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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Newsom's Cajoling on South Bay's 49ers Stadium Plan Comes Off as Desperate Hail Mary

Posted By on Tue, Jun 2, 2009 at 8:30 AM

Hut, hut, hike
  • Hut, hut, hike
These days are just packed for Mayor Gavin Newsom. He just introduced a city financial plan that's a dead cert to induce enough fevered statements about "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor" to make outsiders think the city's indigent population is working on a circus novelty act. Within a matter of days, he'll have the names of San Francisco's potential next police chief placed on his desk. And, tonight, Santa Clara's city council votes on greenlighting a $937 million stadium plan to appropriate the 49ers.

In the long run, the fate of our football team is likely the least important of these three challenges facing the mayor and the city. But while Newsom was composed and even upbeat in handing down a budget that slashes jobs and services, it was in his cajoling of South Bay politicos and voters with hopes to build a stadium -- and with his rationales as to why the 49ers should remain here -- that the mayor appears to have come slightly unhinged. Reading his statements in both local dailies induced a cringe-worthy feeling reminiscent of those moments when a punter or field goal kicker is desperately forced to run or throw the ball -- it looks bad and often accomplishes the opposite of what they intended.

Newsom's logical zig-zagging recalled a Hugh McElhenny run -- but not for positive yardage. How else can you explain his telling the Chronicle that a new 49ers stadium would be the centerpiece of his elysian dream of a rebuilt Hunters Point -- yet telling the Examiner that a ballpark would be a bad deal for Santa Clara voters, who'd be "subsidizing a giant stadium for 10 games a year." How is it possible to make both of these arguments on the same day? The Niners wouldn't be playing more games in a San Francisco stadium: You can't argue a ballpark would be a revitalization tool in your community but a behemoth money pit sitting empty for 355 days a year 20 minutes down the road. (By the way, we're inclined to go with the latter; employing a little-used football stadium as the anchor for residential or retail development is an abysmal idea). 

Newsom's notion that the supposed $79 million in government funds Santa Clara votes may be asked to spend for that behemoth stadium would better spent on schools and the like sounds disingenuous. Of course they would. But these are redevelopment funds -- and, to the best of our knowledge, not available to redevelop pencils, books, and teachers' dirty looks. If not spent on a stadium, they could well go to develop infrastructure for an office park. The "save the children" method of arguing here comes off as desperate.

Finally, Newsom's wheedling of Santa Clara voters and politicos -- and legal threats to sue the team if it continues to use the designation "San Francisco" or even "49ers" are nothing short of bizarre. Newsom, for all his talents, has demonstrated to be a man with remarkably short political coat tails; he has been famously unable to convince San Francisco voters to vote for the people and things he endorses (Rob Black, Doug Chan, and Hillary Clinton may have more to say about that). So the idea that he now feels he can strongarm voters in another city -- and over the advice of their own elected officials -- is mystifying.

More truculent were Newsom's threats of legal action -- and we have more McElhenny zig-zagging here; within the same Chron article he smugly noted that Santa Clara voters would be paying a lot for a team that won't even take their city's name -- then threatened to sue the team if it kept the "San Francisco" designation. What city name does he think they'd take? Boca Raton?

These legal threats are a ridiculous and transparent ploy that smack of nothing so much as sour grapes. Did the good peole of New York sue the Jets and Giants when those teams moved down the road to the wide-open suburbs? You don't hear much about the Irving Cowboys or RalJon Redskins. Unlike baseball -- where teams play 81 home contests a year -- a football stadium is not a thriving hub of city life and many teams play in the 'burbs. As Newsom himself noted, folks show up for 10 days a year, barbecue in the parking lot, and go home. If you're trying to claim that football stadiums enhance the area around them enconomically or otherwise -- well, have you seen the area around Candlestick Park?

Here's what I'd like to see: Are there any numbers out there that determine what economic benefit it serves the city of San Francisco to continue to house the 49ers and pay for repairs and upgrades to their creaky stadium? Is there anything beyond regional pride that would actually make it better for the Niners to play their games in San Francisco and not Santa Clara? Or would it just be embarrasing for the city politicos -- some of whom, we're told, would like to be governor -- who've tried to negotiate this deal? 

Sometimes it takes a bit of wisdom to disregard the crowd nose and make the solid decision to punt.

Photo   |   Refracted Moments

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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