A Confluence of Events

Today we’re gonna have a little history lesson. Ready?

The date was October 17, 1989.

Remember that? It was the date of the Bay Area’s most unforgettable recent tragedy. The Loma Prieta earthquake struck at 5:04 PM, shortly before the scheduled first pitch of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. The world’s eyes were trained on the Bay Area. After the temblor, nothing would be the same.

Houses fell and caught fire in San Francisco’s Marina district. The Cypress structure (880) in Oakland collapsed, as did a segment of the Bay Bridge and much of Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, which was close to the epicenter. When the quake struck I was a 13 year-old in my parents’ bedroom, watching the pregame on a 13-inch Goldstar (later LG) television. I didn’t have a table to hide under. I didn’t seek out a doorway to protect me. Instead I backed away from items that could fall, switched off the TV, and kneeled like I was praying the Novena at my local Catholic Church. The house was a classic single-story, postwar tract home that sustained no damage. After the shaking ended, I went outside and gathered with the neighbors. Power was out and would remain that way for two days. There was a rotten egg smell wafting in the air. Bewildered, we all took stock. There were no injuries on our block, no medical emergencies to further tax the public safety department.

Officials all over the Bay had much more damage to assess after the rescue efforts. The Marina would be rebuilt, as would the east span of the Bay Bridge. The Cypress structure’s replacement was eventually rerouted around, not through, the residential areas of West Oakland. The old structure was torn down to make room for a boulevard called Mandela Parkway. When I visited downtown Santa Cruz as a college freshman, much of Pacific Avenue was not yet rebuilt and would take years to be completed as the region dealt with the recession.

Loma Prieta triggered a series of planning decisions that would change the Bay Area in major ways. Besides what happened in West Oakland, the closure of the Oakland Army Base allowed the City and Port of Oakland to start planning for an expansion of the Port. The quake gave SF the excuse to tear down the unsightly Embarcadero Freeway and shelve forever any plans to complete the network of freeways through the city. That provided the impetus for SF to beautify the inner waterfront area, turning the Embarcadero into its own tourist and commercial attraction. Development creeping southward into SoMa finally resulted in a winning ballpark site proposal at China Basin, on the waterfront near the Caltrain terminus. Out of tragedy came rebirth and triumph.

As part of the Embarcadero rebuild, SF essentially ceded much of its shipping industry capacity to Oakland and Richmond, who were only happy to take up the slack. Miltary cutbacks included facility closures (OAB, Alameda NAS, Mare Island, Moffett Field NAS, etc.), prompting those cities to accommodate workforce transitions however they could. Since then, the BCDC has been careful to balance out the various needs of industry, residents, and civic services on the Bay’s navigable waterways. To that end, there is precious little residential development right on the water. Even the Brooklyn Basin project, which went through its own form of development hell for more than a decade and won’t be fully completed until 2038, was only approved with a mandated open space buffer for public use. Those same principles guide the development of Howard Terminal.

Could a ballpark be part of a grand bargain?

Last month the BCDC released an updated Seaport forecast, projected to run through 2050. The last Seaport plan is over 20 years old, so updates are welcome. The document was commissioned in January and completed by The Tioga Group, a freight shipping consultancy. An appendix dealing with the issue of Howard Terminal was tacked on at the end (page 177). Among the document’s observations include the following items:

About Bay Area Seaport growth and how Howard Terminal fits in:

  • Under moderate cargo growth assumptions the Bay Area will need more active terminal space, estimated at about 271 acres by 2050.
  • Under slow cargo growth assumptions the Bay Area will need about 36 acres more active terminal space by 2050.
  • Under strong growth across the three cargo types, the Bay Area will need substantially more seaport terminal space, about 646 more acres than is now active (and will need to activate additional berth space for larger container vessels).

As part of maintaining that delicate balance, it’s up to the BCDC, Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, and cities and counties to best determine how the extremely limited resource we’re discussing – waterfront land – will be allocated and used. Howard Terminal is not being used to anywhere near its capacity, that much is clear. However, does its current state foreclose opportunities for the future? The report indicates that it would be foolish to do so.

