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.

United(?) Stakeholders of Howard Terminal

Earlier this week, the City of Oakland presented some findings related to transportation at Howard Terminal. While some of the observations were quite sharp, many of the proposed solutions were fuzzy and ill-defined.

Take this zinger for starters:

For a year or more, I’ve heard a ridiculous mantra, No one lives at Howard Terminal, which should pave the way for all manner of changes with few complaints. Problem is that impacts are not confined to the project site alone. The surrounding area is much larger and can suffer from being in close proximity. That’s the flip side to the economic improvements often claimed in stadium projects. Sure, Howard Terminal will get a lot of jobs. Is it worth the gridlock? The CEQA process is designed to help the public make an informed decision.

Squeaky wheel gets the grease, so to speak

To that end OakDOT has apparently decided to attack the gridlock problem by prioritizing certain types of traffic on specific streets in the area. Embarcadero West/1st Street has train tracks right in the middle of it, forcing rail activity there to take priority. A block north, A four-block stretch of 2nd Street is the location of a transit hub. Which sounds pretty exciting, until you scratch the surface and realize that it’s mostly a staging area for BART shuttles. That’s not stopping Oakland from full-on selling the hub’s prospects:

It’s Oakland’s version of the Transbay Terminal, except, not

There is talk of a potential BART stop there, though BART nixed any near term prospects. You can hope for 2050, which at the current rate of stadium aging is around the time that a Howard Terminal ballpark becomes obsolete. Bottom line, what’s planned is the stop for the bus bridge between the ballpark and BART, whether you’re talking about 12th Street/City Center, West Oakland, or Lake Merritt. Buses would line up along that stretch before turning onto a bus-prioritized Castro Street, then heading to one of the BART stations or the other parts of Oakland.

Bike traffic currently has 2nd Street as a designated route, which got the attention of bike advocates:

Strangely, 2nd Street is a designated bike route

Every redevelopment vision is going to have winners and losers, which makes it incumbent upon local government to work to protect the interests of those who can’t afford to buy their way out of the gridlock (hello, ridesharing). Keep in mind one of the bullet points above:

While BART serves a critical transportation role for communities of color, riders are disproportionately whiter than the residents around the stations

BART functions as a set of contradictions. It uses the same technology that powers metro subways, yet has less frequent, more spread-out stops and runs longer distances like commuter rail. For a long time it had those comfortable, e. Coli-infused wool seats. BART’s operational and spiritual hub is in Oakland, which makes it strange that the A’s and the City/Port are working so hard to propose a project that actively sidesteps it. Yet those contradictions make it difficult to justify an infill station nearby, as any slowdown in speed or efficiency within downtown Oakland could negatively impact ridership from the admittedly whiter suburbs.

Absent a direct connection to BART, HT proponents are pumping up that transit hub, limited as it is, and other solutions. As part of designating certain streets for certain types of travel, ballpark vehicular traffic is mostly confined to Market Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

Rush hour gameday traffic map is a huge visual improvement from the old LOS (level of service) charts

You may remember that last year there was talk of a new ramp to the Adeline overpass to help route cars to the Nimitz. Evidently that idea encountered some resistance from Port interests, as there’s no mention of the ramp in the presentation. That’s probably just as well, since the ramp would mix ballpark traffic with Port traffic, which trucking companies have been fighting to keep separated for some time. It doesn’t help that the ramp runs through Schnitzer Steel, another opponent of the ballpark. Are those measures enough to satiate all concerned stakeholders? As usual, color me skeptical. Project mode splits show that with the move from the Coliseum to Howard Terminal comes a shift in cars to downtown Oakland, a duh moment but one with surprisingly minimal planning to deal with it.

10,000 vehicles is 10,000 vehicles, no matter how you slice it. Thankfully, fewer than half are expected around the ballpark on gamedays.

Some infrastructure is planned. Again, whether that’s enough is up for vigorous debate. Consider the following legend from the pedestrian map:

The terms Proposed and Potential are the keys here. The pedestrian/bike bridge at Jefferson is Proposed. The vehicle/pedestrian bridge at Market is listed as Potential, as are some underpass improvements. Can you discern the difference?

You’ll notice a passing mention of the gondola above. You haven’t heard much about it since its splashy introduction a year ago. That should tell you how much traction it has. Whether it gets traction or evaporates like most non-traditional transit proposals, there still remains a big last mile transit hole that is being addressed with little efficacy. Not much new infrastructure is planned, other than the stuff the Port interests are pushing for. The above map shows a bus rapid transit station at 12th Street, a separate project from Howard Terminal. Presumably BRT would be expanded to include HT, effectively making the hub a nice BRT stop. The disjointed nature of how all of the various transit options (three BART stations, Amtrak, ferry, AC Transit) come close but don’t actually converge is rather disturbing, more than a year after studies started. Obviously, you can’t move a ferry terminal or the train stations, but that last mile problem remains vexing. The way to resolve it, as proposed, is to throw a bunch of rules, operational costs (buses), and gridlock at it. That doesn’t sound much like progress to me. I eagerly await the end of the month, when the draft EIR is scheduled for release.

