Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Odd Couple, or Here We Go Again

It's more than two months old this time and it's getting stale. But in fact, it's just a reprise of the idea that first floated to the surface back in January: A marriage of convenience between Al Davis' Raiders and the York family's 49ers.

Now, the problem isn't the Raiders themselves, but the team's owner, Al Davis, who has been hauling multiple parties into court and suing them since before the Raiders split from Los Angeles. Millions of dollars in legal fees have been squandered by all sides - and that level of litigiousness certainly makes this Santa Claran wonder why the idea is even being proposed - again.

We thought this was properly dealt with back in January by Raiders Chief Executive Amy Trask, who simply said in essence that the Raiders would be concentrating on the current season in a stadium they're simply thrilled with, and that they are not actively seeking out the 49ers as business partners.

But like a zombie, this 'joint stadium' idea has come to life once again, walking the streets by night and claiming more victims, many of them credulous 49er Faithful. This time, on May 29, a columnist from the Sacramento Bee blew some more zombie powder in the creature's face.

True 49ers-Raiders synergy? Not a chance - and to their credit, neither author above really attempts to make such a limp case. Rather, the 'sticker shock' of what will likely be a one-billion-dollar stadium proposed for our City of Santa Clara has some 49ers business-office people looking for more ways to make others feel their pain.

But what the article fails to underscore is that any such partnership of the Yorks and Al Davis makes Davis a partner of the City of Santa Clara as well. Santa Clarans should be looking at any such agreement with deep suspicion, based on Davis' past dealings with the County of Alameda. Such a cooperative venture involving Mr. Davis may turn out to be anything but "cooperative".

In fact, Al Davis' latest lawsuit against the NFL was finally thrown out by the California Supreme Court only on July 2. If all we have to look forward to in any future dealings with Mr. Davis is more frivolous litigation, this Santa Claran strongly suggests that our guest be handed his hat and escorted to the door.

Note also that the Raiders' lease at McAfee Coliseum is over in 2010; they'll have to do some real tap-dancing to keep themselves there year-to-year until 2012. But Alameda County and the City of Oakland are still on the hook for the $200M worth of debt they used to fix up the Coliseum in 1996 - and that debt, on which Oakland and the County pay roughly $11M per year, will not be retired until the year 2025.

The likelihood of the NFL allowing another franchise into McAfee, with two teams just down the road? Just about nil. If Lew Wolff does finally get the green light to move the A's to Fremont, only the Warriors will be left in the smaller Oracle Arena. We note a similar situation from the 1990s, when both the Rams and the Raiders left Los Angeles.

All of this makes one wonder how long the 49ers will commit to staying in Santa Clara. Now, that will be at least until Santa Clara pays off its obligations in the years 2033 or 2038, right? Hello?

You could also ask Oaklanders about their likely reaction to Al Davis and his Raiders skipping out on yet another dinner check in any move to Santa Clara - but you'll probably want your kids out of earshot first.

Now, there is an idea in the latest article that that should get honorable mention: Having Al Davis and the Raiders be full contributing partners in any stadium - as long as that lets the City of Santa Clara completely off the hook.

That's mere speculation on the part of one sportswriter right now. So kindly permit this reader to take his suggestion one step further: If the two teams prove they're serious about this - that they'll (1) finance the entire stadium cost privately, (2) assume total ownership of the stadium, (3) mitigate its use of all City services such as police overtime and (4) waive any and all tax abatements - this stadium opponent might get on board.

But if Al Davis, whose team is in financially worse shape than most of the other NFL franchises, jets down from Oakland demanding the currently-proposed level of corporate welfare from the City of Santa Clara, we residents should be up in arms: If the millionaire owners of the 49ers are not entitled to a public dole of over two hundred million dollars, the Raiders - after the litany of abuses by their owner in Oakland - certainly are not entitled to benefit from that giveaway either.

