Getting to Yes

Before I begin, I’m going to direct you to two blog posts on other sites. The first, by Jeff August, is at his own site, Jeff August Ego Trip. Jeff is a good friend and remains in the credits in the sidebar, though he hasn’t contributed to this site for several years. His viewpoint on Howard Terminal evolved over time, and while I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about it and I disagree with his conclusion, I fully respect it because it comes from an honest place.

The other link is from Alex Espinoza’s blog, The Rickey Henderson of Blogs. Espinoza did the inhuman task of compiling observations from Tuesday’s extraordinarily long Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting. The 6,000-word entry is truly impressive in its scope. I admitted to him while reading it that there’s no way I would try to take such notes as I would have to watch it twice to do so.

Espinoza also interviewed me before the baseball season started to discuss ballpark stuff and economics. If you haven’t checked out that podcast episode yet, you should.

After reading both posts, I immediately recalled comments made by Oakland City Administrator Betsy Lake regarding the planning aspects of the Howard Terminal Ballpark project. Lake considered the current A’s/City proposal fiscally irresponsible. Lake was asked by Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan about why the City is going through with the Howard Terminal if it’s not expressly for the purpose of building a ballpark. That brought on the following awkward exchange:

That brings me to the belated thesis of this post. It would be one thing if the A’s built a ballpark on a 14-acre city block downtown, one that conformed with the existing city and neighborhood plans. The A’s, to my complete befuddlement, are instead proposing a mega-development with its own taxing authority (HT IFD), with ancillary infrastructure funded by a separate taxing authority (JLS IFD), yet nothing is being done to amend the City’s Downtown Specific Plan or West Oakland Specific Plan to properly accommodate those changes. The Downtown Oakland Specific Plan and EIR are still in Draft form and don’t include Howard Terminal, an odd choice given that Howard Terminal is being promoted as at least downtown-adjacent. It’s entirely a cart-before-horse scenario.

At the Oakland Planning Commission hearing in April, there was a mention of the Google Downtown development in San Jose, which went through the full planning process including a certified EIR. Not only that, San Jose expanded its definition of Downtown San Jose to fold in the previously separate area, which includes Diridon Station and SAP Center west of CA-87. Construction begins in 2023. Ironically, the catalyst for that entire effort was the planned A’s ballpark south of the train station. At the time San Jose went through with the exercise with no guarantee of obtaining the baseball club. But they did something that seems utterly novel when compared to the chaos in Oakland: they made a contingency plan. 

That’s right, they had a Plan B. 

San Jose Downtown West, dominated by Google

San Jose knew that as Silicon Valley grew eventually there would be demand for residential and commercial real estate in the newly-minted Downtown West area, which besides the arena was mostly surface lots and low-slung light industrial buildings. It was ripe for redevelopment, and despite Jerry Brown killing RDAs years ago, was assembled for a completely new vision with existing Caltrain/VTA light rail and future BART and HSR anchoring a transit hub, preposterously named the “Grand Central of the West.” Location and accessibility would earn attractiveness for a high-profile employer, most of whom generally avoided Downtown San Jose until that point. Next, the ballpark proposal died with the Giants’ legally upheld territorial claims, San Jose started looking for suitors for Plan B, and Google entered the picture. The rest is history in progress, with San Jose residents asking (and getting) more from Google in the form of a Community Benefits Agreement. Oakland is watching San Jose and is wise enough to take notes. The funny thing is that Oakland started pursuing Howard Terminal as a ballpark site years before San Jose did theirs. If you count the original HOK study which featured Howard Terminal, the site has been in an on/off pursuit for better than 20 years. Oakland, caught between trying and failing to keep their sports franchises, attracting new non-sports employers, and catering to the needs of its entrenched business interests (Port) as well as its unique and diverse population, showed the kind of indecision that could doom its ballpark plans, even its future as a MLB town.

