Santa Clara 49ers & Fremont A’s?

by Harrison Chastang, KPOO FM Radio on November 10, 2006

Right when Gavin Newsom was cruising along for his re-election bid, The City’s most popular team, the San Francisco 49ers announce that they are giving up on plans to build a new stadium in San Francisco and will build a stadium closer to team headquarters in Santa Clara. If the Niners do go ahead with plans to leave The City, the Niners will be Topic A at every debate and political discussion during next year’s conversations about Newsom’s re-election bid. Regardless of whether Newsom is re-elected, he will be forever known as “the mayor who let the 49ers go” if the Niners do move to Santa Clara.

The shocking news about a 49ers move, along with the Oakland A’s expected announcement of a move to Fremont represents a less than serious effort to keep both teams in town. Let’s look at the 49ers. Since 1980 the 49ers have been a cash cow for The City. During the Niners’ glory years, the team was so successful it was taken for granted the Niners would go deep into the playoff every year, often playing until mid January and bringing millions of dollars to The City’s businesses and tax coffers. Even though the current ownership of John and Denise York have competitively turned the NFL’s elite team to the doormat of the NFL, the 49er Faithful continue to sell out every game. During the Niners glory years former Mayor Willie Brown realized that the 49ers needed a new stadium and that The City needed to make a commitment to keeping the Niners in San Francisco without spending public dollars to build a new stadium. The controversial 1997 bond measures for the Candlestick stadium/mall complex endorsed by former owner Eddie DeBartolo and passed with Brown’s political muscle committed both the city and the Niners to a new stadium. The new ‘Stick was in the planning stages when the NFL forced Eddie D to give up ownership of the team to the Yorks, who ditched the stadium/mall complex and until last year, had little to say about a new stadium. Should Gavin have followed the advice of former Mayor Brown in getting a signed agreement for a new 49ers stadium a top priority of his administration?

If the 49ers do move, what will be the fate of Candlestick and its relationship to the Bayview/Hunters Point area? A good question to ask Mayor Newsom is if the city had long term plans for Candlestick, why did Muni not build an extension of the Third Street light rail extension to the ‘Stick? York’s press release about the Santa Clara move said poor transit access to the ‘Stick was a key factor in favor of the move to Santa Clara.

Across the Bay in Oakland, it’s reportedly a done deal that the A’s are moving to a stadium on land owned by Cisco Systems in South Fremont. There’s apparently little political will in Oakland City Hall to do anything to keep the A’s in town. After being burnt badly on various public financed projects for the Raiders and Warriors, Oakland city officials would approve being annexed as an eastern neighborhood of San Francisco before spending a dime on any of Oakland’s three pro sports teams.

Can anything be done to keep these franchises in the cities that bear their names. Yes! In Oakland, city officials could negotiate with the Peralta College District to build a downtown stadium on the current site of the Laney College parking lot, which is a block away from the Lake Merritt BART station. There’s enough room at the Laney parking lot site for a stadium and a parking structure to replace the spaces lost by the stadium.

Across the Bay, The City should give up on building a 49ers stadium anywhere in the Bayview and build a new indoor stadium across McCovey Cove from AT&T Park. Currently that area is an empty dirt lot used for parking. A domed stadium could be used year round for concerts, major sporting events like the NCAA Final Four tournaments and gatherings too big for either Moscone Center or AT&T. Transportation issues would not be problem because the location is already a major transportation hub. Olympic organizers would be more inclined to support a San Francisco bid that focused on opening and closing ceremonies in a downtown San Francisco stadium rather than a stadium in Bayview or Santa Clara.

For either one of these plans to be executed, there’s needs to be a strong commitment by city officials. Outgoing Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown has never expressed any real interest in any of Oakland’s three sports franchises, and Oakland mayor-elect Ron Dellums seems resigned to the fact that the A’s are moving out of Oakland. While Mayor Newsom apparently intends to fight for the 49ers, is he willing to put his political neck on the line during an election year where many residents will say crime, redevelopment, education, high housing cost and homelessness are more important issues than providing a new ballpark for the 49ers

Finally, what will the impact of the apparent departure of these two teams have on their respective African American communities? Both teams play in predominately African American neighborhoods and while the A’s and the 49ers contribute relatively little to Black owned businesses around their current stadiums, both teams have a sizable number of Black fans and a significant number of Black employees hired from the nearby communities. Relatively few Blacks live in Santa Clara or the Fremont area where these two stadiums would be built, and it’s a safe to assume that not too many Blacks would be working at either a new 49er or A’s stadium, and that fewer African American fans, especially those who take BART and Muni to A’s and Niner games, will be willing and able to make the hour long trip to Silicon Valley or southern Alameda County.

Finally, both teams make substantial contributions to community service program in the communities adjacent to their stadiums. With both teams moving within five miles of the Alameda-Santa Clara county border, will the Niners and A’s shift their public service activities from San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley to the new South Bay communities they may soon call home?

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