Al Davis could end up costing the City of Santa Clara a lot more than he's worth. Just ask the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Remembering Bill Walsh

First, I’d like to express my condolences to Bill Walsh’s family, the San Francisco 49ers and their fans on the death of this great man.

Bill Walsh was a man I admired. He brought intelligence and creativity to football. Each game was like a carefully planned chess match, but with a difference. He taught his players to adapt quickly to changing situations and to take advantage of opponents’ mistakes. He motivated them to strive to be better than they ever imagined they could be.

In the early 80’s the 49ers under Walsh’s tutelage were truly golden. I know; I was a fan. I saw “The Catch” and couldn’t believe my eyes. My then ten-year-old son and I bonded by planning and hosting a party for Superbowl XVI. I was a single mom and scored major “cool” points with my son and his friends for doing this.

However, we never attended any games; we couldn’t afford to. My salary barely paid the rent and other bills; we lived month-to-month. But we cheered for the team when we watched them on TV.

Now my son has a family of his own. He works in a blue-collar job in the Pacific Northwest. They can’t afford to go to football games either. Ticket prices are too high. Concessions are too expensive. Parking fees prevent them from parking anywhere near the stadium. And the kids get too tired walking long distances to and from the game.

Instead, they attend their local baseball teams’ games. The team offers “family packages” at an affordable price that include four tickets, hot dogs, and drinks. There’s a playground at the stadium for the kids. Parking is free. Players are accessible. There are even fireworks after every game.

So you see I’m not against sports, the 49ers, or football stadiums in general. I just don’t want my city to be burdened by even further debt when by 2012 (according to the city’s own budget projections-see note below) Santa Clara’s general fund will once again show a deficit.

And I want a stadium that is accessible to all, not just a few.

Using the new Arizona Cardinals stadium as an example I did a search for tickets in the “nosebleed” seats for the Cardinals vs. 49ers game in Arizona on Nov. 25, 2007. Single tickets cost $67.00 each. In addition, they add a $10.10 “convenience charge” and a $4.50 “building facility fee” for each ticket. That adds up to $326.40 for four people for one game not counting food or parking.

I understand, of course, that perhaps a ticket for a child may not cost as much, but the Cardinals’ web site doesn’t indicate that. And season ticket holders would pay a bit less per ticket. Still, that’s one heck of a lot of money for one day’s amusement. That would be far beyond the reach of many, many people in our community.

Surely in our pursuit of projects for our “entertainment district” north of Bayshore the city could be smart and creative like Bill Walsh. Let’s be flexible and wise and perhaps we, too, can be better than we could ever have imagined ourselves to be.

Erlinda Anne Estrada

Note: From the table “Twelve Year Resource and Expenditure Trend, General Operating Funds” in City of Santa Clara's Proposed Capital Improvement Project Budget 2007-08

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Primary Fuse - On the OpEd by Mike Swift, SJMN, Aug. 2

Mike Swift's informative piece in this morning's Mercury News is a reminder that any decision on a stadium in Santa Clara for the 49ers won't be made in a vacuum. The politics of primary voter turnout will have an big influence on that question - and on all of us who live in Santa Clara.

I have not a clue of how Santa Clarans would vote on a stadium in February 2008 or next June. But I would urge all City residents: If you live in Santa Clara and you are not registered to vote, please do so with the County Registrar immediately. If you don't vote, others will be making the stadium decision on your behalf - and on behalf of future generations of Santa Clarans.

I appeal to residents North of U.S. 101 in particular. I note that no one from the North Side is seated on our City Council. One way to assure that your neighborhoods are not treated as mere extensions of an overblown entertainment district is massive, all-out participation in any election that is held.

