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									Stadium? Not without a fight - Silicon Valley / San Jose Busines...

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Friday, February 4, 2005

Stadium? Not without a fight
Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal - by Sharon Simonson

As speculation thrives over whether San Jose will be home to a major league baseball team, discontent is intensifying among a potentially powerful, but so far largely ignored, constituency: neighborhood activists living near the proposed stadium site. For much of the last year, six neighborhood groups worked with housing developer KB Home on a redevelopment plan for the former Del Monte cannery on the southwestern flank of downtown. The group reached some consensus on a plan for the 13 acres -- nearly 400 units of high-density housing and a much-wanted two-acre park. Now, just as that plan was nearing fruition, a city decision to negotiate to buy the 13 acres is putting the housing development into question. That angers some residents, who say they are being ignored and disrespected. Some are feeling especially irritated by Mayor Ron Gonzales, who created the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative in 2000, promising to put city neighborhoods first. Now, they say, he is disregarding some of the very groups he empowered in that drive. So far, the city has not announced that it has received any clear indication that a team -- presumably the Oakland As -- would come if a stadium were built. "Those of us affiliated with SNI have gotten used to the city soliciting our opinions," says Randi Kinman, president of the Burbank/Del Monte Neighborhood Advisory Committee, and one of the most outspoken critics of the city's actions to date. "It only makes sense to talk to the people who live and work in an area, and before they speak to any one else, they should talk first with the people who will be directly impacted," Ms. Kinman says. Not only has that failed to occur, she says, but -- further undermining their confidence in the process -- the area's councilman, Ken Yeager, is not involved in the KB-city talks. Mr. Yeager says that while this is true -- he doesn't say why he accepted that arrangement, arrived at in executive session -- he says it is not an indication that he is not concerned. A Dec. 15 letter Ms. Kinman sent to the mayor's office, reminding him that "approaching community leaders is not a courtesy you extend ... (but) a right we have earned," has gone unanswered, she adds. Joe Guerra, the mayor's budget and policy director, promises an opportunity later for public comment, saying that even were the city to acquire the KB land, that doesn't constitute a full commitment to the site for a stadium. "Because we may be buying a piece of property doesn't mean that there won't be a public process," he says. Neighbors also worry that instead of housing and a park to replace the cannery, which closed in 1999, they will get a huge, vacant building that will continue to sit and deteriorate while baseball boosters pursue a dream -- some might say a fantasy -- that will never occur, or won't for a long time. "I don't want that property to stay vacant and unused. It's like a black hole in our communities," says Kathy Sutherland, president of the Delmas Park Neighborhood Advisory Committee, which also has been working with KB on its plans. Not all area residents are up in arms about the prospect of a baseball stadium. Several neighboring business and commercial property owners say they have no immediate opinions about the change and whether it will be good or bad for their prospects. They do worry that if they had to move, it might be difficult to replace their central location at a reasonable cost. Kevin Christman, chairman of another SNI neighborhood advisory council, the Greater Gardner Coalition, which also has been involved in the housing development process, says the neighborhood groups have not been blind-sided by the stadium proposal. "Planning is a process. It's always changing," he says. Beyond this mix of neighborhood emotion is KB Home. The $7 billion company's top-ranking Bay Area executive, Robert Freed, insists that he's not letting go of his own housing dream for the Del Monte property, though he offers the caveat that KB always wants to be a good corporate citizen. "My intention is to develop the Del Monte site in accordance with the (housing) plans we've submitted" to the city, he says. KB is bound by its commitments to the Del Monte company, he says, and must first secure from the city of San Jose the right to develop the Del Monte site into housing before serious negotiations that would allow the city to acquire the site could begin. He hopes to acquire

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Stadium? Not without a fight - Silicon Valley / San Jose Busines...

those development rights some time this spring. "It's appropriate to explore the opportunity with the city at Brandenburg, but it would be unwise of me to pull our sights off the site we've been working on for two years," he adds. The city has long pegged Del Monte and its immediate neighborhood for redevelopment into housing as part of its policy to encourage high-density home construction along light-rail lines. Older warehousing and industrial businesses now occupy the area. That housing policy is what brought KB into the picture in the first place. KB has controlled the Del Monte site since August 2002 when it was the winning bidder among a collection of interested home developers looking to buy it from Del Monte Foods Co., the San Francisco food-products maker. As is customary in such situations, KB has an option to purchase the property for $28 million contingent on gaining the right to develop it into housing from the city. The Del Monte site, long eyed by advocates of a San Jose stadium, jumped to the fore of potential stadium locations in December when the city council granted the mayor's office permission to enter negotiations with KB to acquire it. The notion behind the KB-city negotiations is to execute a trade with KB whereby the city would end up with the Del Monte parcel and KB would get downtown San Jose's 10-acre Brandenburg site, which the city already owns. The Brandenburg property is also slated for high-density residential development, though the number of prospective units for Brandenburg -- nearly 900 -- is more than twice what KB is looking at for the Del Monte parcel, even though the two properties are not that different in size. At one point, KB actually sought to acquire Brandenburg from San Jose. The Del Monte parcel is not the only possible site for a stadium, says Jim Eller, a San Jose attorney who is chair of a city task force that has been evaluating possible locations. Other sites include 75 acres, city-owned, adjacent to the international airport, the so-called FMC property; a large swath of vacant property next to the downtown Children's Discovery Museum; and the site of a now-closed downtown hospital. The later two are likely too small. FMC is more remote from downtown than some prefer. Two other properties that, like Del Monte, are on the Vasona light rail line are also on the list. One is slightly north of Del Monte and one slightly south of it. Assuming that one site is chosen, land values and use around it would change, probably dramatically. Even those who favor transforming the Del Monte site into a stadium concede that the idea isn't without its downside for area residents. "I feel personally that a stadium there at the Del Monte site would be a fantastic thing for San Jose," says Mr. Christman of the Greater Gardner NAC. "But I can't say it would be fantastic for the neighborhood." SHARON SIMONSON covers real estate for the Business Journal. Reach her at (408) 299-1853.
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