Friday, December 30, 2011

Poole and Kawakami Blast Wolff and Beane

Two Bay Area sportswriters published pieces this week that must have made Billy Beane throw a chair or two.

The Oakland Tribune's Monte Poole wrote a scathing column that offered the harshest criticism yet of Beane and A's owners. Poole wrote:

The con is kaput, the game over. A's ownership, having run out of patience, isn't even pretending to care about competing, much less pleasing its fans. Dedicated first and last to themselves ... They're quitting, backing away from the 2012 season so early and so emphatically that even Pete Rose, the disgraced hit king, has to scratch his head and wonder, once again, what is the definition of "integrity of the game." How can such a naked exhibition of surrender not hurt the game?

Ouch. It's all true, of course, and kudos to Poole for having the guts to tell it like it is.

Then Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News chimed in Thursday night, saying he fully agreed with Poole. Kawakami called Wolff, Beane and John Fisher "thoroughly cynical owners" who have surrendered instead of competing, "like they’ve surrendered in so many other winters."

Double ouch. But Kawakami wasn't done. He wrote:

You know we say teams are going "all-in" when they go for broke in a certain year? Right now, Wolff and Fisher (and Billy Beane) are receding from play and going "all-out." Nothing left, folks! See ya in 2014! They’ve ransacked the A's roster for every valuable thing they could, driven themselves purposely to lousiness, and are daring MLB to let them move to San Jose or watch out, it’ll get worse. Not a great movie, I guess.

Other sportswriters chimed in to agree with Poole and Kawakami. Lowell Cohn wrote a brief blog about Poole's column that was titled, "Oakland A's equal travesty." He wrote:

I love what Monte wrote and I wish I could have written on the A’s this well and this passionately.

Bottom line: Everybody knows that Wolff and Beane are threatening the integrity of the game in a brazen, almost childish, way. How long will MLB's leadership allow Wolff and Beane to taint the game this way?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Ruling, New Rules, New Era

So the day of reckoning has come. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court voted to uphold AB 1X26, which will eliminate Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs), and to strike down AB 1X27, which would have allowed the RDAs to exist but required them to make payments to the state. For further reading, check out this San Jose Mercury News article as well has the Supreme Court ruling. Also, the KQED Capital Notes Blog has an excellent take, as well.

Now, how does this affect the A's in Oakland? On December 9, we talked to Oakland's assistant city administrator Fred Blackwell after Mayor Quan's press conference. At the time, he expected that the ruling on the lawsuit filed by California cities would uphold the existence of redevelopment agencies and everything around ballpark financing would go on as planned. If the cities lost, then they would have to make a payment to the state. Blackwell said that Oakland planned to make its payment and still issue the needed bonds to complete its proposed projects.

From all reports, that is no longer the case. Now it appears RDAs will be dissolved, and raising the money needed for land and infrastructure will range from difficult to impossible in this new climate. It's unfortunate. However, the proposed Coliseum City project may be less affected than other sites for the following reasons:

(1) The land is controlled by the City/JPA; (2) Environmental costs would be lower due to the fact that that site already has a sports facility and no new reports would have to be generated due to "existing use"; and (3) The infrastructure is already in place. Not that it's all there yet, but it's much further along since it has been a sports facility for the last 40 years. While Victory Court is the ultimate win-win for everybody, we are also realists here.

The death of RDAs has serious implications for San Jose as well. Recently the San Jose Redevelopment agency transferred all its assets to the Diridon Development Authority (DDA), which is an RDA of a different color. With mounting legal battles over the land, it's obvious that the DDA was only put together to protect its assets from the state money grab. Any challenger to the San Jose ballpark plan can use today's court decision as ammunition against the stadium plan. SJ backers are also leaning very heavily on Lew Wolff's statement that he is supposedly going to pay for "everything." Well, not only would that be nearly a first for sports owners, but it also would be very questionable coming from Lew. To this date, Lew has never indicated how he intends to pay for any of his stadiums, going all the way back to his "attempts" to build in Oakland, or later Fremont. It's also true about San Jose today (both the Quakes and the A's). Also, Wolff has been the king of trying to squeeze low-ball deals. He managed to low-ball the city of San Jose not once but twice when he got San Jose to fork over $132 million worth of land for just $81 million for the Quakes stadium deal. He also tried to low-ball San Jose State University for a potential stadium site. A's fans everywhere should be very skeptical of this guy.

