By Janie McCauley, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The coalition group “Stand for San Jose,” which is opposed to the Oakland Athletics moving to the South Bay and is supported by the Giants, filed a lawsuit Friday against the City of San Jose claiming the failure to perform a proper environmental review of land committed to the A's.
The 28-page suit, filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court and shared with The Associated Press, also claims the city violated citizens' rights by not putting to a public vote the contractual agreement it made with the A's to sell the discounted downtown property where owner Lew Wolff hopes to build a new ballpark. He is still waiting to hear from Commissioner Bud Selig about whether the club can relocate into San Francisco's territory.
Last month, the San Jose City Council agreed to sell nearly five acres at a huge discount to the A's as long as it is used to build a ballpark.
There was a 30-day window from Nov. 8, when the sides reached agreement on a two-year land-purchase option that costs the A’s $50,000, for potential lawsuits to be filed.
"In the midst of its 11th consecutive budget deficit, San Jose politicians rushed to sell prime downtown land for only $6.9 million, even though it was acquired for $25 million and is currently appraised at approximately $14 million," Stand for San Jose said in a statement to the AP. "This huge discount for wealthy developers who want to build a baseball stadium comes at a time of fiscal challenges so severe that the Mayor recently admitted: 'We’re not as bad as Greece, I don’t think.'"
The lawsuit claims that though several environmental reports have been done, the studies on issues such as traffic and air quality are insufficient relating to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and additional studies are needed.
Wolff, a successful Los Angeles real estate developer, said Friday night that lawsuits are often part of the process.
"In California, people can try to use the CEQA Act to stop someone from competing, to stop something they don't want to happen," Wolff said by phone. "Normally there are numerous lawsuits filed. This is a very solid EIS (environmental impact study), so it's somebody who doesn’t want us to compete in that area."
A phone message and e-mail to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed weren’t immediately returned.
Also, Stand for San Jose challenges that a public vote should have happened before the City of San Jose decided to enter into a binding agreement with Wolff and the A’s for land committed to be used for a ballpark or stadium.
It reads that the city and its agencies "abused their powers and ran roughshod over their legal duties, including their duties to protect the public’s right to vote and to comply with laws designed to protect the environment, prior to committing to sell public lands for a Ballpark Project."
Selig in March 2009 appointed a committee to evaluate the issue facing the Bay Area teams, yet he has provided no timetable for when he might announce a decision. Wolff has said he hopes to hear a resolution one way or the other soon. Moving to San Jose, he has said, would help the low-budget A's generate revenue and become a bigger spender.
The Giants have a significant fan base in technology-rich Silicon Valley in Santa Clara County, and they don't want to give that up.
Wolff, a friend of Selig’s dating to their days as fraternity brothers at Wisconsin, is ready to break ground on an intimate ballpark projected to cost between $400 million and $450 million—if and when he gets the OK to relocate some 40 miles south of the team’s current home in the rundown Oakland Coliseum. The A's share the stadium with the NFL's Oakland Raiders.
Wolff has working drawings of the potential San Jose venue and an architect has been chosen. Wolff has said obtaining building permits would take about nine months, then the actual ballpark would require another two years to complete.
Stand for San Jose, a group of concerned residents financially backed by the Giants' Class-A San Jose club, is represented by San Francisco attorney Ronald Van Buskirk. Another portion of the lawsuit deals with complicated redevelopment issues and laws.
"Before making this sweetheart deal, the City failed to follow laws requiring a comprehensive environmental impact study and a vote of the people," Stand for San Jose said. "This legal filing simply asks the City to comply with the law by allowing the community to thoroughly study and understand the project’s impacts and express its opinion in a public vote."