As the analysis of overall seaport acreage requirements shows (Exhibit 199), Bay Area seaports are expected to be at or near capacity by 2050 under moderate growth assumptions, and to require space beyond existing active container, ro-ro, and dry bulk terminals. Howard Terminal would be one option to supply part of that acreage. Howard Terminal cannot, obviously, serve all three cargo types. If Howard Terminal is used for container cargo, other sites must accommodate the need for ro-ro and dry bulk capacity. If Howard Terminal’s’ long-term ability to handle containers is compromised by a truncated berth, ro-ro or dry bulk cargo may be a more suitable use.

Is the best way to utilize a limited resource to give up on it completely? That is the real question here. Not only is there not enough existing capacity for future growth, Howard Terminal’s small size and capacity means it can address needs one way at a time. Keep in mind we got to this point thanks to a combination of back room deals. Port operators sued to get better terms, which led to one of port operators to claim bankruptcy and pull out of Oakland altogether. During the City Council session earlier this week, a representative of GSC Logistics hinted that there’s talk of that same kind of withdrawal occurring again if the Port/City proceeds to build the ballpark at Howard Terminal. If that seems like dirty pool, you’re right, it undoubtedly is. Problem is, what is the line between a negotiating tactic and a long-term strategy? Moreover, what is a proper compromise? The A’s are willing to give up 10 acres of Howard Terminal to get approval from the Port shipping interests in what clearly will be part of a much larger package of concessions. Even if a compromise is reached, it doesn’t address the overarching issue above.

The photo above imagines Howard Terminal with a Ro-Ro (rollon, rolloff) facility built on it, which would be used for transporting cars. The rail spur currently at the terminal would be improved as part of a package of improvements. It’s not stated as the preferred option, but it is an option, and it’s quite convenient that the Tesla plant in Fremont happens to be the closest car plant that could use a Ro-Ro like this.

There’s also a tidbit about Schnitzer Steel thrown in for good measure.

Scrap metal

The three export scrap metal terminals in the Bay Area are located at the ports of Oakland, Redwood City, and Richmond, and each have substantial material handling infrastructure that could not be readily moved or duplicated. Should existing terminals reach capacity, there are limited expansion opportunities within port complexes.

As a private terminal in Oakland, Schnitzer qualifies as one of those facilities that can’t be readily moved or duplicated. So much for my idea from a few months ago.

I didn’t bring up Loma Prieta as some wish for divine intervention to spur civic planning. But it’s becoming clearer everyday that something more than a back room deal will need to happen to will a Howard Terminal ballpark into existence. The shipping industry is particularly livid with their claims about not being heard by the Port/City. Something has to give, and it has to be something big. Getting all of these parties to co-exist peacefully was always going to be a difficult ask. The issues have come into sharper focus in the last several months.

Last week, Dutch shipping giant Maersk announced an initiative to get to zero carbon emissions in its operations. When I read that I immediately imagined Oakland as a completely green port, with supertankers running on biofuels, electric cranes and port equipment, and non-fossil fuel powered trucks transporting goods all over the country. There’s no telling how much it would cost for such a transformation, but there is no better time to figure it out than right now, while everyone’s figuring out how much infrastructure will cost at Howard Terminal. If something like that comes to fruition, it could solve all of the problems that plague this concept: infrastructure, pollution, and traffic. And if that is part of the grand bargain that comes with a ballpark at HT, so be it. Like everything associated with this project so far, there’s no shortage of feature creep.

SunTrust Park: More Braves, Less Atlanta

SunTrust Park in left field as twilight approaches

After visiting the Braves’ new park a month ago and giving it a good amount of thought, I came to the conclusion that in many ways, it is the future of ballparks. That is not necessarily a good thing. The advent of full-scale ancillary development with ballparks will change the economics for some franchises where it’s available. We can’t truly judge that impact yet, so I’m going to mostly focus on the ballpark itself, with some observations about The Battery, the development surrounding the ballpark, along the way.

I’ll start with the good news. SunTrust is a real improvement on Turner Field inside the gates. It’s much more compact and intimate than Turner, while also having more amenities and luxury within. While I’m with the near-universal criticism that the Braves chose to make this move far too early, abandoning a perfectly functional 20-year-old building in the process, I also have to note that ballparks have come a long way in 20 years. I just don’t know that it’s worth the investment, especially if you’re not getting a public subsidy to help pay for it.

