SAN JOSE -- The latest decision voiding a San Jose deal to ensure the A's have a new ballpark should Major League Baseball ever allow a move to the South Bay won't keep the team's co-owner, Lew Wolff, from achieving his goal to play in San Jose.
"It's what I anticipated," said the 77-year-old businessman, who dismissed the land decision from state Controller John Chiang as an insignificant concern in the team's four-year quest to call San Jose home.
"Frankly, if we're approved by baseball to relocate to San Jose, we'll buy the land from any entity that has it if they want to sell it to us," Wolff said, even if the sale price were higher. "Whatever it is, it'll be a small part of the total cost of the ballpark. So I haven't really thought about it."
On Thursday, Chiang's highly anticipated report found that San Jose inappropriately transferred $148.1 million in properties, cash and other assets, including a portion of the ballpark land, from its former redevelopment agency before it was dissolved on June 28, 2011.
That's when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the death warrant for all of the state's 398 active agencies, making good on his promise months earlier to divert hundreds of millions of property taxes the agencies collected to fund schools and local governments.
Oakland officials, who have worked furiously to keep the A's from leaving, including offering the team a new ballpark in a proposed Coliseum City project, declined to comment on Thursday's development.
But the A's have asked the city to stay for the next five years, said Mayor Jean Quan, and "we're pleased to be negotiating a fair deal with the team for that lease extension."
The law that ended redevelopment agencies requires any land and other assets that they transferred to a city, county or other public agency after Jan. 1, 2011, be turned over to a "successor agency" that oversees its ongoing debt payments. The exception is if those properties were committed to a third party by June 28 of that year.
A successor agency and its oversight board can either sell the land to pay down redevelopment debt or fund schools and local government, or return it to the city if it determines it serves a "civic purpose," subject to approval by the state finance department. San Jose's seven-member successor agency board includes two representatives from the city, two from the county, and one each from the Santa Clara County Office of Education, Community College District, and Santa Clara Valley Water District.
Chiang's report identified $108.1 million in former San Jose redevelopment land and improvements transferred to city ownership be handed to the successor agency. That includes California Theatre, valued at $67.7 million; Circle of Palms at the Fairmont Hotel Plaza, valued at $2.2 million; and the tent at the city's convention center, valued at $7.1 million. But city officials expect the successor agency to return those properties to San Jose, as they serve a civic purpose.
Chiang's office also ordered $10.9 million in cash transfers to San Jose's Housing Agency to be returned, which the city has already done.
But a key concern is 4.88 acres of ballpark-area property that the city transferred to the "San Jose Diridon Development Authority" in March 2011 in hopes of protecting it from the state's clutches. The city in November of that year signed an option agreement with the A's to purchase those parcels for about $7 million, which the city said was the value of the land if restricted to use for a ballpark. The redevelopment agency had valued the 4.88 acres at $29.1 million.
While few expected Chiang's office would decide in the city's favor -- both Milpitas and Morgan Hill last summer were given similar marching orders to return assets each had tried to keep from the state -- the outcome was still frustrating to many.
"We disagree with their interpretation of state law in terms of all the properties they have identified," Mayor Chuck Reed said by telephone from Washington, D.C., where he is on city business. "But I'm going to recommend to the council that we transfer all of them back to the successor agency, as the state requested."
San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle said the city stands by its argument with Chiang's office that the ballpark property transfers were done legally in a third-party agreement. But Chiang's office said that agreement came too late.
Yet, even if San Jose's successor agency, and then its oversight board, agrees to maintain that original deal the city made with Wolff, it must still be signed off by the state's Department of Finance, said spokesman H.D. Palmer, who would not speculate on any future decision by his department.
San Jose's proposed A's ballpark would be built on 13.36 acres near the Diridon train station, bounded by Park Avenue and San Fernando and Autumn streets. The team would build the ballpark at an estimated cost of about $500 million. More than half of the parcels needed to complete the ballpark remain privately owned.
The San Francisco Giants staunchly oppose the move, claiming the territorial rights to the South Bay. The Giants declined to comment on Thursday's development.
Nothing, however, can proceed, unless Major League Baseball, which has been studying the A's proposed move to San Jose since March 2009, allows that to happen. City leaders also have committed to a public vote on the stadium, should MLB give the A's its blessing to relocate.
City officials had already received assurances from three Santa Clara County supervisors that they would support the ballpark effort in case Chiang overruled the city's land deal with Wolff.
"We feel like it's very do-able," Supervisor Dave Cortese said Thursday, "and we want to be part of the solution."
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.