SAN JOSE — The escalating battle over a proposal to build an A's baseball park in San Jose took a legal turn Thursday when San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig expressing "grave concern" about the Oakland team's proposed move to the South Bay, which he says is the San Francisco Giants' exclusive territory.
The six-page letter outlines the history of the involvement of San Francisco leaders and voters throughout much of the 1990s to facilitate what is now AT&T Park and to prevent the team from relocating to Florida under its previous ownership. It also discusses binding legal agreements that Herrera says were acknowledged by the league in 1997.
The letter seeks to clarify legal concerns he has on behalf of San Francisco should the league "tamper with the Giants' territorial rights."
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums' office declined to comment on the issue, aiming to stay out of the squabble between San Francisco and Major League Baseball.
However, Oakland officials long have hoped the Giants' territorial claims will be protected as they try to keep the team in their city. Last week, Dellums, other city officials and team supporters unveiled three waterfront sites in the Jack London Square area where they think a baseball-only stadium can be built.
Doug Boxer, son of Sen. Barbara Boxer and co-founder of the A's booster organization Let's Go Oakland!, said
"Whatever San Francisco is going to do and what the Giants are going to do, they're going to do," Boxer said. "I couldn't tell you the effect or impact it's going to have on the process."
Asked if his letter was meant to lay the groundwork for a lawsuit his office might file against the league, Herrera demurred, saying he "won't speculate as to what it means."
"I will be watching closely as to the direction that the MLB moves," he said, "and will do everything possible to make sure that the interest of the city and county's taxpayers are protected."
Herrera said the timing of the letter, which was e-mailed to Selig's office Thursday, was driven in part by A's owner Lew Wolff's recent and "much more vocal" comments about looking at the San Jose site for his team.
San Jose city officials seemed unimpressed.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed characterized the territorial battle as "truly an inside baseball issue."
"The territorial rights belong to Major League Baseball," he said, "and they will have to decide what is in their best interests. When they take a look at San Jose, I think they will find this is a great place for a baseball team."
"I've seen better-orchestrated temper tantrums," said San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo, in whose district the proposed A's stadium would be built.
"Clearly this was done at the manipulation of San Francisco team owners, who would like to retain the delusion that San Jose should be a subservient minor league suburb of our smaller neighbor to the north," he said.
Herrera said his action was taken independently from the Giants, though he said his office contacted a team representative Wednesday night to alert them of the letter.
Calls to the Giants and A's were not returned Thursday. In an e-mail, MLB spokesman Pat Courtney would only say, "We have a committee working on this issue and will have no comment until their work is concluded."
The letter comes on the heels of a new San Jose Giants fans coalition, unveiled earlier this week, which opposes public funds or subsidies that would bring the A's to a new downtown ballpark.
Jim Weyermann, president and chief executive of the San Jose Giants and a member of the coalition, said Wednesday that Municipal Stadium is a city asset that has not had major repairs over the decades. He said the team has spent more than $2 million of its own money on repairs.
"We have an obligation to ensure that the facility is safe and accessible to all the fans. And the city is also responsible for that, per our lease," he said.
An A's spokesman declined Wednesday to comment on the coalition.
The group says a ballpark would divert city money from essential services, which San Jose officials say is untrue. An attorney for the group filed a nine-page letter with the city Wednesday that challenges a revised environmental impact report for the stadium.
However, a ballpark in San Jose will not materialize until a decision about the Giants' territorial rights to the area — which they will not relinquish — are resolved.
The decision lies with Selig, who has appointed a committee to study the A's options. That committee has met three times with San Jose officials, but its members will not say when they expect their work to be finished. It would also take a vote of three-quarters of baseball's owners to terminate the Giants' territorial rights and allow the A's to move to San Jose.
Staff writer Kelly Rayburn contributed to this story.