Four decks and three separate concourses serve the stadium

33 rows fill the lower deck, which itself is split into upper and lower sections. The club and premium seating sections are all stacked behind home plate, much like Marlins Park. Large group seating exists down the lines, with the Hank Aaron Terrace overlooking left field and the Coors Light Below The Chop bunker beyond the right field wall.

Braves Monument Garden on lower concourse behind home plate

The biggest achievement is the Monument Garden, a spacious and quiet mini-museum along the lower concourse. Suites block access access to regular seats, allowing Populous to eliminate restrooms and concession stands, replacing them with this meditative space. The Braves are the longest continually operating franchise in MLB, and the team will let you know about it with numerous old jerseys, a long timeline covering the team’s history in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, and the various Hall of Fame Braves. BBHoF plaques are mounted along the concourse wall, while their numbers stand in water features in the center of the Garden. While it doesn’t have a bar as in Seattle, there’s a lot more history to cover, so take your drink in and meditate in the Garden for a while. Having a concourse view is preferable, but if you’re going to remove that view, at least give fans something cool like this.

Hank Aaron statue atop Monument Garden

This same attention to historical detail is repeated all over the park. The terrace club allows the patricians to feel the same sense of history without having to share space with the plebes.

Technology is solid, as one would expect with a park dubbed the “future of ballparks.” The two large display boards in the outfield complement each other, though at times it can be confusing determining which one is the main board. There’s a single ribbon board above the lower deck. WiFi antennas are ubiquitous, with internet provided by Comcast. The cable giant even moved its local operations to The Battery, occupying the big glass office building in right-center.

Banks of LED lights can be turned on, off, partially lit, or with strobe effects.

Sandlot kid’s area behind CF

As perhaps an unintentionally nod to the declining popularity of youth baseball, there is no sandlot diamond at Hope and Will’s Sandlot, the designated kids’ area. Instead, there’s a zip line and a climbing wall, which when I think about it, would be neat additions to the actual playing field. Think about it, Rob.

The REAL future of ballparks

The level-by-level diagram shows you the real future of baseball. Every perceived premium space and seat is now at the field, along the infield, and most importantly, behind home plate. I wrote about this evolution in May. With the opening of SunTrust Park, it’s further confirmation of the concentration of high-$, high-amenity seats, as well as the separation of those premium sections from the regular seats. The Rangers’ ballpark is sure to follow in these footsteps, if not surpass the Braves’ efforts entirely. Think about that the next time you sit in 315-319 at the Coliseum. The cheap upper deck ticket behind the plate is not long for this world.

Catwalk leading to upper deck sections behind the plate

Like the lower deck, the upper deck concourse behind the plate has no view of the field. The press box is located there instead, with few amenities (a couple concession stands and restrooms) available. Since there are seats in the upper deck, access to them is granted by stairs leading to a catwalk on the roof of the press box. It’s these inconveniences that make me wonder what’s next in terms of ballpark development.

Pre-construction rendering of The Battery ATL and SunTrust Park

Like it or not, the theme everywhere at The Battery is Coming Soon. While the main plaza beyond right field has retail and restaurant tenants, many of the other buildings to the south (bottom of pic above) are not fully completed. The developers managed to get commitments to thousands of apartment leases, ensuring that there will be some amount of activity when the Braves aren’t playing. Signs on the ground level advertise a good mix of retail chains and local establishments to come. It’s hard to say how successful this will all be because the Cumberland area where The Battery is located already has three large shopping centers in place, including a major regional mall. And with the Braves treading water at the .500 mark, the team for now is a coming attraction, whereas the ballpark is already in place.

I didn’t drive to the park when I was there thanks to accommodations only a mile away. Many of the parking lots are in office parks on the other side of I-75, requiring a stroll over the interstate on a newly constructed pedestrian bridge. Some parking exists at The Battery, though most of it is for VIP’s and residents of the complex. It’s a mess, albeit one I didn’t get to experience directly. Since the area doesn’t have a MARTA (BART-like) stop anywhere close, fans hoping for reasonable public transportation are bound to be disappointed by having to use at least two bus transfers from the Midtown stop. A better option if ridesharing from Midtown, which for me cost about $15 a ride.

