows up last week’s Port Board meeting where the same MOU (memorandum of understanding) was discussed, approved, and sent to City Hall. That particular meeting had more port industry interests and fewer A’s fans in attendance. The purpose of the MOU is ostensibly to combine effort and remove duplicative effort, another way to streamline the process. The A’s spent a lot of lobbying time and energy to streamline part of the process, but we’re getting to the nitty gritty portion. The Port conveniently put together a flowchart, which covers only the areas related to Port development activities.

Compare that to the Ballpark Tracker page the A’s put together. Here’s one of the slides:

Now take that list of accomplishments above and try to overlay it on top of the required work the Port maps out in their flowchart. If it seems like not that much has actually been done yet, you’re not wrong. We’re essentially at the red star in the flowchart and the serious talks begin once the draft EIR is published. The complicated nature of building on the waterfront, in a city with unique development challenges and numerous stakeholders to mollify, makes getting a project like this going extremely difficult.

There’s a bit of a disconnect here. The A’s want to open the ballpark by 2023. The ENA term sheet also runs out in 2023, yet the ballpark project requires all of the dotted I’s and crossed T’s before the A’s can break ground. You’ve probably noticed that the tentacles towards the right side of the flowchart aren’t under the City’s control. Regional and State agencies will determine what mitigation measures need to be made and what’s actually feasible in what timeframe.

For example, let’s take the 45-day comment period. There will be plenty of comments from regular citizens and entrenched businesses. Staff will be required to respond. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s also the time for lawsuits from those with vested interests. Major lawsuits won’t be adjudicated in 45 days. It’s highly unlikely that the Port interests, who are ready to wage war, are going to roll over in 45 days. Thankfully for the A’s, AB 734 allows CEQA lawsuits to be limited to 270 days. However, legal maneuvers aren’t typically accounted for in project plans. Even with litigation limits baked in, that’s not going to stop the well-heeled from utilizing their retainers.

At some point later this year, we might yet again hear about how shocked or surprised someone from the A’s or the City is about recent news. No one should be surprised about any twists or turns this story takes.

District 3 Council Member Lynette Gibson McElhaney punctuated the proceedings by calling the MOU part of an “iterative, deliberative, intentional process to ensure that if a development goes forward that it is good for Oakland.” This time around, I don’t doubt that.