Saturday, May 26, 2012

Feeling Flushed

Bowled over: Wolff's still not going to sell

Yesterday, A's owner Lew Wolff continued his due diligence and met with Colorox CEO Don Knauss. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Knauss' desire to keep the A's in Oakland. Recently, Knauss, along with executives from Kaiser Permanente, World Market, and Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, announced that he was leading a consortium of East Bay business interests to keep the A's in Oakland. Additionally, he urged the current A's ownership to bow out and allow one of two new groups to buy the team. (Curiously, the identities of these two parties were not revealed; one is said to prefer to remain anonymous and other is said to be fromLos Angeles.) Of course, this new development made the "Stay-in-Oakland" crowd positively giddy. Okay, so maybe Don Knauss took hundreds of jobs out of Oakland in 2010, and maybe he's pushing for a downtown ballpark even as Mayor Quan and city leaders are still swooning over their pretty Coliseum City drawings, but beggars can't be choosers, right?

Ever the gentleman, Wolff politely heard Knauss' rationale. However, in the end, Lew Wolff and the A's remain firmly committed to San Jose.

You're up to bat, San Jose!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Go South!

Greener pastures await you down south, dear Stomper

An astute friend of Baseball San Jose alerted us to an interesting post on Athletics Nation today. AN's BaseballShogun, as frustrated as everyone else by this endless saga, smartly went straight to the expert on MLB territorial rights. In this case, that's Villanova University School of Law professor Mitchell Nathanson. No schlump in matters of MLB legal issues, Professor Nathanson authored 2005's "The Irrelevance of  Major League Baseball's Antitrust Exemption: A Historical Review" in the Rutgers Law Review and 2012's A People's History of Baseball. Here's what he said to AthleticsNation about an A's move south:

I think that if the A’s want to move to San Jose, all they have to do is move there. Nobody is going to stop them. Technically, if the antitrust exemption had any teeth, you’re correct that a ¾ vote could stop them but since the exemption is meaningless, I don’t believe that MLB, or the Giants, would press the issue in a court of law although technically they’d have that right. Right now, the only thing that is keeping the A’s in Oakland is their desire to get along with their fellow teams – they simply don’t want to anger Selig or the Giants’ management. But they really don’t have to do this if they don’t want to. Trust me, if Al Davis owned the A’s, they would have been in San Jose 10 years ago, with or without an antitrust exemption. 

As for Congress, that’s a red herring. They don’t need to engage Congress and ask them to remove something that doesn’t have any real teeth in practicality anyway. Instead, all they have to do is move and put the pressure on MLB or the Giants to do something to stop them. My guess is that the most that would happen is that the Giants would file a grievance with MLB, alleging that the A’s violated their territorial rights. MLB would then compel negotiations between the A’s and the Giants to work out some sort of compensation system (sort of like what happened when the Expos moved into the Orioles’ territory back in 2005) and that would be that. Probably, the A’s would agree to give the Giants a percentage of their cable television income along with a large wad of cash up front. But neither MLB nor the Giants would ever file suit in court to enforce the antitrust exemption.

So, in sum, if the A’s want to move, they simply have to make their deal with San Jose and, as the Nike ad says, Just Do It. 


So, there you have it. (By the way, nice work, BaseballShogun.) All these years later, has this really just been a case of the A's begging for forgiveness rather than asking for permission? And are the A's and San Jose finally willing to play hardball with the greedy Giants? San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo has already raised the specter of a legal challenge to MLB's antitrust exemption. Are we tired of being pushed around? Are we ready to take what we deserve? Maybe it is finally time to just do it.

You're up to bat, San Jose!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An Open Letter to Larry Baer

Larry is the Giants Chief Operating Officer

Dear Larry,

We need to talk. It started a few years back, when Lew Wolff got it in his head that Oakland wasn’t the best home for the ballclub he’d recently purchased. The A’s play in a rundown stadium in a decrepit area of town in front of a dwindling—albeit loud and loyal—fanbase. The organization’s limited revenue stream prevents it from building a consistent winner and essentially makes them a ward of the league.