San Jose Downtown West’s current state is humble and nondescript, not for long

Look, I am fully aware that San Jose and Oakland are worlds apart economically. Not as far apart as Oakland and San Francisco, but close. San Jose did the right thing by expanding their scope, by not limiting themselves to the pursuit of a sports franchise. If the A’s moved to San Jose, great. Maybe Google would look elsewhere for a secondary campus because the A’s partners would’ve gobbled up most of the nearby land. The A’s didn’t move south, which allowed San Jose to have the Adult Conversation about its vision with residents and businesses. That conversation is something I clamored for Oakland to have since nearly the start of this blog. It happens in fits and starts, never getting above a din peppered with occasional protests. Recently, Oakland asked Alameda County to participate in the Howard Terminal IFD by pledging its share for the on-site infrastructure. County Supervisors were taken aback, though if they were honest, they should’ve seen it coming and prepared for it. I didn’t expect Oakland to pull this off on its own. No one should have given how dysfunctional Oakland is. That said, Alameda County sold its half of the Coliseum in an effort to get out of sports. The Supervisors’ outrage at being put in this situation by Oakland is consistent with previous actions.

Unfortunately, the confusion over Oakland’s plans (or lack thereof) is also consistent with its previous actions. Friends, that is not a good sign. The Supervisors and their Oakland City Council counterparts put a positive spin on how things are progressing. HT supporters slurp it up without bothering to inspect the problems beneath the surface. The bottom line is that the Council is divided. The Board of Supervisors is also divided. Everyone wants to get to Yes, as Supervisor David Haubert suggests. The problem is that no one knows what Yes means except in the most vague, general terms. As Jeff pointed out in his post, 33 regional/state/federal agencies have to approve this project. Howard Terminal should be part of the Downtown Specific Plan, but that would have first required removing its maritime designation, cleaning up and disposing of the land through a public process, and numerous other steps which can’t start because of related complications. According to the A’s, time’s running out for Oakland. I don’t believe that because I believe in practical, real solutions. The A’s and MLB’s greatest tactical weapon is to ratchet up the tension on Oakland to get their desired outcome, whatever that is, however long that takes. They’ll do it again and again until they see results. It’s easy to confuse tactics with strategy, which so far the A’s and baseball have not shown an ability to execute either in Oakland or Tampa Bay. Yes, in absolute terms the A’s could move, but MLB has made it intentionally difficult to do so. I wouldn’t worry about that in the near term. Right now there’s a drought and a heat wave in the Bay Area. It’s not even summer yet! Frankly, it feels poetic.

Be safe out there.

P.S. – Google is not moving its headquarters away from Mountain View.

P.P.S. – The City of Oakland will release a revised term sheet after its study session on July 7. The release will occur no later than 7/16, which will give them 4+ days to review the terms prior to the 7/20 vote. My reaction to that news:

6/15 Alameda County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Howard Terminal

I spent over six hours livetweeting this thing for you.

You can see the full thread at the link below:

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1404907134270152705.html

There’s also a 9-page PDF digest version.

What you need to know is this:

I’ll drop in more of the select tweets as I go through the night. Enjoy the process.

My favorite moment of the long night:

Followed closely by this:

Looking ahead:

2021 Travel Grid

We’re more than a quarter through the 2021 season. Personally, I didn’t feel good about releasing the Travel Grid until I saw restrictions loosening to the point when people could start coordinating trips. So here we are. On the day media were allowed back on the field at the Coliseum, I finished the Travel Grid. The latest Travel Grid comes in three formats:

Excel

PDF (regional)

Google Sheets

Enjoy. I’ll go to the A’s-Rangers series in Arlington in a couple weeks, Oakland for a Padres-A’s game in August, and if time allows, the A’s-Blue Jays series in Buffalo (assuming they’re still playing in Buffalo) around Labor Day.

Ghost of Blue Ribbon Panel Speaks Out in Favor of… The Coliseum

Former Giants VP Corey Busch, who was part of Bud Selig’s Blue Ribbon Panel to study the A’s future in Oakland (and San Jose) a decade ago, was interviewed by the Merc’s Shayna Rubin yesterday. And boy, did Busch had some thoughts.