My hotel would be in the lower left of this map, putting me closer than a lot of fans who parked nearby

Planning for the ballpark always seemed like a head scratcher to me. The land on which the ballpark and the development sits is 60 acres of former forest land that is sloped down from northeast to southwest. That makes for suboptimal ballpark placement and orientation. The Braves chose to place the ballpark in the northeast corner, with home plate facing nearly true south. When sitting in the ballpark one can look towards right field and see the rest of the Battery. The rest of your vision is freeway and greenery interrupted by the occasional office building or hotel. It’s not a skyline, the site’s distance from downtown Atlanta is too far to incorporate the skyscrapers in the distance. It may have made more sense to put the ballpark at the south end, orient it a more natural northeast, and build the surrounding stuff to fit. The plan could have allowed for fans parked to the north to descend to the park, creating a grand entrance in the process. The location is clearly suburban and while it’s suited for a neighborhood ballpark, the plans reach much higher to be more of a downtown ballpark (there are clear differences). All in all it feels like a missed opportunity.

The Chop House is a restaurant. Don’t make it more than what it is.

That brings me to the most popular criticism of SunTrust Park: the park’s lack of a signature feature. It’s hard to come up with such things when there’s no existing building to incorporate into the park (San Diego, Baltimore) or a small, hemmed-in site to force design decisions. The Braves so far are trying to use the Chop House as that signature element. The effort falls flat because it tries to puff up the Chop House to being more than multi-level restaurant that it is. Even if you accept the premise, the Chop House is not impressive enough nor of a scale to demand that kind of attention. It’s only open during games. Other group accommodations are directly above it, blunting its visual appeal. The Comcast building looms behind it, much more imposing but outside the actual ballpark footprint. I’m not going to call it the whole package “fake” or “artificial” because those are cheap shots that don’t get at the heart of the issues. Over time the place will fill out and wear in like a pair of jeans. Question is, will those jeans be out of style in 10 years? Knowing what we know about the last 30 years of ballparks, the answer is probably yes.

Do not be surprised when teams withhold rent as part of lease talks

The Merc reports that the 49ers have withheld more than $5 million in rent from the City of Santa Clara.

Yawn.

The team is due a rent “reset” that could eventually lower its annual payments from $24.5 million, a figure that includes operating costs. The 49ers like to claim that it’s the highest rent in pro sports, though most leases don’t include operating costs, usually an eight-figure item on their own. Even with those costs removed, it’s still a pretty high rent payment. That doesn’t mean anyone should be sympathetic to the Yorks. Forbes had the team’s revenue and operating income for the 2014 season at $427 million and $123.7 million, respectively.

levis_stadium-36-view_midfield

The 49ers believe the rent on this place is “too damn high”

That said, the system, and the very nature of these lease agreements puts teams in a negotiating advantage from jump. If a lease is about to expire, or if there’s a clause that allows for renegotiation, chances are the team is going to take advantage of it. Let history be a guide.

  • A year ago the Raiders withheld rent as they talked 2015 lease with the Coliseum JPA. The lease ended up being for only one year.
  • The A’s famously had a lengthy brouhaha with the GPA over shorted parking revenue that eventually spilled over into lease talks. After Oakland played hardball with the A’s, then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig pulled the move threat card and Oakland backed down.
  • During the Chris Cohan era, the JPA sued the Warriors three times over breach of contract, ending in settlement.
  • The Giants owned the AT&T Park structure, so their lease with SF was for land, a nominal fee. That didn’t stop the Giants from arguing over property taxes, eventually going to court over the matter.

All of that happened since the turn of the millennium.

In a more charitable world, teams and their incredibly wealthy owners would hold to their contracts, instead not even waiting for the ink to dry. That’s not the world we live in. So we can grouse more about certain owners we disdain as opposed to others we hold in higher regard. It doesn’t matter. This is how teams operate. Since these facilities have such huge mortgages and most of them are publicly owned, it’s the municipalities that get the worst of it. Exactly what can the cities do, anyway? Evict the teams? Cities can and should fight for what they can, but remember that in the end, they’re not supposed to be the winners. The teams are. The deck is stacked against the public.