Enter San Jose. After it became abundantly clear that the City of Oakland has no earthly idea what it’s doing, and the fever dream that was Fremont faded quickly away, Northern California’s largest city was left to reap the spoils: a professional franchise in a sport that actually draws national interest. 

Sure, we have the 49ers moving in next door, but they’ll still bear the San Francisco brand. Then there are our beloved Sharks, who play in a league without a decent TV contract; the Earthquakes, who play the wrong sport; and the Sabercats, who ... aren’t really worth mentioning.

Major League Baseball will always be just that: Major League. And San Jose deserves a taste of Major League action. But you just won’t let us have nice things, will you, Larry?

I’m a third-generation Giants fan. My roots stretch back to the Polo Grounds. I was going to see the Orange and Black 12 years before you and your golfing buddies saved the franchise from exile to Tampa Bay. I was there for the ‘87 NLCS and both takes on Game Three of the ‘89 Series. I was there for the last season at the ‘Stick and the beginning of a new era at the Cove. 

Prior to the 2010 season, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and became a Season Ticket Holder. I was rewarded with the most glorious season of my life.

Earlier that year, the citizens of San José were treated to a poll, ostensibly funded by the San Jose Giants, your minor league affiliate. Residents were asked if they would support a new Downtown baseball stadium if it meant directing resources away from core city services like cops and firefighters.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but that’s the idea behind a “push” poll. You know the answer you’re looking for, and you push the respondent there. It’s a common piece of political chicanery. Only this time, for me, it was personal.

That’s because the poll was actually funded by you and your golfing buddies. The same guys who 20 years ago saved my favorite team from leaving the Bay Area alone to the A’s were now spending oodles of dollars and miles of print to force the A’s out of the very same market. My hometown was caught in the crossfire.

Two years later, you’re still beating the same dead horse, touting your “territorial rights” over Santa Clara County as if we’ve been colonized by millionaire San Francisco lawyers in tailored suits.

What’s it gonna take to call off the siege, Larry? A few more dollars in your bank account? Your own island somewhere in the South Pacific? As Bud Fox famously asked Gordon Gekko: “How much is enough?”

I wish I could help you out, but I just cut a check to reserve my seat at AT&T for the 2012 season, so I’m a little short right now. It makes me wonder how many of those hard-earned dollars you’re going to spend in your quest to prevent San Jose from becoming a Major League City. And it makes me question why I keep contributing to the cause.


Peter Allen originally posted this letter on San Jose Inside and gave Baseball San Jose permission to post it on our blog.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The A's Respond to Recent Rumors

A few days ago, Bay Area baseball fans were thrown into a tizzy after Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reported that MLB was unlikely to grant an A's move to San Jose due to the precendant it would set for other teams. That report has since been denied by both the Athletics and MLB head offices. Still, the A's felt the issue needed further clarification; they issued the following statement this morning

Statement by Oakland A's ownership regarding A's and Giants sharing Bay Area territory:

"Recent articles claiming that Major League Baseball has decided that the A's cannot share the two-team Bay Area market were denied by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig last weekend.

Currently the Giants and A's share the two-team Bay Area market in terms of television, radio, sponsors and fans. Last year, the Giants opened a specialty store in the middle of the A's market (Walnut Creek). At the time, Lew Wolff commented that he was 'fine with the Giants store and wished there was an A's store in San Francisco.'

Of the four two-team markets in MLB, only the Giants and A's do not share the exact same geographic boundaries. MLB-recorded minutes clearly indicate that the Giants were granted Santa Clara, subject to relocating to the city of Santa Clara. The granting of Santa Clara to the Giants was by agreement with the A’s late owner Walter Haas, who approved the request without compensation. The Giants were unable to obtain a vote to move and the return of Santa Clara to its original status was not formally accomplished.