The big reveal was Busch’s belief that former Giants owner Bob Lurie was never going to ship the team to Florida. Selling the team was, as Busch recounted, merely a ruse to motivate a local buyer for the franchise, which eventually happened when Peter Magowan stepped up. That’s not to discount the tremendous amount of drama at the end of Lurie’s ownership tenure, which involved St. Petersburg and dalliances with San Jose and Santa Clara. Exploration of the South Bay included A’s owner Walter Haas agreeing to cede Santa Clara County to the Giants, which was previously an unassigned territory for MLB’s purposes. The South Bay is now and forever San Francisco Giants territory, even though they will probably never play a game there.

Busch also went out of his way to defend the Coliseum, decrying A’s ownership’s desire for a downtown ballpark – and only a downtown ballpark – at Howard Terminal.

Busch determined the Coliseum site was viable in 2014 on Selig’s blue-ribbon committee to explore ballpark options. He still attests the A’s can build the ballpark village of their dreams around the site. MLB and the A’s declared this month that the Coliseum site “not viable” as a location for a new park.

“The notion that the Coliseum, if properly developed in its totality, is not acceptable is kind of silly. It’s nonsense,” Busch said. “I know for a fact there are people in the commissioner’s office who know the Coliseum site is a good site.”

All Bay Collective’s 2018 Estuary Commons concept (Coliseum/Airport area)

Right now the Coliseum is not in the conversation due to the stubbornness of ownership. At some point it will re-enter the picture, unless everything from this point forward falls in line for Howard Terminal. For all their posturing, the A’s still continue to attempt to buy the City’s half of the Coliseum. And even though Dave Kaval announced the A’s were on “parallel tracks” with Oakland and Las Vegas (I thought there was no “Plan B”?), it’s not hard to see a third path, one that brings them back home.

Scrounging Around For Loose Change

Late last night there was a flurry of legislative news out of Carson City, NV. It included the following:

In this case, Clark County would have been allowed to increase sales taxes to help fund a ballpark somewhere in the county using STAR (Sales Tax Anticipated Revenue) bonds. Thankfully, local legislators saw the folly in the proposal and nixed the idea, having seen evidence of their minimal efficacy in Northern Nevada. That didn’t stop Southern Nevada lobbyists from pushing for it.

Lobbyist Warren Hardy, representing a consortium of Southern Nevada governments, said there was interest in allowing STAR Bonds and tourism improvement districts as a potential “tool in the toolbox” for developers — including potentially the Oakland A’s, who have publicly floated moving the professional baseball team to Las Vegas.

STAR bonds couldn’t practically fund most of a ballpark because the actual sales tax revenue generated annually by a ballpark isn’t enough to service the debt. Let’s say that a new ballpark brings in $200 million a year. If you take a 5% sales tax from those sales (tickets, merchandise, etc.) it nets $10 million in bond-associated revenue. That’s not going to fund squat these days. If you create a mega-development around the ballpark that could draw more tourists and their revenue you might have a shot. You’d need a development that brings in $1 Billion a year to get to $50 million in set asides for a ballpark. Currently, Clark County’s sales tax is 8.375%, and you’ll be funding a black hole that traps tourist revenue while suffocating other businesses in the area. I can’t imagine the privately-funded gaming interests going for that.

That said, lobbyists have their toolbox. Who knows what they’ll pull out of it next?

-.

Meanwhile, in the East Bay, the A’s are scrounging for Howard Terminal support.

Admittedly I’m being rather passive aggressive about this. Such is Twitter. Then again, the A’s want a vote in July before the City of Oakland fully studies the proposal, and the City wants the County to pledge its share of property taxes to the project. I have about as much of a PR strategy as anyone else involved in this charade.

Another Prop Has Occupied My Time

Is everyone clutching their pearls tightly?