Finally, as to any question of an 'advisory' vote - which would simply permit our City Council to do anything it pleases after merely tolerating the noise and haste of citizen input - please write, email, telephone the City Council, and make abundantly clear that any 'advisory' vote is completely unacceptable:

For the sheer size of the commitment on the part of us as Santa Clarans, and due to the several generations of Santa Clarans who will end up paying for our folly today, we have earned nothing less than a BINDING resolution on any billion-dollar public project - a project which includes a $222M sudsidy to a private, profit-making corporation owned by a millionaires. It doesn't matter whether the City Council raids the Utility Reserve Fund or it makes Silicon Valley Power move the Tasman electric substation out of the utility's own pocket - we're absolutely entitled to a binding vote on any expenditure for a stadium.

We can only repeat what we have long held, and what the pro-stadium forces refuse to address: The Yorks should be buying their stadium themselves, and not demanding welfare from the City of Santa Clara merely in order to squeeze more out of the NFL. And if stadium ownership were the generator of jobs and income that they claim, they would have no problems owning and running such a facility themselves. But this they will not do - and Santa Clarans are asking them just why they will not.

Please. Get involved. Register. Join Stadium Facts and our sister organization, Not With My Money. Make your voices - and your votes - heard.

Many thanks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

From the inbox

It's been a few weeks since we've had the opportunity to open up our inbox and post an email from one of our readers, but I'm glad we have the chance to do so this week.

Today's letter comes from Santa Clara resident Susan H., who lives in a neighborhood very close to the location of the proposed stadium. She sent us a copy of the letter she sent to the Mayor and City Council, and we are posting it here with her permission:

Dear Mayor Mahan and Council Members,

We have been living in the area near the proposed stadium site for the past 30 years. We’ve seen changes such as new housing developments in place of where the stable used to be, and erection of the power stations, the Niners training camp and soccer field, as well as improvements to this area, especially the addition of Rivermark Plaza. All was fine and added value to a quality of life to the area residents.

However, I cannot see the benefit of having a stadium near our residential area because facts have always shown that property value will decrease in areas near any stadium, not to mention the noise pollution, environmental pollution, and excess wear and tear on our local roads, not to mention the decrease in the quality of life in our neighborhood. We certainly do not welcome the sound of construction going on for the next few years as well.

Since the City is planning to subsidize this project with public money, then it should be put up for a public vote. You need to allow the public to decide, not just amongst the Council. I urge you to place this up for a public vote for the sake of the residents in Santa Clara, as well as your integrity. This is a republic country and we should have a say so in how our tax dollars are spent. If you do not allow us to vote, then it would be no different from a dictatorship. I urge you to give this much reconsideration and thoughts. I am sure that you would want to leave a positive legacy, not a negative one. Thank you.

Susan H.

It's no surprise that all of us at Stadium Facts share Susan's concerns about the impact a stadium would have on Santa Clara, and Susan summarizes these concerns well. For those residents who live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed stadium, those impacts are even more significant. The years of construction would be just the start. Once the stadium is opened, anyone who lives anywhere near the stadium will have to contend with street closures and restrictions, increased noise and traffic, and increased crime.

NFL football stadiums are not an asset to a neighborhood, and if property values in these neighborhoods fall, the city will collect less in property taxes. In fact, at least one study suggests that simply announcing plans to build a publicly-subsidized stadium can cause property values in the entire city to decrease.

In their study The Impact of Stadium Announcements on Residential Property Values: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Dallas-Fort Worth, economists Carolyn A. Dehring, Craig A. Depken, II, Michael R. Ward found that

. . . a series of announcements regarding a new publicly-subsidized stadium in nearby Arlington, Texas, had a deleterious effect on residential property values in Arlington. In aggregate, average property values declined approximately 1.5% relative to the surrounding area before stadium construction commenced.

Every property owner in Santa Clara, especially those who live closest to the proposed stadium, should be concerned about this evidence.

We also support Susan's call for a public vote on any proposal that would require any public financing for or operation of a stadium. The City Council should WANT the support of the residents for any project of this size.

Thanks for writing Susan! I hope you'll continue to contribute to the discussion.