Last week I did a radio feature presenting some voices of A's fans who don't want their baseball team to move to San Jose. While that view is contrary to that of A's ownership, the move is on hold anyway, pending a resolution of a territorial rights dispute between the A's, the San Francisco Giants, and Major League Baseball.
Below are edited transcripts from interviews I conducted with Santa County Assessor Larry Stone and Baseball San Jose President Michael Mulcahy, stadium supporters; as well as an interview with Marc Morris, who heads up a citizens groups opposed to building a ballpark for the team.
There's probably no one who's been advocating for a Major League team in San Jose longer than Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone...
Dianne Feinstein appointed me to the "Save the Giants" committee when she was the Mayor of San Francisco in the early 1980's. Then as the Mayor of Sunnyvale, I chaired in 1988 an effort to bring the Giants to a new ballpark in Santa Clara County.
That went on the ballot in 1990 and it was a five-city consortium, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Milpitas, and Mountain View. And it came very close to passing; it was a 1% utility users' tax increase that the people of San Jose actually approved, but it didn't carry enough in the other four cities to pass.
Then Susan Hammer became mayor of San Jose, and she was so enthused by it passing in San Jose that she decided to try it one more time, just in San Jose, not the five-city consortium. But the economic situation had declined significantly, and it was a 2% user tax instead of 1%, and so that measure failed at the ballot by about a 10% margin. So I've been unsuccessful in bringing Major League Baseball to this county, and I've been trying to do it for 25 years.
I began to work with Steve Schott, the previous A's owner, in the late 90's, and in fact I didn't renew my Giants season tickets when they moved to Pac Bell Park because I was convinced that the A's would be moving to San Jose soon, and I didn't want to pay the seat license fee for the Giants in a couple of years. Well, that couple of years has turned into a dozen, and they're still not here, and we're still waiting for a decision from Bud Selig and Major League Baseball.
To be a major metropolitan area with a core city like San Jose, you need a number of things. You need the arts, you need a ballet, you need museums like the Tech and the San Jose Museum of Art and the Triton and the others. You need good traffic and transportation alternatives. You need parks and recreation. You need colleges and hospitals. Professional sports are just one part of it, not the most important part, but it's part of what makes a major metropolitan area, it's why you want to live somewhere.
People are always concerned about parking and traffic, but here's what I learned from the Sharks. The way you smooth out or dilute the traffic is by having something to do before the game and after the game. People come to a Sharks game way early and eat or drink, and the same after the game.
But the most important component is the number of ways in and out. I go to a Sharks game and I'm on 280 heading north no more than 10 minutes after the game. We have excellent traffic access and opportunities -- 87, 280, 101, or Coleman Avenue to 880. And between the HP Pavilion and the ballpark is Diridon Station. BART will be there, heavy rail is there now, Caltrain, light rail goes through there as well.
The arena (HP Pavilion) passed in the early 90's, by a very narrow margin with a lot of opposition. Today you can't find three people that'll admit they voted against it. And I think the same thing will happen with the ballpark. There's always fears about certain things that never seem to happen. There's some people that are just threatened, by the arts, threatened by sports, and they will always exist. Of course it's perfectly appropriate for citizens, particularly those that reside nearby, to raise questions, and that's what the environmental review process is part of as well. Once those things are adjusted and meaninful concessions made, I would love to see people say "Okay, let's go."
One of the problems with the Coliseum is there are too many seats. In the 70s, I walked up and bought a ticket at game time to the World Series. When you have too many seats, you're not compelled to buy season tickets. And when you're not compelled to buy season tickets, then the performance of the team on the field dictates your attendance. And that's the biggest problem the A's have; they have a loyal fan base, they have a rich history of success in baseball, much more so than the San Francisco Giants, but if you don't feel you need to buy season tickets in order to get a good seat at the game, it's a self-defeating prophecy.
That's why Lew Wolff wants to build a substantially smaller ballpark. There are more Red Sox or Yankees fans at A's games when they're the opponents than there are A's fans. That's embarrassing and it's disappointing, particularly for an A's fan. I think given the issues that the A's are having with attendance and broadcast revenue, that the A's need San Jose desperately. And we will welcome them.
The Earthquakes are here, they're going to build a new stadium, the Sharks have been a tremendous success, the 49ers are coming to Santa Clara and will be a great asset to this city and this county and this region.
I think the A's, as Lew Wolff has indicated, just can't sustain their current situation much longer. And I believe the Giants think if they can cause them to sustain their current situation much longer, they will control the entire baseball market in the Bay Area.
Michael Mulcahy, a lifelong A's fan, is the president of Baseball San Jose, a group that supports a downtown ballpark and the relocation of the A's franchise.
This is that next shot in the arm that allows San Jose to build upon its reputation as the capital of Silicon Valley, the center of innovation. And to build a community that has all the assets that are going to attract good employees, families that want to live and stay and work here.
We've seen in San Jose what Major League sports can do. The Sharks are a perfect example. The spirit of our city is rising or falling depending on whether the Sharks are in third position for the playoff hunt, or eighth or ninth and out of the picture. Because our people in downtown San Jose, the business owners, the restaurant owners, know that their entire month of April and May rises and falls on whether or not the Sharks make the playoffs.
San Jose needs the A's as much as the A's need San Jose, and frankly I think that if you're a California baseball fan, an Oakland A's fan, you sure better hope they land in San Jose because California could lose the team entirely.
I believe that time heals all wounds and winning heals all wounds. And I think if we're in a wonderful intimate ballpark that's accessible by Caltrain, in a downtown where there's all the services and restaurants and parking, I think we'll be able to attract not just those East Bay fans, but beyond...people who live south of San Jose who are two hours plus away from AT&T Park or the Oakland Coliseum. You add the region down to Salinas and out to Monterey and through Santa Cruz and Watsonville -- it broadens the baseball community that much more.
Marc Morris heads an independent citizen group called Better Sense San Jose, which is opposed to the ballpark deal. (The organization is not to be confused with Stand For San Jose, a group which is at least partly financed by the Giants's San Jose Class A franchise, and which has actually filed suit against the ballpark plan.)
We think of this as essentially a vanity project for the city political leaders, and to some extent the business community, that will deliver much less benefit than promised, and cost the city and the residents of San Jose much more than we're being told.
There's the great prestige argument (that sports teams increase a city's visibility). And I just ask people, look at Detroit. Detroit has major league baseball, major league football, major league basketball, major league hockey. What do you think about when you think of Detroit? You don't think "prestige," you think "economic collapse." And you don't have to look any further than Oakland to see the same thing. Oakland has baseball, football, and basketball, and while Oakland has a lot of good things, good restaurants and good neighborhoods, it does not get a great deal of respect, unfortunately. So the notion that major league sports brands your city in any way is silly.
It's fundamentally about money and nothing but money. And the money these days, and the reason for building these new stadiums, is to put in a lot more high-priced seats and luxury boxes that only corporations can afford. And also to build all the concessions in, the places where you buy beer and food and merchandise. That negates the notion that this would generate business outside the stadium, because the whole purpose of the stadium is to capture all the money inside the stadium for the benefit of the team ownership.
We're concerned about the impact, not only on the neighborhoods around the stadium, but to the city as a whole. Even aside from the impact on people trying to get to the game, or to downtown or out of downtown, anyone who lives in south San Jose who's commuting to north San Jose where the jobs are, or going up the Peninsula, cannot avoid that freeway traffic. It's just going to be a nightmare.
Next week's story: economic implications of an A's move for both San Jose and Oakland.