Tussle Over Proposed A’s Ballpark in San Jose Heats Up

The Oakland A’s want to move to San Jose, approximately 45 miles south of Oakland and 50 miles southeast of San Francisco. The Giants oppose the move on the ground that the A’s granted the Giants the “territorial rights” to San Jose and the rest of Santa Clara County back in the 1990s when the Giants were trying to build a ballpark in Santa Clara.

Earlier this year, I explained the history of the Giants/A’s territorial-rights dispute over at Baseball Nation.

Territorial rights describes the way Major League Baseball divides the major metropolitan areas of the United States for its 30 franchises. (Well, 29 franchises in the U.S., plus one in Toronto, Canada). According to research done by baseball researcher and writer Doug Pappas in 2002, Major League Baseball amended its rules between 1990 and 1994 to expand the definition of territorial rights to include not just each team’s home city, but also the surrounding counties.

All of the two-team territories but one share the same counties: the Yankees and Mets; the White Sox and Cubs; and the Dodgers and Angels. Only the Giants and A’s split the counties surrounding their home cities. The A’s territory includes Alameda and Contra Costa counties; the Giants’ territory includes San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Marin counties, “plus Santa Clara County with respect to another major league team.” San Jose is in Santa Clara county. To get your bearings, look at this map of California counties.


[T]he Giants never built a stadium in Santa Clara county, because several voter initiatives to fund such a stadium failed. Instead, [owner Bob] Lurie sold the Giants to a Peter Magowan-led group, who in turn privately financed what is now called AT&T Park, in downtown San Francisco. Nevertheless, the MLB rule granting the Giants “Santa Clara County with respect to another major league team” was never amended.

Under MLB rules, a team can move into the territory of another team upon the vote of three-fourths of the owners, the two ballparks are at least five miles apart; the move results in no more than two teams in a single territory; and the team moving compensates the team already in the territory.

Commissioner Selig and a blue ribbon committee have been studying the A’s proposed move to San Jose, including the territorial rights issue, for more than three years. It appears the “study” is, essentially, a stall tactic in the hopes the teams can negotiated a resolution. Selig wants to avoid a vote of the thirty owners and the lawsuits that are likely ensue from a vote.

Meanwhile, the A’s and San Jose have moved ahead on plans for a new ballpark in downtown San Jose, just a few blocks from HP Pavilion, home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, as shown on this map published by the San Francisco Chronicle. Last November, the City of San Jose granted an option to the A’s to purchase a five-acre tract of public land for $6.9 million. The option contains two conditions: (1) no public funds shall be used in the design, construction or operation of the new ballpark; and (2) city voters must still approve the construction of the new ballpark. The option cost the A’s $25,000 per year. An architectural firm has drawn up renderings of the proposed ballpark, which you can view here.

Shortly after the option was approved, and the first year paid by the A’s, a group known as Stand For San Jose filed a lawsuit to block the proposed land sale. In legal terms, the lawsuit seeks a Writ of Mandamus, which is fancy term for a court order prohibiting the City from completing the land deal. Stand for San Jose claims that the City’s environmental and traffic studies were flawed and that city voters should have been asked to approve the land deal. The case, filed in Santa Clara Superior Court, is pending before Judge Joseph Huber.

From the get-go, the City and the A’s have accused Stand for San Jose — which claims to be a grassroots, taxpayer group — as being more of an “astroturf group” used as a front for the Giants. Given the Giants’ very public opposition to the A’s move to San Jose, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if, in fact, the Giants are involved with and support Stand for San Jose. It’s notable that Stand for San Jose is represented in the lawsuit by the well-heeled San Francisco law firm Pillsbury Winthrop and partner Ronald Van Buskirk, a veteran land-use lawyer. Unless Mr. Van Buskirk is handling the case pro bono (for free), it’s unlikely that a grassroots organization could afford his firm’s hourly rates for such a case. For their part, the A’s have their own well-heeled San Francisco lawyers involved in the lawsuit. Geoffrey Robinson of San Francisco firm Perkins Coie represents the A’s.

This week, the City and the A’s tried to turn up the heat on Stand for San Jose. They filed a motion asking the court to order the organization to produce witnesses to testify under oath about the origins, membership, and funding of Stand for San Jose, among other topics. The City/A’s argue that only San Jose taxpayers have legal “standing” to pursue the lawsuit and that Stand For San Jose doesn’t represent City taxpayers. We requested copies of the motion from the A’s attorneys but received no response. Stand for San Jose has yet to respond to the motion. A hearing is set before Judge Huber on September 21.

There is clearly both a legal and political purpose behind the motion. If the City/A’s can prove that Stand for San Jose doesn’t have legal standing to proceed, then the Court will dismiss the lawsuit, at least until the organization can establish it’s right to proceed. Politically, the City/A’s want to turn up the heat on the Giants’ efforts to keep the A’s out of San Jose. Sure, the Giants’ opposition is well-known; indeed, absent the Giants’ opposition, MLB’s owners likely would have approved the move already. But it may help the A’s with the Commissioner and the other owners to show the lengths the Giants will go to — financially and otherwise — to keep the A’s out of Santa Clara County.

The lawsuit and the pending motion are just two twists in this never-ending saga. The City of Oakland is trying to re-launch efforts to keep the A’s there. We are covering all the angles. Look for more stories soon.

Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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11 years ago

Wow. The amazing thing to me is how badly the A’s got screwed on the original territorial deal. How/why did they agree to that massively lop-sided division of the bay area?

11 years ago
Reply to  OmahaJoe

The Giants were planning to move to San Jose which wasn’t much of anything before the tech-boom. The A’s then could move in on the city of San Francisco, which was far wealthier, but unwilling to finance a new stadium. However, the Giants move to San Jose was voted against and the new Giants ownership self-funded a stadium while the economy of San Jose boomed.

11 years ago
Reply to  Jack

When was that? I was born and bred in the Bay Area, an I don’t recall any suggestion the A’s were ever going to move to SF.

11 years ago
Reply to  Jack

Not that the A’s were going to move, but they would reap the benefits of San Francisco, just like the Giants are reaping the benefits of San Jose.

11 years ago
Reply to  OmahaJoe

Walter Haas agreed to give the Giants that portion of the Bay out of generosity, with the understanding that it was so that the Giants could build a ballpark down there. That never happened, and the territory was never changed back. It’s sad that such altruistic “best for baseball” action is now so far in the rear view mirror for the Giants.

11 years ago
Reply to  OmahaJoe

Well, you have to remember that the As were the new team and were working from a one-down position.

Also, the A’s territory, at the time, was far closer in population than it is now because this pre-dates the massive growth of Silicon Valley.
In 1970, it was the East Bay — C.C and Alameda county, that had been growing 3-fold every few years. In 1960, Alameda county was twice the size of SC; in 1950 it was 3x.
Now SC is almost twice the size of Alameda.

11 years ago
Reply to  mettle

The A’s weren’t really “new” to the area when this all happened, they had already been to the WS 6 times and won it 4. You’re reaching a little too far back. Most of this history is from the early 90s.

10 years ago
Reply to  OmahaJoe

Well here is an idea that will solve the problem the Giants and cause the A’s more heart ache including 5 other markets. Have the A’s return to there former starting point in Philadelphia. That way Philly will have 2 teams in an area with twice the amount of population on the east coast. The Giants can have the whole S.F. area and A’s can fight with other local teams such as Philles, Nat’s, Oil birds, Mets and Yanks.