From our friends at the Merc:
Other hurdles, not just Fremont and the Giants, could trip up plans for an A’s stadium in San Jose
Fremont residents this month have lined up by the hundreds to protest a new Oakland A’s stadium proposed in their city. Baseball’s top brass quietly signaled last year it might bend on letting the team move elsewhere if things don’t work out in Alameda County. And team owner Lew Wolff is coming to San Jose on Wednesday to talk stadiums with the chamber of commerce.
Dreaming about the San Jose A’s? Not so fast.
Even if the deal in Fremont falls apart, and even if baseball somehow delivers Santa Clara County from the territorial clutches of the San Francisco Giants, a handful of other obstacles — from a likely referendum to a lack of a political champion to lurking extra costs — could snare any hope for a San Jose stadium.
Although, for now, the A’s remain firmly focused on building a $500 million, 32,000-seat stadium in Fremont, despite new challenges there. And several sources close to Wolff insist he’s genuine about seeing that process through — with an answer expected as early as this summer.
“People always ask me ‘don’t you have a Plan B?’ Yeah, I have a Plan B, but I don’t know what it is yet,” Wolff told the Mercury News Tuesday. “We’re pursuing this, and we’ll know this summer what we’ve got.”
Until then, San Jose quietly waits.
“The biggest challenge to bringing the A’s to San Jose, quite honestly, is that Lew is a man of his word and he has given the city of Fremont his word that he’ll negotiate in good faith,” said San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents downtown. “We have to expect that.”
But San Jose remains a viable fallback. It offers something Fremont currently does not: a pre-approved stadium site, on 14 acres near the downtown Diridon Station owned, mostly, by a friendly San Jose Redevelopment Agency. And Jim Cunneen, an ex-president of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, has registered to lobby in the city for the team.
In Fremont, Wolff is now focusing on a site across from the planned Warm Springs BART station on land to be cobbled from private owners. Both that site and his original location near Auto Mall Parkway have become the objects of intense opposition, by neighbors and property owners.
On the other hand, Fremont’s leaders, so far, have expressed little appetite for a public vote. And Wolff, sources say, remains cool to the costly, difficult process required by one.
San Jose’s rules are firm about when a vote is triggered — any significant stadium subsidy — leaving no such discretion for its council. While Wolff would likely shy away from seeking a direct public subsidy, just as he has done in Fremont, any deal to acquire the site would need to be carefully constructed.
Essentially the A’s would have to buy or lease the San Jose land — which has not been recently appraised — at fair-market value, City Attorney Rick Doyle said. Anything less, Doyle said, may amount to a subsidy.
Not that a fair-market deal wouldn’t lead to a vote anyway, Liccardo said. Given the scale of the project, and the opposition that would likely mount among neighbors if an actual stadium plan coalesces, he says a referendum may make sense. Even when the city approved the site in 2007, neighbors argued it failed to assess the effects of noise and traffic.
“I know there’s been a lot of conversation about how this could be done without a vote,” Liccardo said. “But the best approach is probably the most straightforward one.”
But so far, no one on the council has stepped forward to push a stadium to voters. Liccardo, who says he keeps in touch with Wolff, has joined Mayor Chuck Reed in taking a quiet tack while the Fremont talks unfold.
Some political observers, however, question whether that is too passive, framing the issue as something as big as BART-to-San Jose.
Pat Dando, a former councilwoman and the president of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, said city leaders should be loudly positioning San Jose to swoop in if the A’s break up with Fremont while also selling the move to skeptical residents as a vital investment.
“They shouldn’t necessarily have to call us,” Dando said. “If we hear the rumor, we should be calling them.”
Redevelopment officials, in the meantime, are close to acquiring the final parcels for a stadium in San Jose. One looming issue, however, is a nearby PG&E substation. Depending on whether it would need to be relocated, or just reconfigured, said Harry Mavrogenes, the city’s redevelopment chief, costs could rise $10 million to $30 million.
Unexpected costs, however, could further complicate Wolff’s ability to build the stadium without any public money. Adding to the uncertainty is an ongoing study of permissible building heights near the airport. To ensure heavily loaded planes can safely turn back in an emergency, any ball field may need to be dug into the ground — at an undetermined cost — to keep lights low enough.
Mavrogenes said his agency has been working with the airport and that he expects a height limit of about 120 feet, or 12 to 15 stories tall. Lights at other parks, including AT&T Park in San Francisco, significantly exceed that limit, but Mavrogenes said that would be plenty tall for big league ballpark with mounted lights.
“That’s a design issue, and we’re still far away from that,” he said.
Still, San Jose could find itself beginning that discussion, and others, this year. It’s widely expected that if Fremont falls through, the A’s would win permission to look south, even if it costs them a substantial payment to the Giants, who possess the territorial rights to Santa Clara County. And if that happens?
“If we have an opportunity for a stadium in San Jose,” Liccardo said, “I will clear my desk.”