Undaunted by new obstacles to her city's plan to keep the A's from bolting to another part of the bay, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan insists the city is still on course to build the team a new stadium -- despite a growing chorus of skepticism.
"The question of who is ahead I would say is a matter of where you stand," said Oakland's new mayor, who insists her city -- not San Jose -- is in the better position to build a ballpark.
But experts say Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to disband all of the state's redevelopment agencies and divert their assets to local services creates a bigger problem for Oakland than San Jose.
While both cities are relying on their redevelopment agencies to buy land for a ballpark -- and both cities are facing major budget deficits -- San Jose has assembled more than half of the land needed for a downtown ballpark and has concluded a time-consuming environmental impact report on the area. Oakland, by comparison, has completed neither.
Not to mention that A's owner Lew Wolff insists he's finished negotiating with Oakland and focused on the South Bay.
Yet, as Quan points out, almost two years after Major League Baseball started studying whether the A's could move to Santa Clara County -- nullifying the San Francisco Giants' territorial claim to the affluent fan base -- the team and both cities still are waiting for an answer.
"The reality is that even though you have land," Quan said of San Jose, "you
still have not gotten permission'' from Major League Baseball to relocate the A's to San Jose. "My timeline is less urgent than your timeline," said Quan. "You are trying to woo them away, but the reality is the team is here."
In December, the Oakland City Council voted to spend as much as $750,000 on an environmental study for a new ballpark south of Jack London Square. The study will examine physical and environmental impacts of building a 39,000-seat, baseball-only stadium at the so-called Victory Court site southeast of Jack London Square. In order to build the park on the site, several businesses would have to move. But Oakland officials say its redevelopment agency has $80 million in bonding capacity to buy the land and pay for those company relocations, while San Jose's struggling agency has no such bonding capacity.
Quan said the environmental study is being fast-tracked in less than 12 months.
San Jose's agency, however, is doing its best to stay one step ahead. Last week, its agency identified top bidders for six parcels of downtown land it owns and wants to sell for about $20 million. The proceeds could then be used to buy the last two pieces of privately owned land needed for a 32,000-seat ballpark paid for by the A's.
"There are problems we face because of that issue, but there are two or three ways of putting together the land transaction," said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. "I'm trying to put together a package and explain that to Major League Baseball and tell them we can deliver the site."
Reed resolutely added another well-known advantage for San Jose: Wolff, who has studied options in both Oakland and Fremont, does not want to stay in Oakland. "He's not interested," said Reed. "And that's a problem with their plan" in Oakland.
For Paul Staudohar, professor emeritus of business at Cal State East Bay, San Jose is leading the race for other reasons.
"One is they have a great population -- the sheer number of people living in Santa Clara County exceeds that which Oakland seems to be drawing from," he said. And Oakland, he added, "has not been drawing as much in the way of fan interest," said Staudohar, noting that the team was the second to last in attendance in the MLB last year. The A's drew 1,418,391 fans in 2010, ahead of Cleveland at 1,391,644.
Moreover, Oakland "doesn't even have a shovel in the ground yet," while San Jose may soon have all the land required to build a ballpark, he said. "So unless Oakland pulls a rabbit out of a hat very soon, it appears they will lose the A's by default."
Still, Quan's point cannot be ignored: Absent a decision from MLB for some time, Oakland -- like the fabled tortoise and the hare -- can continue to move its plans along while San Jose remains stalled on the sidelines, anticipating MLB's nod.
March 30 will mark the two-year anniversary since baseball Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a three-member committee to study the A's options for relocation. Committee spokesman Corey Busch continues to decline to comment on the committee's progress. For Wolff, the wait has been tedious. "There is no deadline," he acknowledged. "Bud wants to satisfy himself that he has looked at every possible angle that relates to this decision."
Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics and baseball expert at Smith College, said he has no inside knowledge of the MLB committee's process, though he guesses it has come to an end and "that the matter is pointing toward San Jose."
"It's pretty clear that Oakland is not going to work out for the A's," he said, because so much time and energy has been spent studying options there. But political and legal wrangling -- particularly over agreements related to building AT&T Park that the Giants say allowed them to continue to own the territorial rights to the South Bay -- is something he believes may be holding up a decision. And both sides, he said, would likely want to avoid litigation.
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