It’s looking more and more like the new home for the 49ers may wind up in Santa Clara. Even though Hunters Point developer Lennar released striking new renderings last month of a waterfront stadium in San Francisco, the city has yet to sweeten its original deal, where the developer is offering $100 million but no public funds have materialized. Santa Clara has offered $114 million in subsidies, but a new ballot measure could be the real clincher for moving the new stadium 40 miles south.
In June, the football team aims to put the $937 million project, designed by Kansas City’s HNTB, before Santa Clara voters. (Around the same time, San Francisco is expected to go to its board of supervisors for final approval.) Santa Clara’s change in tactics—getting the stadium passed through citizen initiative rather than city council measure—should help smooth over the final obstacle to the project, a persnickety lawsuit from a neighbor.
The city’s charter allows any citizen to put a proposition to a general vote if they can gather enough signatures, based on a set percentage of the electorate. This means the 49ers citizens’ group, which was created in December, has to collect 4,500 votes by the end of January. One advantage to this approach: The 49ers can promote the stadium on the ballot with more embellishments in their wording than the dry language of a city measure. “You can be a whole lot more descriptive about what the benefits are,” said Ron Garratt, assistant city manager.
However, the real benefit from the 49ers’ point of view is to mitigate the impact of any lawsuits challenging the environmental impact report for a Santa Clara project. If the citizens’ initiative passes, any judgments would have to be resolved, but pieces of the project not related to the suit could continue to move forward. If it were a council action, a suit would bring the entire process to a halt until a judgment was reached. “When you’re talking about bringing financing together, the more obstacles there are, the more challenging it becomes,” Garratt said. “So this is a way to clear the road.”
So far one lawsuit had been filed, by the company that owns an amusement park next to the proposed Santa Clara site. The suit argues that the city proceeded illegally by approving a financial term sheet before the environmental review, thus downplaying any negative environmental impacts.Meanwhile, San Francisco is expected to sign off on the final EIR for Hunters Point by the end of this month, with both stadium and no-stadium options.
For his part, 49ers owner Jed York has been ratcheting up his public disdain for San Francisco. The team's original reason for rejecting the Hunters Point site was the site's transportation issues, though some view the objections as a bargaining maneuver to get more subsidies from the city. If Santa Clara doesn't work out for whatever reason, York's latest declaration to the local press is that his backup plan is to share the Raiders stadium in Oakland.
The one team sure to score a touchdown is HNTB, who, under contract with the 49ers, will be designing the new stadium wherever it ends up.