Oakland’s City Council has a non-binding vote scheduled for July 20 on the Howard Terminal project. If the majority of the council votes Yes, the project continues, including the tangled negotiations for community benefits, transportation, and mitigation for the Port stakeholders. HT proponents, who are mostly a ragtag bunch of volunteers at this point, are pushing the pro message.

But what happens if Howard Terminal gets voted down?

That’s a subject that hasn’t been broached much by local or national media. Honestly, who wants to spend much time gazing beyond the edge of a cliff? Given A’s ownership’s recent Vegas trip, Sin City would appear the be in the lead as a candidate for relocation. A’s President Dave Kaval even nixed a planned trip to Portland, desiring to explore Vegas further.

So Vegas is the ace in hand, while Portland is the ace in the hole. Except they’re not. They’re both bluffs at this point. Kaval’s trip to Vegas was exploratory in nature, with no definitive sites or organized funding instruments at hand. Kaval tweeted from a Golden Knights playoff game, which created blowback from fans. There were meetings with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, representatives from Henderson (where the Raiders training facility is located), and Summerlin (where the A’s AAA affiliate Aviators play). The three options provided are far from ideal. Let’s break them down.

Mayor Goodman wants to redevelop the old Cashman Field/Cashman Center complex to include a domed stadium just as her husband did. As the site is within city limits and not in unincorporated Clark County like the Strip, that makes sense. However, going north past Downtown (Old Las Vegas), past a freeway, and to the Cashman site, is its own cliff in a sense. I visited Cashman a few years ago, before the stadium was converted for soccer use, and well, it’s the same dump the A’s played in 25 years ago while the Coliseum was refurbished for the Raiders, except that it has aged. The concept for now is to level both the ballpark and the small convention space next door and build a domed stadium on the spot. Kaval weighed in with the Las Vegas Review Journal on the subject, including one foul tasting nugget:

Domed stadium? Say it ain’t so, Dave.

Henderson doesn’t have a specific site to offer up to the A’s yet. Summerlin’s plan would presumably be to build the dome over the curiously named Las Vegas Ballpark. Both Henderson and Summerlin are 10 miles from the Strip, in nicer neighborhoods than Cashman. As I considered the options, the A’s and MLB’s likely strategy became clearer to me. It all comes down to Vegas’s previous successes with the NHL (Golden Knights) and NHL (Raiders). Though we haven’t heard about it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the recently vacated Sam Boyd Stadium enter the picture. It’s also 10 miles away (east) of the Strip.

If MLB considers Vegas a small market from a population and TV audience size perspective, any relocation or expansion-to-Vegas strategy will have to include a plan to capture as many tourist fans as possible. In the past that was somewhat controversial for the potential competition between pro sports and other forms of entertainment, but now, it’s all fair game and can be somewhat synergistic depending on whatever events are happening during baseball season. That makes the location of the ballpark key, as a 30-minute ride away from the Strip is not conducive to capturing much of that tourist base.

Last year, Caesars put the off-Strip Rio Hotel and Casino up for sale. There were rumors that the site would make a good landing spot for a MLB team, with space for a domed stadium and a mega-development. Alas, a real estate firm gobbled up the property and is rebranding it a Hyatt Regency among other things. Given how the stakes for teams were raised by Commissioner Rob Manfred recently, it’s worth asking whether The Strip or an off-Strip site is the only location in Southern Nevada that makes sense. If we’re going by the standard of placing a ballpark in the middle of a downtown or central business district, Henderson and Summerlin don’t make the cut the same way Fremont or anywhere on the I-680 corridor wouldn’t work in the East Bay. Never mind that the ballparks for the Braves and Rangers violate the “downtown” standard.

