As if the San Francisco 49ers’ Santa Clara stadium initiative wasn’t facing enough opposition from environmentalists, theme park operators, opponents of economic progress and expansion, and die-hard fans of vacant, uneven, and rarely-used parking lots everywhere, the feedback from my last article on this topic seems to indicate that a broad base of 49er
I will begin by saying that I am in no way, shape, or form opposed to this idea, despite the apparent implications of my last article.
I am not a member of the board of trustees or city council of Santa Clara, trying to drum up local capital and industry. While I currently reside within Santa Clara, very close to the proposed site of the new stadium, I would of course openly support any option that allowed the 49ers to stay where they truly belong, in San Francisco.
The question is WHERE?
I received more than a few comments (or edicts?) on my last article, boldly decreeing “The 49ers Shalt Not Leave San Francisco.” What I did not receive was any viable proposals for how they were supposed to build a suitable new facility within the city limits. So again I ask the class: WHERE in San Francisco is this mythical site where this new stadium should be built?
The city is not exactly teeming with real estate ripe for such commercial development, and this is not a new problem. Most of the city’s picturesque Marina District was built on top of fill, expanding the edges of the natural peninsula further into San Francisco Bay. There are maybe a handful of sites which could work, but none of them are without significant issues and obstacles.
Ever since the 49ers first talked (or threatened?) to move to the South Bay as a ploy to gain city approval for a redevelopment of Candlestick in the late 1990s, I have been day-dreaming potential solutions to their stadium problem which would allow them to retain the ever-diminishing distinction in professional sports of playing within the city they represent. The problem is there are very few, if any, realistic options.
One of my favorite brain children is demolishing the aged, decrepit, decaying prison on Alcatraz Island and slightly expanding the natural island to accommodate a new stadium. Barges could be moored at the nearest pier of convenience for parking and ferries could shuttle avid football fans to what would surely be one of the most unique experiences in the whole of professional sports spectation.
This suggestion may seem outlandish and would likely rule out the capability to host larger events like the FIFA World Cup which the Santa Clara stadium would hope to lure, but if you dare to dream it for a moment, you will note that it would be a marketing frenzy for the 49ers and the NFL and it is not by a wide margin the most ridiculous suggestion even within my lifetime on what to do with Alcatraz Island.
Of course, this little dream has its problems. The National Parks Service is probably not at all excited over the prospect of surrendering a still-popular (for some reason) tourist attraction for such a purpose. History buffs and the odd ghost hunter would also likely put up a fight, and I am certain that our friends within Green Peace and the EPA could find some supposedly endangered species that such a project would risk wiping from the face of earth (not that anyone not sustaining him or herself solely on organic granola would ever notice). You can probably think of more problems with this idea.
Treasure Island is another natural suggestion. It’s wide, flat, and has plenty of room for parking, tailgating, and amenities. However, unless we expect to see a second San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in the works any time soon, the mere amount of traffic this would pile onto what is already the world’s busiest bridge quickly invalidates this idea.
So where does that leave us? With some diligent planning and redevelopment, either the equestrian stadium in the center of Golden Gate Park, or the original home of the San Francisco 49ers, Kezar Stadium, could feasibly be rebuilt into a world-class NFL venue. However, it is beyond doubtful that the city would go for having such a facility in the middle of Golden Gate Park, a move tantamount to building the new Yankee Stadium next to the Central Park Zoo. Kezar would provide some interesting historical tie-ins, but it would displace local high school teams which currently use the stadium, and cause parking and traffic nightmares across the Inner Sunset and Ashbury Heights Districts.
San Francisco possesses no real capacity for supporting a “downtown” stadium, like Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia or M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. New waterfront property could also be manufactured through more fill, but one major earthquake (oh, right, this is San Francisco) and a near-billion-dollar investment could lie in ruins.
There is of course one other option for the 49ers to stay in San Francisco, one which lies in such plain sight that many people overlook it. The team could remain at Candlestick Park and continue tweaking and upgrades to the extent possible. Surely this option will satisfy few, but as a true blue (or scarlet I suppose) 49er Faithful, I like it a lot more than the next option.
