The San Francisco 49ers broke ground Thursday on their new stadium in Santa Clara and threw a tremendous party replete with football royalty, current players, politicians and, most importantly, volunteers from the Measure J campaign that made the day possible.
The Niners won that election with 58 percent of the vote in Santa Clara. They left nothing to chance, building a political team led by consultant Ed McGovern and the irrepressible Councilmember Kevin Moore. They also gave the City of Santa Clara a great deal, spent time educating the community on the benefits, and steam-rolled a small, but vocal, minority of NIMBYS.
It should be noted here that the Council had a strong majority of members supporting the project in addition to Moore. Patricia Mahan, Lisa Gillmor, Pat Kolstad, Jamie Mathews, Dominic Casserta and Joe Kornder all strongly supported the stadium. But Moore was particularly creative, effective and motivating behind the scenes. Part of the art of leadership is to let others take the credit. Moore had no problem giving his other councilmembers first billing in a project he personally brought to the table.
The model used by Santa Clara and the Niners should be replicated in San Jose for the new A’s stadium.
The Niners already had the support of football fans, the business community, labor, most of the politicians and city staff. But they never confused that support with a majority of public approval. Not everybody is a football fan, but everyone is a fan of something and the Niners quickly recognized that uniting disparate interests and going beyond the minimum would reap enormous public support.
Here are the seven reasons why the Niners were able to make this work and how the city of Santa Clara wins:
First: Make the plan subject to voter approval on your own terms and embrace the concept of a public vote—it is going to the ballot anyway. By placing it on the ballot on terms favorable to the team, it is more likely to pass.
Second: Build the right political team by hiring everyone necessary for success. Do not let the political divisions of the city or pet peeves of politicians dictate who is on the team. This was done in Santa Clara. John McLemore and Patty Mahan ran against each other for mayor, and both were invited and solicited to be on the Niners team, because both supported the project. In San Francisco, Willie Brown literally hired everyone—with the exception of Clint Reilly—to support his election for mayor. Thus, no professional consultant had an incentive to work against him.
Third: Retail politics is important. Jed York was never too busy to meet with Santa Clara voters. He went to town meetings, interacted with regular folks and is genuinely a very nice human being. He cares passionately about his team and the community his team serves. He brought in team members to help sell the package; a little celebrity help, but not in itself enough to guarantee victory.
Fourth: Build a community benefits plan that has something for everyone. And this one has many details.
The Niners made the city a full partner in their stadium effort, because Santa Clara owns the stadium and will share in the governance and revenue. The stadium will be built LEED certified, making it close to net-neutral on the electric grid. It has bike trails to the stadium and utilizes mass transit corridors, leaving environmentalists thrilled with the project.
None of this mentions a new hotel tax that was implemented during a recession and supported by the industry who will bear the burden. No business objects to being taxed if the new revenue means additional profits it otherwise would not generate. No general taxes were raised.
The schools got $28 million in new funding as a result of the package. Not everyone is a football fan, but almost everyone supports new money for schools.
Fifth: The jobs and economic activity generated from the project will benefit all of Santa Clara and surrounding areas. A Super Bowl will generate anywhere from $250-500 million in economic activity. There are some who claim the figures are not that high, but nobody believes a city loses money. Add to the 10 games the Niners will play there every year and the other events—concerts, other sporting events,monster truck shows, etc.—and the entire city will have an avalanche of new riches.
Sixth: The Niners didn’t try spending a lot of time with the NIMBYS. Some people are Negative Nancys—always finding fault, never accepting reasoned approaches, always looking at potential catastrophic consequences based on unreasonable expectations. (i.e. What if nobody shows up to watch the Niners?) Convincing your political opponents, regardless of reasonableness, is not a healthy use of time, especially when winning 58 percent is more than good enough.
And Seventh: The NFL was completely behind the Niners’ vision. It would help if Major League Baseball would afford the Oakland A’s the same courtesy.
If MLB signs off on San Jose but the city’s body politic is unable or unwilling to commit to the effort, now there is a city next door that has the ability to support the A’s and their vision for a new home.