Beyond Las Vegas’s stalking horse status, let’s consider next steps. For Vegas to work for three-quarters of baseball owners to approve a move, there needs to be a clear economic advantage in moving a team there. Southern Nevada had the benefit of a Stanley Cup Finals-bound team in its inaugural year, truly an enviable feat. There’s plenty of earned goodwill to keep attendance strong there for years to come, plus the Golden Knights get the spoils of being the pioneer in the market. Despite the pandemic-marred 2020 regular season, Raiders attendance should be strong thanks to its large migratory fanbase. MLB is different in that so much of a team’s revenue is generated locally from ticket/suite sales and local television rights.

Sportico reports that the A’s pulled in $220 million in revenue for the 2019 season, the last full regular season on record. 2019 also happened to be the last year the A’s received a revenue sharing receipt (25% share), which showed when the team stripped costs to the bone in 2020 by laying off front office employees, minor leaguers, even scouts. The teams in the middle of the revenue pack, Minnesota and Milwaukee, had figures of $289 million and $286 million in 2019. That makes the gulf between the A’s and other small market teams that opened new ballparks recently around $70 million, inclusive of all media and sponsorship deals but without revenue sharing thanks to the A’s big market status. If the A’s move to a smaller market, they will immediately become a revenue sharing recipient simply because they won’t be able to compete with the big markets. Despite the top-heavy big-market focus of MLB franchises, baseball realizes that it needs all 30 teams to compete at least once in a while. If Tampa Bay moves to Montreal or a Southern city there won’t be a revenue sharing change.

The A’s remain a unique case because of its place as the economically inferior team in a two-team market. The traditional markets, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, don’t have strange revenue carveouts or oddly gerrymandered territories. The A’s are a sort of enclave (think Piedmont or Newark) within Northern California, which is dominated by the Giants. The O’s and Nats’ relationship is defined mostly by the O’s owning the sports network that broadcasts both teams.

Howard Terminal or Bust” is effectively the admission that the A’s can no longer function as a big market team under the current operating situation. They must move to a newer (albeit not bigger) stadium where they can maximize revenue. The A’s are only starting to rebuild their radio presence after a controversial online effort. The A’s TV revenue is in the middle of the pack among MLB teams, which is fine for now and helps to stabilize the franchise. Altogether, the A’s exploration of other markets is ostensibly the search for a replacement level market. If the A’s can get that extra $70 million annually through Howard Terminal, the team can stay in the East Bay. If they can’t get that $70 million, they might as well find out if that money can come elsewhere. Personally, I think they’re going to find out that’s a much tougher task than it seems. Local TV revenue is transforming thanks to streaming threatening to make many RSNs obsolete. Radio is a wounded animal, a necessary annoyance. Ballparks are getting smaller while trying to cater a more exclusive clientele. If the A’s and Oakland are going to prove they can hang with the big boys, Howard Terminal is the way to do it.

That’s what they want you to believe, anyway. I’ll have more to say on that later.

P.S. – Henderson, NV, was in MLB’s sights two years ago, when the Arizona Diamondbacks used a trip to Henderson to help pressure Maricopa County to help fund improvements to Chase Field. A ticket tax was approved earlier this month, though the team is being coy about whether they’ll use it. Henderson played its role well that time.

P.P.S. – The City of Oakland is urging the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to fork over a matching share of funds from the EIFDs (Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts) proposed for the Howard Terminal project. One of the EIFDs is for the 55-acres of Howard Terminal. The other is for a large swath of Jack London Square and the surrounding neighborhood, which got me thinking:

I thought Alameda County wanted out of the pro sports business?

Brodie Brazil captured how I’ve felt this month

Just watch Brodie Brazil from NBC Sports California, dissecting the A’s relocation drama point by point, including some historical references. It’s excellent.

I’ll have more to say later today or tomorrow.

Three Oakland City Council Members Respond to A’s Demands

UPDATE 4:40 PM – A synopsis

UPDATE 3:30 PM: The squeaky wheel always gets the grease. Council vote on 7/20.

I’ll preface the following (from KRON) by pointing out that the three signatories to the letter are the most ardent skeptics of Howard Terminal. Read what you will into the letter.

The questions are fair. It reminds me of two bits of fairly recent A’s history.

