San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County supervisors have been meeting over the last week to ensure that no ballpark land disputes impede their efforts to draw the Oakland Athletics to San Jose.
Many expect Major League Baseball officials some time after the World Series to consider whether to allow an A's move to San Jose despite San Francisco Giants territorial objections and Oakland's efforts to keep the team.
San Jose last year transferred land bought with redevelopment money for a future A's ballpark to a newly created agency and sold the A's an option to buy it at below-market prices if baseball officials clear the team's move.
But that deal's been thrown into question by the state's move last year to kill redevelopment agencies. State officials are threatening to invalidate the San Jose land transfer and force a market-rate sale to fund local governments and schools.
City officials insist the transfer was legal but are talking to county officials -- with whom they have squabbled over redevelopment money -- in case they are overruled.
"We need to make sure people are willing to honor the deal," said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, who spoke with three county supervisors about the matter last week. "The idea is to make sure the city and county are in agreement."
That seems to be the case. County Supervisors Dave Cortese and Mike Wasserman, who discussed the matter with Reed last week, said they are
committed to ensuring the A's ballpark land option is honored, even if the county has to chip in some economic development dollars to make sure schools and local governments get their fair share.
"The county does have the capacity to assist in some manner," Cortese said. "We do have an economic development director and are involved in economic development, so we are equipped to come in and assist if there's a shortfall and a problem. It's in our interest to see that this kind of economic development project goes forward."
Wasserman added that "at the end of the day it could be a win-win if the property is sold at market rate" even if the county has to contribute toward that because "that accomplishes what the state wants and the land stays here" for a ballpark.
The supervisors cautioned that it isn't up to just the city and county to decide how redevelopment proceeds are divided among all the local agencies entitled to a share. A "successor agency" of city, county, school and water district officials decides that. But city and county officials said the more local agreement, the better.
"The idea here is to get the city and county together now, particularly the legal folks, to mutually understand what the endgame is and agree on some kind cooperation so the option agreement doesn't become an issue," Cortese said. "You don't want give MLB an excuse at this point to say, 'Oh well, we've got to delay it because you guys have a messy situation down there.' Our goal is make sure a messy situation is avoided."
A's owner Lew Wolff had no comment on the situation and said he's just waiting for a decision on the territorial issue with the Giants.
Jacob Roper, a spokesman for the California controller's office, which is reviewing redevelopment agency asset transfers leading up to the state's move to end redevelopment, said there is no timetable for a decision on San Jose's ballpark land.
The controller in August ruled that Milpitas and Morgan Hill shouldn't have transferred assets from their redevelopment agencies to the city or a newly created city economic development corporation. The controller ruled that Milpitas owed $234.7 million and Morgan Hill owed $108.4 million in redevelopment assets to their successor agencies.
According to the controller, the state law that ended redevelopment agencies requires that all redevelopment assets transferred to a city, county or other public agency after Jan. 1, 2011, must be handed over to its successor agency unless the assets were committed to a third party by June 28 of that year. The successor agency's oversight board can return an asset or property to a local government if it serves a governmental purpose.
San Jose's proposed A's ballpark would be built on 13.36 acres near the Diridon train station, bounded by Park Avenue and San Fernando and Autumn streets. The team would build the ballpark at an estimated cost of about $500 million.
San Jose's redevelopment agency had spent $25.1 million acquiring 4.88 acres of the ballpark area land. Other parcels remain privately held.
In March 2011, San Jose officials transferred the city ballpark to a newly created San Jose Diridon Development Authority. In November the city approved an option agreement allowing the A's to buy the city's ballpark land for about $7 million, which a city-commissioned appraisal said reflected its restricted use for a ballpark. The Colliers International appraisal said the land could fetch twice that if sold for mixed office and retail use.
The city attorney has argued that the land transfer was valid because it predated the redevelopment-ending law and because that law exempts property committed to a third party through a legal contract.
The land transfer isn't the only obstacle the project faces. A local group, Stand for San Jose, led by the Giants' minor-league affiliate in the city, has challenged the city's environmental approval and option agreement in a lawsuit.
Reed said the ballpark project would benefit all local agencies because of the property taxes on the half-billion dollar stadium.
"It's in everybody's interest to have that kind of investment," Reed said. "Everybody benefits."
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