I honestly cannot fathom why the mere mention of this notion does not enrage more 49er fans to the extent it does me.
In my opinion, the only reason this idea is getting any publicity whatsoever is because it was proposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The mere fact he could propose something so ludicrous reflects the very reality Goodell wishes to belie, that he is in fact a league executive desperate for attention and yearning to emerge from beneath the heavy shadow of his very popular predecessor. This proposal shows a disappointing lack of familiarity and understanding of the constituencies that make up the league he oversees.
I understand that the New York Giants and New York Jets share a stadium. That is not the point. Except for Al Davis’ furlough with the Raiders in Los Angeles, the Bay Area has always been a divided football region, East versus West. The idea of these teams having to share a stadium is bad enough, but to suggest that the stadium be built on the very same site that the Oakland Raiders have called home since 1995 would essentially be giving the 49ers 16 road games a year.
And there are other problems with this proposal too, regardless of what Roger Goodell, his cadre of cronies, and other poor, poor proponents might have you think.
It is true that the Coliseum site has much better access options than Candlestick and potentially even the Santa Clara site. BART is one of the fastest, most efficient, and cleanest mass transit systems in the country and would allow quick and easy traffic-free access to fans from the East Bay, Delta, and northern half of the Peninsula. However, will BART’s merits be strong enough to persuade tens of thousands of West Bay 49er fans to waive their inalienable right to tailgate? I think not. This would add significant traffic to the Bay Bridge which careful readers will recall from the last section is the busiest bridge on Earth.
Moreover, proponents of the shared stadium idea seem to assume as a premise of their argument that the Santa Clara site would not have BART access. This is not necessarily (and probably not even likely) true. The BART system has been looking to expand service to San Jose and other South Bay destinations for years. To some extent this has already begun (I recall not too long ago when Daly City was the end of the line).
A major attraction in Santa Clara could be just the impetus to finally bring BART all the way to San Jose, which would benefit much more than just area football. Creative routing could bring the line within the same proximity of the Santa Clara stadium as the Coliseum, and such a project, in combination with the stadium project, could generate a huge economic stimulus for the entire Bay Area. Any Santa Clara stadium would not be ready for football until 2013, meaning the needed BART extensions could be developed in tandem.
Additionally, little would you know from listening to the supporters of a shared stadium, but the Santa Clara site sits within miles of the confluence of three critical Bay Area freeways, US-101, I-880, and CA-237, which connects on to CA-85 and I-280. So the obvious choice of the Coliseum site due to access has been more than slightly exaggerated.
A shared stadium in Oakland/Alameda would be a compromise in the truest sense of the word. Anyone familiar with conflict resolution will know that a compromise is a solution where nobody wins.
Thankfully, this is still a very unlikely scenario. But it is not completely out of the question if Bay Area fans and residents fail to wise up to reality of the situation. The NFL is a business, and if the 49ers can no longer sustain the profit margins they need to survive, there is nothing to say they cannot explore the sacrilege of leaving the region completely.
Governor Schwarzenegger recently signed an environmental approval bill clearing the way for potential construction of a brand new NFL stadium in the Los Angeles area. The potential construction team has vowed to approach several NFL franchises this offseason about relocation to Southern California, and the 49ers are among them. Such an idea would have been unheard of in the days of Eddie DeBartolo, but put nothing past the York family’s capacity for greed and stupidity. It is doubtful that a Los Angeles fan base would support a team with such a rich history in Northern California, even if they completely divorced themselves from that storied past, but it is still far from impossible.
Hopefully, in one of his frequent lapses of reason, Al Davis will scoop up this opportunity to move the Raiders back to LA (where he has always wanted them to be anyways) and that will leave the 49ers with free range of the Bay Area once more.
There seem to still be several workable solutions more palatable than relocation, but do not take for granted that it is impossible. If the Cleveland Browns could move to Baltimore, if the Hartford Whalers could move to Carolina, the San Francisco 49ers could move hundreds or thousands of miles away from their City by the Bay.
Suddenly Santa Clara sounds OK.