..and…

In 2015 the City of Oakland released a Coliseum Area Specific Plan. Amazingly, it had real estimates for various types of required infrastructure. Imagine what could happen if the A’s let Howard Terminal goes through a full, proper planning process instead of rushing it.

There’s a lot of additional City-owned land to throw into the pot if they want to sweeten a Howard Terminal deal or nudge the team back to the Coliseum

Ongoing talks over whether the City will sell its half of the Coliseum complex to the A’s are scheduled for May 20. I had a response to that as well:

Infrastructure: Death by a Thousand Curb Cuts

Two weeks ago, Roman Mars of the brilliant Oakland-based 99% Invisible podcast, told listeners that 99pi is being sold to podcast network Stitcher, itself a property of satellite radio giant Sirius XM. He followed the announcement with a rebroadcast from 2018, which I assure you is very good, for reasons that will become abundantly clear shortly. All corporate blowback aside, I’m certain Mars and company will be able to keep up the quality of the shows. 

The rebroadcast show’s topic was the humble curb cut, the sidewalk ramp you’ve seen proliferating in cities and suburban neighborhoods over the past few decades. The episode discusses the origin of the curb cut, which came partly because of the work of Ed Roberts, a disability rights pioneer who attended UC Berkeley in the 60’s and created the Center for Independent Living, whose purpose is to empower those with disabilities.

Curb cuts (or curb ramps in the EIR’s parlance) are the transitional ramps from sidewalk to street usually found at intersections. Initially meant for wheelchair use, they also help people with strollers, bicycles, even wagons, shopping and hand carts. In many commercial and residential areas throughout the country, ADA guidelines dictate the implementation of curb cuts. Those guidelines were revised over the years. Last year I saw a ramp near my house dug up and replaced with a different, more gradual ramp.

Map of project area with locations of needed sidewalk infrastructure improvement

Those of you who followed my story over the past few years are probably aware that as part of my post-stroke rehabilitation process in 2018, I was given a rental wheelchair. It was not powered, and I was fairly weak to push myself around in that thing. It was enough of a hassle that it motivated me to get walking sooner, and with my brother’s help, that’s exactly what happened. Those few wheelchair-bound months gave me fresh perspective on the struggles the disabled go through on a regular basis. I also started going to a gym in the Phoenix area called Ability 360, which is geared towards independent living for people of varying abilities. I got to see a few wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby (a.k.a. “Murderball”) games, which showed me just how tough these athletes are.

Eventually I returned the wheelchair and built up my walking regimen, which these days is 4+ miles (10,000 steps) per day. I may not walk particularly fast (23-25 minutes per mile), but I have no trouble negotiating distance. Yet I’m still concerned about Howard Terminal which, regardless of which BART or Amtrak station you travel from, is easily 3 times what would normally be considered a reasonable distance walk of a quarter-mile or 400 meters. 

Today’s (5/13) step count

The A’s are promising a range of solutions to help bridge the gap to mass transit and parking in Downtown Oakland. The gondola is one of them, though you rarely hear about it anymore. Instead there will be a transit hub with shuttles to the three nearest BART stations and possibly the Jack London Square Amtrak station, which is actually 0.8 miles from the Howard Terminal ballpark site. Ridesharing services (TNCs) should fill some of the gaps, though they don’t exactly remove cars from streets. The project also proposes a Transportation Management Program (TMP) to better route traffic away from the bubble envisioned around the ballpark. Side streets are planned to go on road diets to reduce cars and speeds. A bunch of shuttle buses seems like a highly inelegant if not ineffective solution, which project opponents have been quick to point out. But with a BART infill station in the area ruled out along with a Broadway-based streetcar, it’s obvious that there is no magic bullet to the transportation problem. The A’s aim has been to reach a specific goal of reducing the Vehicle Miles Traveled number by 20% compared to not having a TMP at all, in compliance with the CEQA streamlining bill. How do they do that without a real mass transit solution? Bike lanes and curb cuts.