A note on race and patience

Admittedly, the following is at best only tangentially sports related. Normally I keep notes like this on my personal Facebook page. This time I felt I should post it here, simply because there are a few lessons to learn from it, especially when interacting on the internet. Don’t worry, this is not turning into a personal blog. I’ll have a real sports stadium/business post tomorrow.

Last night after the Knicks-Suns game we crowded into a garage elevator. An elderly white couple hurried in as I held the doors open.

“Floor?” I asked them.

The woman replied, “Four.”

Then she looked at me, paused as if to correct herself, and said, “Cuatro.”

I pressed the appropriate button and looked over at my younger brother, who smiled a little.

When we reached the fourth floor the doors opened and the couple exited the elevator.

After the doors closed everyone remaining in the elevator, including the rest of our crew and some strangers, laughed hard. We went to level five.

Now, as a Filipino, I do occasionally get mistaken for Mexican. My Spanish surname means I sometimes get mail from Latino special interest groups. But I am not offended by this, just as I am not offended by that lady. How would she know? It can be difficult. I could have gotten confrontational or corrected her in a condescending manner. Would that be helpful? Probably not. An elevator is not the place for lectures about race.

My reaction was not about that lady, but about the difficult nature of racial discussions. Even the most trivial, inconsequential exchanges can blow up because of misunderstandings. And while there are still issues with institutional racism and disgusting behavior (Trump rallies), white folks are caught up in a sort of verbal paralysis regarding race and that sucks for them. Not as much as actual practiced racism, but it sucks.

So please, don’t mind if I laugh about it every so often. I’m just coping with the absurdity of it all.

– Brown person.

Hypothetical: If the Raiders left, how would you improve the Coliseum for the A’s?

Before I begin, let me preface this post by stating that I have no information that says definitively that the Raiders are leaving Oakland. This is mainly a thought exercise. The Raiders could conceivably leave for a new football stadium next to the existing Coliseum. They could go to Santa Clara or San Antonio for a few years before returning permanently. They could leave for Inglewood or Carson for good. In any case, this is meant to be a discussion about benefits for the A’s, nothing more. What happens to the Raiders is not under the A’s, A’s ownership’s, or fans’ control. There’s little East Bay politicians can do save for writing enormous checks to Mark Davis. So for the purposes of this post, let’s leave what the NFL and the Raiders may or may not do out of it. 

Should the Raiders leave for God-knows-where after the 2015 or 2016 football seasons, the A’s and the Coliseum JPA will have some serious choices to make regarding the old venue. The main goal would be to make the Coliseum a more pleasing baseball environment for players and fans alike, while not costing an arm and a leg to do so. The cost issue comes into play because, if we’re assuming that the A’s would pay some amount for this transformation, there’s a question of how much they’d be willing to put into this project as opposed to funneling more money towards a ballpark on the same grounds. That’s the tension at play, and when considering the various decisions that have to made cost-benefit should be at the forefront.

The immediate change we can safely assume the A’s will make is to take control of the Raiders’ locker room, one floor above the A’s current leak and sewage-plagued clubhouse. The Raiders got control of the old, 50,000-square foot exhibit hall space when the came back, turning it into spacious locker rooms for themselves and visiting teams. The A’s will occasionally use the area for hosting groups, since the Coliseum lacks proper breakout spaces at any level except for the East Side Club. Once the A’s commandeer the exhibit hall, the old clubhouse problems should go away. The old clubhouses could themselves be remodeled into memorabilia-filled bunker suites or other premium accommodations that are currently lacking at the Coli. It might cost $10-20 million to renovate the space properly, which might include moving the workout room, trainer’s room, and offices at the clubhouse level. Since all of the benefits would go to the A’s, it would make sense for them to foot the bill for the remodel.

Beyond that, changing the Coliseum could go in any number of directions.

