Signaling strong and broad support for a deal to bring the A's to San Jose, a new poll finds 62 percent of San Jose voters would be willing to give the team city-owned land downtown for a major league baseball stadium.
A diverse spectrum of San Jose voters — both men and women, young and old, Democrat and Republican, and income earners at most levels — said they would favor a plan that would hold the A's responsible for the costs of building and operating a downtown ballpark on city-purchased property with a guarantee that no taxes would be increased to fund the project.
The stadium poll question — posed by San Jose State University's Survey and Policy Research Institute on behalf of the Mercury News — found that 62 percent of those surveyed favored the idea and 23.5 percent opposed it; 13 percent didn't know and 1.5 percent refused to answer.
Applauded by the A's and city leaders, the result is one of the first indications of how San Jose voters are leaning on the ballpark question, which the city hopes to put on the ballot in November — if Major League Baseball graces the move by overriding the San Francisco Giants' claims to Santa Clara County. The A's are anxious to move from the aging Oakland Coliseum and have said they cannot find a suitable home elsewhere in the East Bay.
A's owner Lew Wolff, who was attending an A's-White Sox spring training game in Arizona on Tuesday, said he was "delighted to hear" the results of the poll but declined to say more.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed called it "good news for baseball fans and it's good news for San Jose."
Results of the poll of 532 registered San Jose voters — conducted from March 15 to 26 — come just days before the A's and Giants return home from spring training with the question of a San Jose move adding a tense, off-the-field layer to their Bay Area rivalry. The margin of error for the poll is 4.25 percentage points.
The numbers may bolster San Jose's case to lure the A's, but one major hiccup stands in the way: Major League Baseball must first give the A's the go-ahead to head south.
The poll "should help the commissioner reach the right decision," Reed said, noting he wasn't too surprised by the strong support because previous polling by A's boosters showed that "people are supportive of a privately financed, privately constructed and privately operated facility."
Jim Weyermann, president and chief executive of the San Jose Giants, is dubious.
"If you ask somebody in any poll, 'Do you want a positive outcome and there is nothing that is coming out of your pocket to get that?' I think that most intelligent people would be affirmative about that," said Weyermann, whose minor league team along with the San Francisco Giants are funding a coalition opposed to any public money for an A's stadium.
San Francisco Giants spokeswoman Staci Slaughter declined to comment on the poll, as did MLB spokesman Pat Courtney and a representative for Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.
Asked about the poll, Corey Busch, a member of the committee appointed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to study the A's stadium options, also declined to comment. Busch also would not say when a decision by the group, formed a year ago to explore potential ballpark sites for the A's in Oakland, Fremont and San Jose, would issue a decision.
In constructing the poll question, the Mercury News sought to make clear to survey respondents the extent of the likely taxpayer contribution. San Jose officials have said the city would provide the land, but that the team — and not taxpayers — would be responsible for building what the city estimates would be a $461 million stadium and financing all stadium operating costs. Over the years, the city has been cobbling together 14 acres next to Diridon Station and just south of HP Pavilion. So far, the city has spent $26 million for nine parcels with two parcels left that will cost about $16 million to $20 million more, land experts say.
Under city law, San Jose voters must approve any proposal for a sports facility that involves the use of public resources. Such a vote could come during a growing fiscal crisis at City Hall that could lead to hundreds of layoffs and widespread service cuts.
Still, supporters of a ballpark in the San Jose State poll said they saw the stadium as a generator of jobs and economic benefits. Sixty-eight percent of men and 57 percent of women favored the proposal; 67 percent of voters between the ages of 35 to 54 supported the stadium; 64 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans said yes.
"It would be a national status symbol for San Jose. It would also provide jobs — hundreds of job," even if they are part-time or seasonal, said Walter Soellner, a retired professor of art at Evergreen Community College and member of the city's arts commission and a poll respondent. "And I think it would bring a certain sense of pride to San Joseans."
An analysis of potential economic benefits, prepared for the city by a consulting firm last year, predicted that a 32,000-seat ballpark would lead to $130 million in annual spending throughout the local economy and $2.9 billion over a 30-year period. It also said a new stadium would create 980 new jobs in San Jose. The analysis also estimated the city would receive $1.5 million in new general fund revenue each year, mostly from property and sales taxes, with another $1 million going to the city's redevelopment agency.
"They don't need more housing and they don't need more office space," poll respondent Tiffany Gelineau, a 38-year-old registered nurse, said of the city. A stadium, she said, would bring "entertainment and revenue for downtown San Jose. We have the Sharks, but something outdoors would be awesome."
Opponents, however, said they fear the congestion a stadium would cause and impacts on local neighborhoods.
"I hate getting caught in the football game traffic up in Candlestick and Oakland as I'm going past to Berkeley," said Robert Braine, a retired programmer who lives in South San Jose. "I don't want to see that kind of congestion here.
"I also tend to feel that too many of these situations end up being a taxpayer-financed arrangement," even though city officials swear that won't be the case. "I've heard that so many times," Braine said. "If I had trust in the honesty and integrity of the whole thing, I'd certainly be less inclined to oppose it."
Melinda Jackson, whose research institute conducted the poll, said while 62 percent is a "very positive result" it didn't surprise her given that San Jose's political establishment backs the ballpark. "We are not in the midst of a messy political" battle over this, she said.
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.