We are not seeking a move that seeks to alter or in any manner disturb MLB territorial rights. We simply seek an approval to create a new venue that our organization and MLB fully recognizes is needed to eliminate our dependence on revenue sharing, to offer our fans and players a modern ballpark, to move over 35 miles further away from the Giants' great venue and to establish an exciting competition between the Giants and A's.

We are hopeful that the Commissioner, the committee appointed by the Commissioner, and a vote of the MLB ownership, will enable us to join the fine array of modern and fun baseball parks that are now commonplace in Major League Baseball."

You're up to bat, San Jose!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Help Support the Quakes' New Stadium

The A's sister team, the San Jose Earthquakes, have a crucial appeal hearing for their proposed stadium tomorrow night at San Jose City Hall. The Planning Commission is considering an 11th hour appeal to the proposal and our friends at the Quakes are asking for fans to come out and publicly support the new stadium. The meeting is at 6:30 PM in the Council Chambers on Wednesday the 22nd.

This is a chance for all San Jose pro sports fans to stand up to NIMBYism in our city. Hope to see you there.

Get on the pitch, San Jose!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pulling the Plug

Tonight, the Tribune's Angela Woodall reports on the shocking development that, due to the governor dismantling the state's redevelopment agencies, Oakland has abandoned its plans for Victory Court, a new estuaryfront stadium for the A's: "We are no longer advocating for Victory Court," said Gregory Hunter, head of the soon to be dissolved Oakland Redevelopment Agency said Monday during a meeting of the Alameda County Supervisors. 

Instead, Oakland plans on putting all of its imaginary eggs into the basket known as "Coliseum City." This hastily-conceived plan is even more ambitious, and expensive, in its intent to keep the A's, the Raiders, and the Warriors (who've apparently left their hearts in San Francisco) from jumping the Oakland ship.

In Oakland's defense, the city and Mayor Quan have really only had a solid year to make contingency plans. Really, what's an ineffective and unwieldy city government supposed to do? After all, San Jose only began dismantling its redevelopment agency (and creating the San Jose Diridon Development Authority) several months ago. On the bright side, maybe Oakland was actually showing some forsight by never following through on Victory Court's promised environmental impact report. Maybe?

So, rest in peace, Victory Court. We hardly knew ya.

You're up to bat, San Jose!

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Stadium for San José?

Despite a recent court ruling upholding the California legislature’s elimination of San Jose’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA), our Downtown has several economic development projects to look forward to.  An expanded convention center, a renovated Civic Auditorium, a soccer stadium, a medical clinic, a bus rapid-transit system along East Santa Clara Street, a BART extension to San José are all underway within 2012, and the airport recently underwent a $1.5 billion expansion.  None of those projects require a dime of General Fund money, and all have progressed despite the RDA’s demise.  As I wrote an op-ed in the Mercury News, San Jose’s optimistic future starkly contrasts that of many cities scrambling to fill the void left by redevelopment’s demise.   

One privately-financed economic development project planned at the edge of our Downtown, a major league ballpark, has captured the most media attention.  Opening Day in San José awaits the move of the Oakland Athletics southward, which in turn requires approval by Major League Baseball and its constitutionally indecisive Commissioner.

As we have huddled around the Commissioner’s tower, awaiting plumes of white smoke to emerge, rumors swirl of an imminent decision.   As hopes are stirred, pundits jockey for microphones, politicians preen for cameras, and lawyers scurry to file complaints. 

