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Roger and Me

Lately I became Topic A in certain Santa Clara power circles. Or rather, the hour I spent discussing the proposed 49ers stadium with Roger Noll. I confess I wasn’t prepared for the reaction to my interview with this noted sports economist. When he was interviewed by both the San Jose Mercury and the San Francisco Chronicle, neither paper nor their reporters received undue comment.

But a spate of comments in response to my interview tell me that I’ve “changed,” that I’m now “against the stadium,” and have taken up residence “in the pocket of Santa Clara Plays Fair.” In short, nefarious methods have been put into play to “turn” me from a stadium-loving fan into a nay-saying, stadium-hating cat’s-paw of forces too devious to be named. MK-ULTRA anyone?

And all this for spending an hour with a wonkish, fiscally conservative Stanford economist. OK, not just for spending an hour with Roger Noll. (I promise you there was no funny business – the door was open the whole time.)

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For talking to Roger Noll and observing that the City Council seems to be in an unseemly haste – “administrative panic” is what I called it – to put RDA money beyond the reach of the state legislature, without regarding how this maneuvering may reduce City public services in the future.

And quoting the City Finance Director that the $35 million in RDA bonds approved at the April 26, 2011 Council Meeting would be sold at interest rates of between 7 and 8.5 percent.

And reporting that Moody’s Investment Services downgraded the San Jose RDA’s non-housing tax allocation bonds.

And being surprised at hearing attorney Chick Adams, disclosure counsel for Santa Clara’s bond financing team, use the phrase “get around” in reference to California law regarding municipal bond issues.

And observing that the City Council spent more time discussing July 4th fireworks than a $35 million municipal bond issue. Nothing like putting the circuses before the bread.

So at the risk of throwing oil on this fire, let me try to set the record straight.

If you think I’m in the pocket of Santa Clara Plays Fair, you missed what I wrote about SCPF’s 2007 guerrilla theater performance:

“After the Oct. 23 City Council meeting, I can only assume the Santa Clara Plays Fair advocacy group intends the word ‘play’ in its theatrical sense…Its show bombed when the anti-49ers stadium group flung its fanfold computer paper petition across the width of the Council Chambers in streamer after streamer…The performance wasn’t improved by a spontaneous encore from the city’s reigning municipal rage-monger…”

Hitherto, I’ve only been accused of being in developers’ pockets. Now, quark-like, I can occupy two pockets simultaneously. Pro-development groups can now join hands with the critic of my BAREC coverage who wrote, “When is the Weekly going to get unbiased reporters instead of Carolyn Schuk? All she cares about is facts.”

However, what troubles me as both a citizen and a journalist is the reflexive assumption that all reporting comes from a position of prejudice: The questions you ask are effectively evidence of your bias.

I’m happy to listen to anyone who will explain the errors in Roger Noll’s reasoning. I promise to document that person’s arguments as carefully as I did Noll’s.

But questioning motives – “I’d like to see his [Noll’s] bank account” is how one person put it to me – isn’t answering questions. It’s changing the subject. And that leads me to more questions.

Now, I don’t deny having opinions. Nor do I refrain from voting on them. So here’s mine about the stadium:

I voted for Measure J. I think that a major league sports franchise has a real – if intangible – value for the City’s image. More important, I think that it will accelerate development on the North side – certainly that’s what the AT&T Park did for San Francisco’s China Basin.

As a 28-year Santa Clara resident, I think the North Side is where the City’s future is. When the price of gas puts $5 in its rear-view mirror, the suburban landscape of the 1950s and 1960s with its automobile-bound commute isn’t going to be economically tenable for middle-class people. But the high-density, transportation-centric, business-dense North Side will be. If I were moving here today, that’s where I’d be.

But here’s one thing I don’t think: That the City of Santa Clara will ever, ever refuse to bail out an insolvent Stadium Authority. If that day comes to pass, expect the first people demanding a City bailout to be the ones who appeared in TV ads talking about “iron-clad” guarantees that taxpayers will not be on the hook if stadium revenues don’t meet expectations.

And that’s an ironclad guarantee.

When she’s not interviewing Stanford economists, Carolyn Schuk can be reached at cschuk@earthlink.net.

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