The Grid

The Italian Cavalry
Forced from office by term limits, newly retired S.F. Supervisor Angela Alioto returned to City Hall Feb. 12. She was there to testify as "Citizen Angela" before a panel of the same body on which she served for eight years, and led for two as its president. The 49ers football club and Alioto's political rival Mayor Willie Brown should be grateful for her appearance.

Carmen Policy, the 49ers president, had just completed a prideful mea culpa, apologizing for the seat-of-the-pants quality of his new stadium financing scheme and for his statements to the San Francisco Chronicle about moving the team out of town if voters reject the stadium bond in June. Policy's statements came at the end of a disastrous first week for the campaign to gain voter approval of the stadium deal. Expressing regrets for his statements, Policy nonetheless never really withdrew the sentiment; he just tried to sugarcoat it.

Into this breach stepped Alioto. Ten uproarious minutes later, the stadium deal's detractors seemed, well, small. And Policy seemed even likable -- just another paisano (Alioto's term), slouching toward North Beach.

"I'm gonna tell you about Italian men," she bellowed. She was referring to Policy and 49er owner Eddie DeBartolo, but perhaps also to her father, former S.F. Mayor Joseph L. Alioto, and her late husband, Adolfo Veronese.

"These are two paisanos who want San Francisco to keep the 49ers," she said. "So, when Carmen Policy goes into the Chronicle Building and says stuff like 'I'm leaving,' Italian men say that all the time: 'I want my dinner on the table, or I'm leaving.' 'I want my stadium or I'm outta here.' "

She added, "He doesn't want to do that. ... He thinks the woman he's talking to is going to respond, 'Oh, please, please stay.' "

The tension evaporated, carried from the hearing room with the howls.
Whatever else can be said of Alioto, she has once again displayed her mastery of political theater. It's hard to imagine anyone else in town who could have so deftly pulled Policy's chestnuts out of the fire.

Leveling the Playing Field
For a National Football League team known to script in advance its first 15 plays from scrimmage each game, the 49ers' rushed and seemingly improvised opening drive on the stadium bond seems out of character.

Under the deal announced by Brown and the team on Feb. 3, the city and the 49ers would build a $325 million stadium at Candlestick Point; DeBartolo and his business partners would develop a $200 million mall next door. All to be open in time to host the 2002 Super Bowl. If, that is, S.F. voters agree on June 3 to float "lease-revenue" bonds to raise $100 million to cover the city's share of the stadium construction.

Appealing as it appears -- a major economic development project for the economically deprived Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood and the prospect of the 49ers footing the lion's share of the bill for a new city-owned football stadium -- the proposal is rife with unanswered questions about its underlying financial assumptions (see "49er Gold Rush," The Grid, Feb. 12).

Prior to the public hearing before the supervisors' Finance Committee Feb. 12, Policy explained that the 11th-hour scramble was the consequence of tough bargaining by Mayor Brown. "The mayor and I could not arrive at deal," Policy testified.

The deal that eventually was struck, however, wasn't tough enough for Supervisor Susan Leal. The chairwoman of the Finance Committee, who has emerged as the supervisors' bellwether of fiscal prudence, negotiated an 11-point set of conditions that must be met before the city sells a single note to finance the project.

Leal concedes that the conditions, which would carry the weight of law if voters approve the stadium bond issue, won't answer the biggest question: Will the sales and gross-receipts taxes on spending (at the stadium, the mall stores, the restaurants, and the planned cinema complex [see "Reel World," Page 68, for more]) be sufficient to pay off bondholders? Or will a raid on the city treasury be necessary in the end?

"I can't second-guess whether this mall is going to make enough money. That's not my business," she says. "But I can tie [the 49ers'] hands, so they live up to their commitments to the city."

Under the package of conditions, the 49ers are obligated to play all home games in the new stadium until retirement of the city's debt for the project -- presumably within 25 years -- and no bonds may be sold until the Mayor's Office determines that "sufficient financial commitments are in place" to build the mall. That means DeBartolo and company must lock in the mall's "anchor tenants" ahead of time, Leal says. Moreover, the 49ers will have to kick in $8 for every $2 spent by the city during construction, and the annual cost of stadium operation and maintenance will be split 50/50 between S.F. and the 49ers under a jointly written budget.

Unfortunately, Leal stopped short of demanding that the Mayor's Office commission an independent analysis of the development project before becoming DeBartolo's business partner. Nevertheless, the deal's improved.

Let the campaign begin.

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