What happens next? Who knows? The financial landscape is very different now than it was just a few days ago. I assume we are going to get more details and quotes from the A's and officials from both cites in the next few months. We are entering a new era, kids, so hold on.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Recap of Mayor Quan Press Conference

We went to Mayor Quan's press conference today and here's our recap:

No major announcement was expected today, and there was a mixture of new tidbits and some re-hashing of stadium sites, along with few more more details on the proposed expanded Coliseum project.

Quan was joined by Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell, Councilmembers Larry Reid and Libby Schaaf and Let's Go Oakland's Doug Boxer. Quan started by reiterating the city's support for these projects. She mentioned both Victory Court and the Coliseum area (now being dubbed Coliseum City) as viable sites for a new A's ballpark. She said that the city has already done a Request-for-Proposals (RFP in "UrbanPlanningSpeak") for the Coliseum project. As she also spoke highly of the development potential for Victory Court, a city official issued a copy of that site's ballpark economic impact report, which was issued last year.

Quan noted that the City Council has voted to pass previous deal points. Also, she said a letter to Bud Selig and MLB will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. She says that the city has a timeline to complete this A's ballpark project, in earnest, by 2016.

Next up was Fred Blackwell, Oakland's recently appointed assistant city administrator who was head of San Francisco's redevelopment agency for several years. We are glad he is on Oakland's new management team because of his experience in managing large-scale redevelopment plans in San Francisco. Again, Blackwell mentioned the potential redevelopment impact of a Victory Court ballpark. He said that Oakland has the money to make this happen (more on that further below) and that it offers the benefit of costing less to construct because the city owns the land.
Also, its EIR process would be completed more quickly because there already is an existing sports facility there. He also said that the RFP period for the development of Coliseum City is closed and already has received bids from six major developers.

Larry Reid, president of the Oakland City Council, added that he thinks MLB will make a decision soon. Reid's district includes the Coliseum area.

Doug Boxer, head of Lets Go Oakland, talked about the continued support of the business community and the fact that he already has enough corporate suite sales and naming rights sales to make the a new A's ballpark in Oakland a reality.

Following that there was a Q&A. Here are some of the highlights:

* Quan says either site is feasible and can meet a 2016 opening date
* Blackwell says Victory Court EIR not pushed aggressively yet, but can be wrapped up with MLB decision
* Quan has heard nothing of a deal with the Giants. Says Giants can hold up San Jose for 10 years
* Blackwell also reiterates that no General Fund money will be used for either project.

Our thoughts on all of this?

It was good that Oakland officials held this press conference. With Chuck Reed, Lew Wolff and Bily Beane making waves on this issue recently, we applaud Oakland officials raising their voices to remind people how badly the city government and Oakland residents want the A's to stay in Oakland.

A couple of things to point out. One is the Coliseum site. Many Oakland detractors and Wolff apologists will look at Oakland talking about this and predictably criticize it. Look, we know what kind of a world we live in. The recession is still mucking up the economy, which continues to struggle and presents major obstacles for any city's stadium plan. That includes Victory Court, San Jose's site and other cities across the nation. The area between 66th Avenue and Hegenberger Road is close to public transit, offers ample land, doesn't require a long EIR process and, more importantly, is already paid for. If you are a fan of keeping the A's anywhere in the Bay Area you must acknowledge that it's a very solid Plan B. The Phillies built their park in a similar area in Philadelphia and look at the success they have enjoyed.

Onto the Victory Court EIR. Some have questioned Oakland's progress on the EIR. But consider this, every ballpark proposal that Oakland government officials have presented to A's ownership has been dismissed. Oakland may be doing the right thing by holding its cards close to its vest. If Oakland were to get a go-ahead from MLB, then the EIR quickly would be completed in earnest. The funding for it already has already been approved by the Oakland City Council.