The latest: a San Francisco-backed group financed a lawsuit against the City of San José, alleging, among other things, that Council somehow violated the law by approving an option agreement with the Athletics ownership that “commits the taxpayer-funded [city] property to exclusive use …without a public vote.”  Since stadium opponents—some of whom receive financial backing directly or indirectly from the San Francisco Giants’ ownership—will frequently repeat this claim about a City-subsidized land deal, it bears closer examination:

  • There will be a public election by San José voters before anyone constructs a major league ballpark in San José.   Some will debate whether the law actually requires such a vote, but the Council has assured as much by approving my motion on November 14, 2011, in which I explicitly conditioned the exercise of the option contract on a vote of the electorate.  Every detail of the land agreement has been made public, and every dollar will be accounted for before any vote.
  • The City wanted this option—not Lew Wolff.  Contrary to some assertions, the A’s ownership didn’t press for this deal; rather, the City sought the option agreement to avoid putting these parcels under a legal cloud which would take years of litigation to clear.   In November of 2011, with a California Supreme Court decision looming, it appeared uncertain that that the RDA--which had acquired the parcels--would survive the decision.  It didn’t.  By encumbering the property with the option agreement in November, we hope to avoid years of legal wrangling to sort out land ownership.
  • Under even the most expansive view of San Jose’s public investment in the project, the land sale comes at a bargain.   Critics assert that the RDA spent almost $25.2 million in acquisition and relocation costs for the six parcels, and the City’s Diridon Authority will acquire only $7 million in return, at a net loss of $18.1 million.   Consider this $18.1 million public investment in a fuller context, however: it will leverage a private investment of approximately $489 million in new construction, and millions in annual revenues to restaurants, hotels, and other nearby businesses.   For the taxpayers, the revenue produced directly by the stadium will bring some $1.5 million to the City’s coffers, and another $3.5 million in annual revenues to the County, schools, and other local agencies.  That does not even count the additional tax revenues flowing from nearby development catalyzed by a new stadium; the vastly revitalized urban neighborhoods surrounding stadiums in cities like Baltimore, San Diego, Denver, and San Francisco provide ample reason for optimism.  The taxpayers will get their money’s worth. 
  • The City Got a Fair Price for the Land. Under any ordinary circumstance, only a W.C. Fields would advise selling land for $7 million after spending three times as much to acquire it.  Yet the $7 million figure came from an independent appraisal, by a well-regarded consultant, Colliers International.   How so?  Three factors explain Colliers’ low figure:
    • The RDA bought the parcels between 2006 and 2008, before the recession took its toll on land values, while the appraiser evaluated the site in 2010. 
    • When RDA purchased the parcels, the previous owners had aspirations of building housing.  Residential uses buoy land prices.  By 2011, after extensive community engagement, the Council approved a revised General Plan and a Diridon Station Area Plan that precluded housing development, allowing only jobs-supporting uses--such as retail, office, or stadium—on the site.  
    • Most importantly, the City required that the A’s ownership could only take advantage of the $7 million price if they built a stadium—and nothing else-- on the parcels.  So, Colliers used a price that reflected that restriction, comparing land prices of other cities’ baseball stadiums, and arrived at a figure of $33/square foot (about $ 7 million for the 4.66 acres).  
  • If the Ballpark Isn’t Built, the City Keeps the Land—and the Money. Finally, if all goes south, and the Athletics stay north, and no stadium results, what happens?  Under the terms of the deal, nothing: the City keeps the land, the City keeps $50,000 option price, and the City keeps the $150,000 in parking revenue from the site.  In other words, the City is $200,000 richer, and taxpayers keep the land.  And that’s only if things don’t work out… is that so bad?
Of course, before any shovels hit the dirt, there will be much to discuss in public, including the preparation of a management plan for traffic, parking, and construction, to minimize the impacts on surrounding neighborhoods.  Along with the terms of the financial deal, all of these issues deserve close scrutiny.  Let’s do so with a fair discussion of all of the data, and with a mind open to the extraordinary opportunity that lies ahead.


Sam Liccardo

Sam Liccardo is a Councilmember representing San Jose's 3rd District that includes Downtown.  This letter appeared in Sam's monthly newsletter to residents that he gave Baseball San Jose permission to post on our blog.