Option A: Return to the pre-Mt. Davis Coliseum (cost estimate: $35-50 million). The frequent refrain I’ve heard so far is a call to transform the Coliseum into the pre-1995 version, with the old bleachers in the outfield and the ice plant above it. Doing so would require the demolition of most if not all of the Mt. Davis structure, plus the construction of replacement seating and landscaping. While that would be perfectly acceptable to the A’s and A’s fans, the City and County are still on the hook for the Mt. Davis debt, so the idea of spending more money on demolition and additional seats that would not generate anywhere near the requisite revenue to pay for them doesn’t sound promising in the slightest. Besides, how many years would this configuration be used? Five? I would expect all parties to pass on this plan if it were ever proposed.

Want the hills back? It'll cost ya.

Want this again? It’ll cost ya.

Option B: Lop off the top part of Mt. Davis ($10 million). The best way to bring back the view of the Oakland hills, without incurring the cost of completely demolishing and rebuilding the Coliseum, is to take down the upper part. What’s the upper part, you ask? Well, that depends. It could be as little as the upper deck, which practically starts as high as the rim of the original upper deck. Or it could include removing the upper two suite levels, making the total struck roughly as tall as the original upper deck’s lower rim. The BART plaza, East Side Club and associated seats (Plaza Reserved) could be kept around, though with the large number of obstructed view seats they’d serve a better purpose as an outfield restaurant bar, much like the kind many ballparks are instituting these days. On the downside, there would be a lot of expense just to open up the views. Again, it’s a high-cost/low-benefit situation.

Top of the original bowl is as tall as the bottom of Mt. Davis

Top of the original bowl is as tall as the bottom of Mt. Davis upper deck

Option C:  Leave Mt. Davis as is, fill in foul territory with seats ($25 million). Given the $100 million lower deck renovation at Dodger Stadium, this seems like I’m undershooting things quite a bit. But most of the money at Dodger Stadium went towards extremely well outfitted clubhouses and a large, swanky club restaurant behind the plate. There are some structural things to address, such as dugout expansion and realignment. The bullpens might have to be moved. One way to go would be to scrap the existing lower bowl and make it more like one of the original cookie cutters, like Shea or Riverfront. Chief benefits would be more seating at improved angles, plus additional concourse space in theory. However, it would be expensive to implement and would eliminate most of the views from concourse, at least down the lines. Plus the way the concrete beams that support the Plaza level are only 4 feet above the lower concourse floor, so a concourse expansion would have to be another 4 feet lower than the existing lower concourse in order to allow for proper circulation.

An expanded concourse has its downsides and challenges

An expanded concourse has its downsides and challenges

Option D: Move home plate back eight feet, bringing every seat on average 6 feet closer to fair territory ($5-10 million). Also known as the Ken Arneson plan, this proposal would sacrifice views from the Value (upper) deck in order to bring everyone else several feet closer. I like the idea of the Monster-type seats in the outfield, though I would also like to see a wholesale rework of the bleachers with steeper pitched seats if they’re going to add a premium option. That way the first row could be as little as 8-10 feet above the field, instead of the 15-foot high scoreboard wall that exists in the power alleys. While they’re at it, the metal “notch” sections that fill in either down the lines for baseball (sideline for football) should be replaced. They have a nasty tendency to pool water when it rains, and they’re more weathered than the permanent concrete sections. Changes like these certainly won’t be eye popping or easy to spell out in an offseason ticket sales pitch, but they can certainly help the vast majority of fans without incurring great expense.

The Giants and Cardinals both made changes to their venues as they waited for their purpose-built ballparks to materialize. In both cases, they built fan goodwill that was cashed in when their ballparks opened. Just as the A’s built new training facilities and rebuilt a ballpark in Mesa, a similar investment could pay off in Oakland. It couldn’t come until everyone knew the Raiders were leaving, so we wait. And wait.

The 49ers’ grass problem could be solved with restraint

A year ago, the 49ers got the cherry on top of their football stadium sundae, a highly sought-after LEED Gold certification. LEED Gold had never been designated upon a sports venue previously, so with that Levi’s Stadium was considered the environmental belle of the ball, as far as venues go.

Since then, much attention has been paid to the wonderful green roof, the plethora of solar panels, the wise use of gray water – all the buzz words you frequently read about when a building is touted for its environmental bonafides. Yet all of that has been overshadowed by the one thing that everyone sees on TV, the damaged and dangerous grass surface.