MLK Way at Embarcadero West outside Howard Terminal: Left side has a curb cut, right side does not

Back to the other infrastructure being discussed. At this point you may be wondering: Why weren’t those curb cuts and bike lanes in the area in the first place? That’s more of a philosophical issue than anything else. In traditional downtowns and central business districts, it makes sense to put in curb cuts and bike lanes to encourage non-vehicular travel. ADA mandates it. For decidedly industrial areas like Howard Terminal, there is less momentum behind such changes because they encourage pedestrian and bike traffic, which most industry wants to avoid at all costs. Cities have to direct scarce resources throughout their jurisdiction, which includes deciding which types of infrastructure should go where. Around Howard Terminal, a large swath of which doesn’t have sidewalks or curbs, that infrastructure will have to built from scratch. That’s in addition to the pedestrian bridge that will bring some – but not most – fans to the transit hub where they will take a bus to BART.

Much of the infrastructure proposal, the part outside 55-acre Howard Terminal that the City of Oakland will have to be funded via tax increment, includes the shuttles, curb cuts and bike lanes introduced by road dieting. The gondola could provide a 5-7% car trip reduction depending on when a game or event is held. We don’t yet know how much the gondola will cost to build or operate, but there is a lesson from the Oakland Airport Connector, which was built by gondola vendor Dopplmayr. The connector was criticized as an expensive boondoggle at the outset which started gaining ridership as airport users became more familiar with the driverless people mover. That usage eventually was negated by the advent of ridesharing, as users decided it made more sense to Uber/Lyft to the Coliseum BART station or elsewhere along the BART network or away from the network entirely. That lesson has to give the City and the A’s pause, as someone has to pony up to build and operate the gondola. As it stands, the gondola is going to be dependent on ballpark visitors, local residents, and tourists. I’m not sure how good a business case that is. If the gondola doesn’t materialize, what does that do to the overall project business case?

With all the debate going on about what defines infrastructure from a federal budget standpoint, it may be easy to ignore the impact of a curb cut. It isn’t sexy like a gondola or monorail. In the long run, the combined impact of numerous sidewalk improvements may prove more useful than a magic bullet solution. All the same, all that new concrete, painting, signaling, and signage won’t be cheap. It adds up.

The real issue is the timing. The A’s are facing backlash from the Howard Terminal project’s sticker shock. Yet they had two bills passed during the 2019 California legislative session to shepherd these improvements through. Wouldn’t it have been prudent to spend some time between then and now educating the public (citizens, fans) about the advantages of these changes? The A’s didn’t do that, probably because they didn’t want to admit how much it was going to cost. They didn’t hire a PR firm to massage the messaging. Now you have random supporters trying to pick up the slack on social media when they are clearly not trained or educated enough to do it. 

What are we left with? MLB’s playbook has always been to intervene when a team’s ownership proves itself incapable to hammer out a deal on their own. Admittedly, Rob Manfred gave the A’s a lot of rope in the past to figure things out, even though baseball chose not to help the A’s with San Jose. We’re at the point where Manfred and the rest of The Lodge are fed up. Maybe idle relocation threats will make the City of Oakland flinch. I doubt the City will take a premature vote on a project that hasn’t been fully studied just because a bunch of A’s fans desperately want it. As I wrote three weeks ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if the City Council let the voters decide on Howard Terminal, taking the decision out of the Council’s hands. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to hear leaked reports about meetings with different cities, all of whom will scramble to cobble together coherent ballpark plans. They might have something at some point. They don’t have anything yet.

P.S. – Check out former Marlins President David Samson’s podcast on CBSSports.com. In this episode, he practically gives up the whole stadium extortion game, which, well, here’s my reaction:

Timeline Slips For Me, Not For Thee

New timeline (8/1)
Howard Terminal Development Timeline from Summer 2020

A good percentage of the A’s fanbase loved the team’s #RootedInOakland campaign and saw it as a movement. In the most optimistic of terms, it would build a new ballpark which would act as a catalyst for a downtown renaissance, which happened across the Bay 20+ years ago when the Giants moved to SoMa. It would establish Oakland’s waterfront as a major tourist attraction, more than merely Jack London Square. Most importantly, it would keep the green and gold in Oakland. The term sheet submitted by the A’s even has a non-relocation agreement, the better to calm that nervous fanbase. (Many recent stadium deals have standard non-relocation clauses.)

