49ers aren’t worth public money

Pub date November 21, 2006
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The prospect of the San Francisco 49ers moving to Santa Clara — and taking with them any hope of a 2016 Olympic bid for San Francisco — caught the Newsom administration off guard and has much of City Hall scrambling to figure out a way to keep the fabled sports franchise in San Francisco. It’s not a futile effort by any means: the deal to build a new stadium in Santa Clara still has a long way to go, and there are some very real issues (including the phenomenal parking and traffic problems and the utter lack of accessible transit).
But city officials need to keep a sense of perspective here: the loss of the Olympics was almost certainly a good thing, and the loss of the 49ers wouldn’t be the end of the world. So there’s no reason to even start to talk about handing out promises of more public money, tax breaks, or favorable land deals to keep the Niners in town.
We’ve never been terribly hot on the idea of hosting the Olympics. The last time the issue came up, with a possible bid for the 2012 games, we noted that cities hosting the Olympics tend to wind up with huge public debt and that the costs (typically including gentrification and displacement) aren’t worth the gains. Our articles infuriated local sports leaders, but we’re not the only ones raising questions these days. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Gwen Knapp, in an insightful Nov. 16 piece, suggested that the city might want to thank 49ers owner John York: “He might have saved San Francisco from a vanity project that often leaves ugly blemishes on a community’s bottom line.”
San Francisco is one of the world’s great cities, an international tourist destination, a place that’s already on everyone’s map. We don’t need the Olympics.
We may not need the 49ers either. That’s what Glenn Dickey, Examiner sports columnist, argued Nov. 14. Football teams, with a limited number of home games, bring very little to a local economy — and this is hardly a city that needs the name recognition of a National Football League franchise. “Mayor Gavin Newsom should spend his time on more critical priorities,” Dickey noted.
Of course, if the 49ers leave, something has to be done with the park formerly known as Candlestick — a white elephant that cost the city tens of millions of dollars in bonds. But almost any sort of new development there would do more for the neighborhood than a stadium filled by people who drive in, bring their own food, drive away, and spend almost no money at local businesses.
The San Francisco Giants managed to build a new stadium almost entirely with private money, and it’s been a huge financial success. The city shouldn’t be tempted to throw big chunks of public money at keeping the 49ers from moving. SFBG