Giles out as A’s COO to start own business

Fairly big news out of Jack London Square today:

Giles had been largely responsible for the subscription-style “A’s Access” plans that supplanted traditional season tickets, as well as other OOTB marketing ideas.

Next time you see Chris Giles he might be slinging a guitar instead of a bat

My immediate thought is that Giles was getting good feedback around baseball (and perhaps other sports) about how well A’s Access was implemented. He then saw a nice consulting opportunity coming out of that. His work, in the COO role, is more-or-less done for now. If Howard Terminal gets approved, which likely won’t be this year, Giles would be waiting like the rest of us for the next big steps. Chief Operating Officer was, for the A’s, created for Giles, so if Giles is replaced, I could see the A’s filling from within the organization or choosing not to replace Giles at all. Ron Leuty’s SFBT summary suggests that the A’s have a deep bench if the need arises.

Even if I were a huge Howard Terminal supporter, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the loss of Giles or some of the other organizational losses over the last few months. The A’s are, after a long period of running lean, growing a much larger sales and marketing side of the business. Some attrition is to be expected. As I’ve been saying throughout 2019, we haven’t hit the really difficult obstacles yet. Save your fretting for when those come up.

Clock Is Ticking, Says Manfred

After he threatened to move the A’s from Oakland to Las Vegas in October, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred pumped the brakes during the Winter Meetings this week. Asked about the state of the A’s, Manfred reverted to good cop mode:

“I think one of the things baseball has done well over decades is maintain its commitment to its current cities and we’d desperately like to maintain our commitment to the city of Oakland. I think the wild-card game and the excitement surrounding it shows there is a fan base there, but the clock is ticking. It’s time to get to it in terms of that stadium.”

It’s important to look at the A’s through the lens of Manfred’s entire tenure, not just through individual moves.

Throughout these five years, Manfred exercised patience with Oakland the market and Oakland the political sphere. The Warriors and Raiders announced their moves, giving the A’s the East Bay to themselves. If that was the goal, Manfred’s patience was warranted. However, emptying out a market couldn’t be the ultimate goal. A new ballpark in that market is the ultimate goal. The resistance to the Peralta site didn’t raise Manfred’s ire. The friction at the Coliseum did. Additional obstacles at Howard Terminal could do the same. Manfred’s “clock is ticking” comment is a gentle reminder that he can break out the move card at any time.

The question I have for you readers is, How much of a threat does Manfred actually hold? Vegas is a sore spot because they’ll be the home for the Raiders starting in 2020 and into the foreseeable future. Yet Vegas isn’t exactly ready to build a ballpark for the A’s, or the Dbacks, or anyone else for that matter. Vegas plays the classic stalking horse role at the moment, same as they did when Oscar Goodman was parading showgirls in front of The Lodge 15 years ago. A ballpark in Vegas would be predicated on the same ancillary development scheme being considered in Portland and yes, Oakland. In addition to the 2-3 years needed to build a domed ballpark, Vegas or Clark County or the State of Nevada would have to fire up the political machine to put together a land deal and financing scheme for the ballpark-cum-village, an effort that will surely take at least two more years.

Last week St. Petersburg’s Mayor shut down the Montreal-shared-custody Rays plan. Manfred responded by continuing to push the plan with far less fervor. Instead, he said that for now, the lease at Tropicana Field would continue to be honored. Of course, another city like Nashville or Charlotte could act as a new stalking horse for the Rays.

Manfred supported Stu Sternberg in the latter’s cockamamie scheme. Kriseman said no. Back to the drawing board. While some Rays fans are left dreaming of a new home for their team, the team itself remains status quo, for better and worse. They’re not going anywhere until after the 2027 season, unless a successor ballpark is built in the area. The A’s are in the same scenario until 2024. Just as threats to move the Rays ring hollow, so do the threats to move the A’s. Honestly everyone, don’t fall for it.

Enjoy the walkoffs

As the media starts to write their farewells to the Raiders, it’s important to remember that one team remains and should be here for years, if not decades, to come. It’s not time to scramble to make any deal just because the A’s are the only team left in town. Everyone – the team, the fans, the citizens of Oakland and Alameda County – deserves a fair deal. That means questions need to be asked. Questions that you might not want to ask. Questions that some of us haven’t even considered to ask yet. Maybe some of those questions won’t be fully answered. It won’t be for lack of trying. For now, enjoy the team that calls Oakland home. As we’ve seen with the other teams, nothing is forever.

*BLINK*

 

It figures that right before a hearing, hours after I mention the latest lawsuit in a post, that one of the parties chooses to drop the lawsuit.