MLB’s “good cop” routine is out the window now that it gave the A’s its blessing to explore markets outside of Oakland. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred set the price for new expansion teams at around $2.2 Billion. In doing so, he also set the price for relocating teams to new cities, which won’t have the luxury of having a newly relocated team play in an old multipurpose stadium or a souped up AAA park for a few years while they work out a MLB ballpark plan.

I’m not going to tell you not to worry about the A’s leaving. Some hypothetical mega-billionaire not named Fisher could swoop in, drop a couple of those billions on the A’s, spend even more on a ballpark plan and MLB will wave the team’s exodus through like a traffic cop. That person could also do the same for Oakland, though that’s like hoping that climate change doesn’t really exist. I am going to tell you that road to make that happen is long, steep, and not for the faint of heart. Sure, the A’s current lease at the Coliseum runs out in 2024. Can you think of a market that will have a brand-new, MLB-ready ballpark for 2025? I can’t. Maury Brown covers this in some detail at Forbes, which is worth reading because as he points out, the A’s are effectively limited to candidate cities in Western North America (Las Vegas, Portland, Vancouver, maybe Sacramento). The Eastern cities are effectively reserved for the Rays if they relocate (Charlotte, Nashville, Montreal). This prevents the two economically-challenged franchises from competing against each other for stadium deals. It also prevents most potentially awkward realignment scenarios.

A man (or team) is only as faithful as his options

Yesterday, Dave Kaval admitted that the ballpark plan’s timeline has extended to the point that an Opening Day couldn’t happen before 2027. Little explanation was given as to why. We can piece together the usual problems that we’ve identified from the beginning: cleanup, a lack of infrastructure to support it, and now, the eye-watering $12 Billion total price tag on the project. Simply put, it’s incredibly hard. There are still plenty of supporters who say it’s worth it. Maybe it is. Not surprisingly, I remain unconvinced. It was going to be hard 4 years ago, it was going to be hard 8 years ago. The A’s made some procedural progress, lacking major deal points. The Athletic’s Alex Coffey reported last night that MLB is stepping up as the muscle behind the A’s demands, which Manfred also offered to do in 2017 when the site focus was Laney/Peralta.

Despite another timeline setback, the A’s continue to push for a City Council vote on Howard Terminal before the August recess. Why would they do that, despite the proposal existing as a 6,000-page napkin sketch? The explanation is actually quite simple. Mayor Libby Schaaf made news earlier this week by unveiling her budget for 2021-23. It’s Schaaf’s last budget before she’s termed out. I won’t get into the particulars of the budget as that’s not my beat, but I will say that the A’s being urged to look elsewhere by MLB is an unwanted distraction to put it mildly. For her part, Schaaf continues to promote HT.

With the timeline extended, Howard Terminal suddenly becomes the one of the last major non-policy proposals of Schaaf’s tenure. Does she stick it out through the probably bitter end? And what of the 2022 mayoral race, whose candidates are only starting to announce their campaigns? Does Howard Terminal become a major campaign tentpole, which Schaaf hands off to her successor? What about the Coliseum as an alternative? Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan ran for mayor twice and is likely to be a candidate again. For years Kaplan has been the strongest proponent of building at the Coliseum, which the A’s ruled out in short order yesterday. There will surely be at least one candidate who will champion Howard Terminal as much as Schaaf. How much traction will that provide in what will surely be a contentious race? From a 50,000-foot view, it looks like the A’s are aware that there’s no champion waiting in the wings. Their rush to lock in the deal this summer reflects that uncertainty.