One final point about the money that would be used for Oakland's plan. Much of it would come from redevelopment funds. Some of you might be concerned that the state will all destroy redevelopment agencies. However, I asked Fred Blackwell about this at the end of the press conference. He explained that, based on the expected upcoming ruling of a lawsuit filed by California's cities, redevelopment agencies will continue to exist as normal and everything around ballpark financing would go as planned. If the cites lose, then they will have to make a payment to the state. Blackwell says that Oakland plans on making its payment and still can issue the needed bonds to complete its proposed projects. So, any concerns about the death of redevelopment agencies should alleviated.

There still is a long way to go. However, just like the city government, we remain committed to help making this happen. Let's go, Oakland.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Two Birds of a Feather

Lew Wolff and his tiny but vocal group of apologists are a funny bunch, but what's even funnier is the company they keep. Take, for example, a recent Susan Slusser blog, in which both Jeffrey Loria and Jerry Reinsdorf spoke in support of Wolff's South Bay plans. Now some of Wolff's cheerleaders are pointing to this as a sign things are changing in Lew's favor.

Get serious, folks. Are you so desperate as to associate with these two people? Let's start with Loria. First, he tanked the Expos, who ran a similar operation with the Marlins. He lied about how much money he was making (via Deadspin) and is now the target of an SEC investigation into the (allegedly) shady deals for Marlins Park.

And Reinsdorf? Come on. By crying poor, he managed to get not one but two cites to build him a publicly financed stadium (Tropicana Field was built to accommodate the White Sox, who stayed in Chicago once the new Comiskey Park was constructed for them). He also led the way in forcing Washington D.C. to accept a stadium deal that was 100 percent publicly financed. And be honest -- for all the talk that Cisco Field would be privately financed, in fact, it likely would have several hidden subsidies -- starting with the recent development – where the city is bending over backwards to sell Wolff valuable land for just a fraction of what San Jose taxpayers paid for it.

Before these two crooks are going to dismiss Oakland as being "past its time," first they need to look at their own attendance figures before dismissing our great city.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tale of Two Cities

The A's haven't made any major headlines in the past few days, unless you count the team signing AAAA player Brandon Moss as major. However, two recent moves made in other cities were quite relevant to the A's.

A group called Stand for San Jose (tied to the San Jose Giants Single-A team, which is co-owned by the San Francisco Giants) filed a lawsuit Friday against the city of San Jose, claiming that the City Council failed to comply with state environmental law and city law in regards to the possible discounted sale of land to Lew Wolff for a proposed A's ballpark.

While some have questioned the grassroots status of Stand for San Jose, it bears asking: Is it any less "grassroots" than Baseball San Jose, which solely represents the real estate partners of Lew Wolff?

Meanwhile, Wolff's son, Keith Wolff, also an A's executive, has purchased the Sainte Claire hotel in downtown San Jose. Those who think that Wolff's stadium decisions have nothing to do with his real estate portfolio are fooling themselves.

Also, the San Francisco Giants have opened a Dugout store in Walnut Creek, just a 30-minute drive northeast of the Coliseum. That bothers us. But what really grinds our gears is the fact that the A's owners are blatantly letting this happen and, even worse, doing nothing to compete against it. While spending the past 16 years obsessing about possible stadium locations south of Highway 238, A's owners repeatedly have neglected the fans in their own back yard. Walnut Creek and the rest of the Diablo Valley have been very good supporters of the A's in Oakland. But in the wake of Steve Schott's and Wolff's failure to court East Bay cities, the Giants wisely have taken full advantage and have made marketing in-roads into these areas. In the meantime, Wolff's tiny but vocal group of apologists often have said that the A's should move to the South Bay for the betterment of the "community." It's just too bad that this always translates to "communities other than Oakland."

The good news is there is still time for the A's to regain their foothold in these areas, but it's going to require a new ownership who is committed to making it work in Oakland and the East Bay.