After a couple of sod changes, including a change in the type of Bermuda strain, blame was placed squarely on the gravel-sand subsurface used to get the grass to take root. Anyone who has laid out sod in the yard with their dad knows the typical issues: make sure the dirt isn’t rocky or full of clay. Water regularly and at the right times. Grass is not easy to grow, and even harder to maintain. You’d think the grass – just for the sake of the 49ers’ health – would be of paramount importance. But in ownership’s never-ending search for high profile non-football events, the grass has practically become a barrier to revenue generation.

The easy move, of course, would be to switch to artificial turf. It’s plastic and rubber, is a ton easier to maintain than grass, and is easily removed for concerts and other events. The 49ers already installed turf on the fringes of the field, where carts and other equipment are likely to travel. The field remains grass for now, and the fight to keep the grass in place will be fierce, as this is California, where fake turf is anathema (Cal’s Memorial Stadium being a notable exception).

Replenishing and regenerating grass is not exactly the most green of procedures. Besides the grass that is trucked in every spring for initial installation, a completely separate field is maintained at a Central Valley facility, for use when the stadium field is inevitably damaged. Roll upon roll of the replacement stuff is used to repair parts of the stadium field before giving way to a wholesale replacement. The damaged grass is trucked back to Livingston, where it is rehabilitated. And so there’s this constant cycling of grass throughout the football season. The Coliseum goes through its own version of this, with grass planted before the baseball season, the baseball outfield replaced shortly after the second Raiders’ preseason game, and the entire football field usually once more in November. That’s a reasonable schedule, especially compared to the frequent shuttling the 49ers have to do.

At some point the process will become untenable, maybe not for economic reasons, but for environmental reasons. The drought is the biggest player here. More than a dozen fires rage around the state, so it seems incredibly insensitive to use so much water and gas on a single two-acre grass field that is properly utilized fewer than 20 times per year. The Ravens and Patriots both had trouble maintaining grass, switching to turf early on in their respective stadia’s tenures. Unfortunately, turf is plenty of its own issues. It’s not an ideal surface for soccer. There are still concerns about injuries, though bad grass is arguably much worse. Now there are issues with athletes accidentally inhaling the crumb rubber “dirt” under the plastic turf blades, as those tiny pieces tend to go airborne on hard cuts on the surface. A class action lawsuit was filed this year, alleging that the rubber has carcinogens. Considering that much of that rubber comes from old tires, there may be an argument there. Maybe not. Either way it merits study. Plus artificial turf fields tend to run hotter than grass fields during the summer thanks to the rubber’s tendency to insulate.

What do you do, then, when trying to choose between thirsty but preferable grass and lower-maintenance but less desirable turf? Easy. Hold fewer events. It’s okay, 49ers. You won’t go broke. The grass will be allowed to flourish. If you’re going to run a dome-like schedule, give up on the grass. It’s not fair to the players or the grass to do otherwise.

Grubman: In Three Years Oakland Has Gone Backwards

Stan Kroenke's planned indoor stadium in Inglewood

Stan Kroenke’s planned indoor stadium in Inglewood

The NFL’s man in charge of potential relocations, Eric Grubman, called into to LA sportscaster Fred Roggin’s radio show today. Grubman fielded a lot of questions, including Roggin’s asking him to assess Oakland’s chances of getting a stadium deal done:

I’ve had multiple visits to Oakland. And in those visits – each of those for the past three years – I visited with with public officials, and I feel like we’ve gone backwards. So I feel like we’ve lost years and gone backwards. And that usually doesn’t bode well.

Grubman’s talking about the same Oakland that passed zoning changes and an EIR for Coliseum City, so from the process standpoint Oakland hasn’t gone backwards in the slightest. The financing piece is what remains a mystery, and I think I know why.

Coliseum City in dreamier times

Coliseum City in dreamier times

Three years ago, the big money tied to Coliseum City was Forest City, a proven mega-developer. They determined early in the vetting period that they weren’t going to make money, so they cut their losses. Colony Capital and HayaH Holdings took Forest City’s place. Rumors of other kinds of exotic financing surfaced (EB-5 visas, Crown Prince of Dubai). In the end, Colony Capital give up too, leaving Oakland scrambling to find someone to pick up the pieces.