That’s what happened tonight, as the Oakland City Council ordered the City Attorney to drop the lawsuit over the Coliseum land. Per the Chronicle’s Sarah Ravani:

That was followed by the A’s own release:

Okay, now what? Well, don’t break out the shovels just yet. Why? Because the key sentence in the City’s statement is this:

Additionally, the Council directed the issuance of a surplus land notice on the Coliseum site, a legally required precursor to selling public land.

According to the checklist (PDF) put together by nonprofit law firm Public Advocates, that’s gonna add at least 60 days to the land sale process. I expect the City to continue to negotiate concessions from the A’s in the interim. As affordable housing is not a huge moneymaker without some sort of subsidization effort, I wouldn’t expect a ton of better offers than what the A’s can provide. The important thing, though, is that the process is being followed properly, and codified in the Surplus Land Act is a desire to approve bidders that can provide 25% of the constructed units as affordable or below market-rate.

There’s also a provision to approve park uses for surplus land, which may require a small zoning change if it’s what the A’s have on the drawing board – converting the Coliseum into a park/amphitheater.

Throughout all of the legal and political wrangling during the fall, both City and County had rather different takes on who was following the right procedures with the Surplus Land Act. Both the park and affordable housing are in the A’s plans, which has me wondering why the City and County couldn’t get on the same page in September when this mess started. Similarly, why would the A’s go along with a plan so likely to face political friction? Perhaps they wanted to take the procedural express lane to Howard Terminal. So much for that. Over at Beyond the Box Score, Sheryl Ring provided greater insight into the specifics of the law.

For this whole concept – ballpark at Howard Terminal, redevelopment of the Coliseum – there’s a great deal of work to flesh out the details. If the A’s end up putting no affordable housing at Howard Terminal and try to place all of the affordable units at the Coliseum, that’s likely to go over like a lead balloon. Then again, it’s unclear if Howard Terminal itself is subject to the Surplus Land Act, which would really throw a wrench into the A’s projections.

I was surprised when Rob Manfred used the move threat card at what I considered a very early juncture. Then I remembered that the commissioner can use it whenever he likes without fear of reprisal. Antitrust exemption, you know. Exhale, everyone.

A’s and Cubs to host 2020 Cactus League weekends in Vegas

Yesterday the Las Vegas Aviators announced two Big League weekends during spring training next year. The first, on February 29 & March 1, will feature the A’s hosting the Cleveland Indians. The following weekend, March 7-8, will have the Chicago Cubs hosting the Cincinnati Reds. The games will be played at Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin (see gallery below).

The newly scheduled games are in addition to the existing Cactus League slate, which makes the new games all split-squad affairs. That’s good to know for those planning to attend while expecting to see certain stars. Your chances are 50/50 on that count.

Last May I visited Las Vegas Ballpark, which is located in the suburb of Summerlin, at the west edge of the valley. It’s 10 miles from the Strip, located down the street from Red Rock, one of the many locals casinos in the area. It is by far the best, swankiest AAA ballpark I’ve ever attended, though that compliment comes with one major caveat. If you remember the history of Raley Field, when it was developed there was discussion about how it could be built for easy future expansion to a MLB-sized facility. A huge rainstorm during the winter of construction nixed those plans and delayed the eventual opening of the ballpark. Raley Field is still nice, yet decidedly a AAA ballpark. The same goes for Las Vegas Ballpark and First Tennessee Park in Nashville.

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Maybe events like these are ways to showcase Vegas or Nashville for future expansion or relocation. Problem is that the venues’ relative size (10,000 seats) makes that showcase extremely limited. It’s a long way from 10,000 seats (the game I attended was sold out) to a 30,000+ domed stadium that will have to be placed much closer to downtown as opposed to a suburb in order to better capture the market’s population. Not to mention the financing part, which thanks to the Raiders’ stadium, shuts off a major public funding source. Beyond that, some compensation is due to the Aviators, who would themselves need relocation and whose ownership group owns the Summerlin ballpark. That’s the case whether a new Vegas ballpark is built near the Strip, in Summerlin, or in Henderson as was discussed a few months ago with the D-backs.

Allegiant Stadium, which is approaching $2 billion in construction cost, is clearly on the minds of East Bay fans who feel spurned by the Raiders. Despite that very recent pain, that’s no reason for Oakland to give up its bargaining position when it comes to the A’s. Last month I was rooting for the lawsuit to come to fruition as it could put the Coliseum land sale issue to rest. That reckoning begins tomorrow. Regardless of the outcome, MLB isn’t in the position to decide to open up Vegas to any team overnight. For Vegas to happen for the Raiders required some serious moving of mountains. For the A’s and A’s fans, this is gonna be a bumpy ride. The time for pearl-clutching is not here yet, not even close.