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April 14, 2005
Community groups lament ballpark talk
By Barry Witt
San Jose city officials said last fall they were forced to delay spending in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods because of a decision by state leaders to divert some city property taxes to the state budget.
Neighborhood leaders, who depend on that funding, had to accept that.
But now, as Mayor Ron Gonzales and city council members consider paying from $20 million to $40 million to buy land for a major league baseball stadium, those same neighborhood leaders want to know where they fit into the new game plan.
``The disappointing thing is to feel that there's money for other things when something like projects in the neighborhoods can be delayed, especially in the areas that have been underserved for decades,'' said Judy Purrington, a leader in South San Jose's Edenvale/Great Oaks neighborhood, where promises for a new community center remain unfulfilled.
``It leads you to believe when you're told there's not money for something, you're not high enough on the priority list for them to make sure you're getting it.''
In a closed-door meeting Tuesday, the council authorized officials from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency to pursue acquiring 10 properties just south of the Diridon train station as a potential home for a ballpark. The council has yet to hold a public discussion about the plan or how it fits into the city's spending priorities.
``The city of San Jose is big enough to have lots of priorities,'' said Councilwoman Cindy Chavez, one of the council's baseball boosters. ``I don't think one is higher than another. Timing is an essential ingredient, whether we're talking about housing or strong neighborhoods or major league baseball.''
Chavez would not elaborate on what the timing should be for those priorities.
It's unknown exactly how much the land purchases would cost, but based on past downtown-area land acquisitions and the complexities of relocating active businesses, including a Pacific Gas & Electric substation, the cost for the 13.9-acre area could be $20 million $40 million.
The city plans to buy the land without seeking voter approval, despite a city ordinance that requires spending on sports facilities with more than 5,000 seats to go on the ballot. The ordinance was adopted in 1988 in the face of a referendum drive related to plans to build the downtown arena.
City officials say the plan is legal because stadium construction is only one option for the land, which could also be sold to a housing developer if San Jose fails to attract the A's from Oakland. Major League Baseball officials say the A's would not be allowed to move to San Jose because the San Francisco Giants hold territorial rights to Santa Clara County.
``Here you have a site that's always been identified as future housing, but if we decide to go forward with a proposed ballpark with some or all of this land, then that's what needs to be identified in an environmental review and that's what you have to get authorization from the voters for,'' City Attorney Rick Doyle said. The attorney said that before any measure could be taken to voters, the site first has to be identified and an environmental study completed for it.
Kathy Chavez Napoli, a former mayoral candidate and longtime critic of public spending on professional sports facilities, said the mayor's recent public statements about getting a baseball team makes it clear the property is being purchased for baseball.
``That is misleading the citizens to think it's really a general kind of effort to get more land for redevelopment,'' she said, adding that the city has ``a problem with the intent and the wording'' of the 1988 law.
The 10 properties include the former studio of KNTV on Park Avenue, the Stephens Meat Products plant, an SBC field operations center, and the substation. PG&E officials are evaluating what it would take to relocate that facility, which provides power for much of downtown. City officials said one possibility was to reconfigure the electrical facilities on the existing property.
For now, San Jose can acquire the properties only if the current owners are willing to sell. The city could use its power of eminent domain -- which allows it to buy property from unwilling sellers -- only if it has identified a specific use for the property, which the city isn't ready to do in this case.
Joe Guerra, the mayor's budget and policy director, said the redevelopment agency has the financial capacity to buy the Diridon-area properties by raising cash from selling existing land holdings. He said a decision to actually spend money on the land has yet to be made.
Pursuing a ballpark makes sense to some neighborhood activists, even if it comes at the expense of projects that had been planned in their neighborhoods.
``The city has put a lot of things in our neighborhood,'' said Mark Lopez, who is active in the Washington neighborhood just south of downtown. ``I know there are other things on our wish list, but it's more than we expected. If they want to pursue baseball, I'm for it.''Posted by Coalition Webbies at April 14, 2005 07:51 AM