Eventually that savior came in the form of Floyd Kephart. Kephart’s an adviser to the money, not the actual money guy, an added factor in an already complicated deal (his company gets a small cut). Over the past several months Grubman has dropped hints that the NFL prefers to have a simpler deal in Oakland, one without a middle man and preferably one not so contingent upon pie-in-the-sky development plans to help pay for a stadium. The league and the Raiders went into Coliseum City wanting a simpler, smaller outdoor stadium, a concept that didn’t take hold with Oakland until last fall. Even now there’s a lack of consensus about what the actual plan is, which probably frustrates the NFL to no end. If you don’t have a set concept for a stadium, you can’t have a cost estimate, and you can’t nail down the financing. Meanwhile, Stan Kroenke has financing down in Inglewood, the NFL is giving credit to St. Louis on its efforts to get public financing, and newcomer Carson, which has numerous details not in place, at least has Goldman Sachs working with the Chargers and the Raiders on 49ers-style financing for the shared stadium.

Over time the big question overshadowing Coliseum City has only gotten bigger. Everyone involved with Coliseum City knows this, you and I know this, and most importantly the NFL knows this. I’ve heard so many Oakland fans talking about how the NFL will provide $200 million or Davis can put together $400 million or even more. But anyone who has observed the NFL stadium loan process knows that the money is anything but a given. It’s directly tied to achievable stadium revenues, and is not the foundation upon which a stadium financing plan is built. Other financing has to be the foundation. The NFL awards a G-4 loan only after everything else is secured. Maybe Kephart has an ace up his sleeve that will help him deliver the project. Right now it’s easy to peg Oakland as the most behind the eight-ball in terms of actually building a stadium. Despite that gloomy outlook, things may play out in a way that keeps the team in Oakland – even without a new stadium on the horizon. Grubman advised against anyone putting forth definitive statements about any team’s future, and I agree completely. There are too many variables, too many possibilities to say anything with real confidence.

The other thing I’ve noticed over the past few weeks is how the media has covered the teams’ stadium prospects in the different markets. LA media is fired up about at least one team coming as they haven’t been in 20 years, with the Daily News and the Times providing unrelenting coverage and talking heads like Roggin regularly talking about it on the radio. San Diego sports radio has tried to prop up site alternatives in the city while the Union Tribune has constantly beat the stadium drum, led by columnist Nick Canepa. The Post Dispatch has worked the St. Louis and State of Missouri efforts, with Bernie Miklasz writing quite a bit about the Rams’ travails – at least until spring training started.

In the Bay Area? You have news coverage from the Chronicle and BANG, plus in-depth stuff from Bizjournals. Columns and radio air time have been remarkably light on the Raiders’ stadium issue, especially when compared to the 49ers’ move to Santa Clara and the A’s efforts to leave Oakland. I can’t figure out exactly why. Sure, the nomadic history of the Raiders has to be a factor, as is the Davis name. There has to be more to it, though. Are people tired of the stadium saga? Are they coming to grips with the idea that at least one team will leave the Coliseum complex? There are supporting fan/civic groups in the East Bay, but they don’t have big voices. In the past Dave Newhouse would’ve been the guy screaming bloody murder about it all, these days it’s Matier & Ross sprinkling in a scare once in a while. The loudest voice is a college-aged superfan from the Sacramento area who knows little about politics, especially Bay Area politics. If a decision is made to move the Raiders in the next year or so, many will be left wondering how it all happened, and they can start with the media. The flip side of this light coverage is that there are no frequent calls to provide public financing, a refreshing change of pace.

Hell, I’m only interested in the Raiders insofar as it affects the A’s. If the Raiders leave in 2016, that’s fine with me since I can focus on what it’ll take to build a new ballpark for the A’s at the Coliseum. I’d love to be more empathetic, but frankly I’ve been waiting 20 years for a proper ballpark for the A’s, half of those years writing this blog. The quicker the A’s can determine their own future the better. And if that means the Raiders are gone, so be it.