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City Hall's costly loss at SBC Park:
Giants are owed $3.6 million property tax refund, panel rules
San Francisco Chronicle -- July 22, 2005

Beyond Chron
January 25, 2005

Copyright © 2005 by Marc Norton

The Giants want a tax cut. MUNI wants another fare hike. What's wrong with this picture?

Matier and Ross report that the Giants want a $4 million refund on their property taxes, because, they claim, their ballpark is worth $100 million less than when it opened four years ago. Outrageous, but what's new? Those millions are only a portion of the corporate welfare that the Giants have received from the perennially-underfunded San Francisco budget over the last few years. Meanwhile, MUNI, which spends buckets of money delivering fans to the ballpark's doors, free of charge to the Giants, is looking to gouge another fare hike out of riders.

One of the myths about the Giants' Ballpark on the Bay is that no public money was spent on its development. Not so. According to the city's controller, a usually-reliable source, $25 to $30 million was thrown into the pot by the Port and Redevelopment agencies. No small chunk of change, that -- roughly the same as this year's budget deficit. Wouldn't we like to have that back now? Go Giants!

Then there was the infamous business tax lawsuit settlement a few years back, about the same time the ballpark opened up for business. The Giants were part of the conglomerate of corporate raiders who put the squeeze on the City, complaining that some technical oddity of the law meant that the big boys downtown were paying too much business tax. Make downtown pay its fair share, they said: less is more. The settlement cost the City at least $100 million.

The Giants cut of the take was reportedly about $300,000. Add to that the cost to the city of borrowing the money from a different bunch of corporate types, so the City could pay off the first set of corporate raiders up-front, as they were very hungry for their money. (Or, was that our money?) Then add to that the big bucks the Giants saved in recent years by the abolition of the gross receipts tax, which was mandated by the business tax lawsuit settlement. Oh, gosh, why do we bother taxing them at all? Maybe it's just too much trouble.

But it's not too much trouble for MUNI to go after riders with yet another fare increase. At the last meeting of the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), which runs MUNI, they were considering raising the fare as high as $1.75. Also in the hopper was a proposal to raise the cost of a Fast Pass to $63 per month, eliminate the use of the Fast Pass on BART, and raise the cost of the youth, senior and disabled passes.

The next meeting of the MTA is scheduled for Tuesday, February 1, 4:00 pm, in Room 400 at Silly Hall, in case you have anything to say about the matter.

Now, back to my original question. What is wrong with this picture?

Take a look at that picture at the top of this article. See all the MUNI streetcars lined up in front of the ballpark? Who paid to get all those streetcars there? Was it Peter Magowan? No, no. We did -- MUNI riders and city taxpayers.

Next question. Who gets all the money that the fans lay out so they can line up and trudge through the turnstiles into the ballpark? Is it MUNI riders? Is it city taxpayers? Nope, bzzz, you lose. It's the Giants. Go Giants!

A decade ago, way back in 1994, there was a city initiative, called Prop O. The people who put that proposition on the ballot, including yours truly, hoped to get downtown commercial property owners to pay an annual fee to the city for the huge benefit they get from having MUNI deliver customers and workers to their front doors. Sort of like an annual Fast Pass for downtown landlords. It was meant for corporations just like the Giants.

Unfortunately, the Committee on Jobs types threw about $750,000 into a No on Prop O campaign, defeated the initiative, and saved themselves millions. They also saved the Giants a bundle, though the new ballpark was then only a gleam in Peter Magowan's eyes.

Last year we had an anemic tax-the-corporations scheme called Prop K, which would have resurrected the gross receipts tax abolished by the business tax lawsuit settlement. Good idea, terrible execution. Newsom and the supes' campaign plan: let a few downtown types carry the load. Har, har. You lose, budget deficit, MUNI fare hikes, and lots of cuts to public services.

We have to do better than this. The hot button budget item right now is whether or not the City will donate $1 million for relief to the millions of people devastated by the tsunami in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean basin. Meanwhile, Magowan's Giants are asking for a $4 million handout. Shame on them.

And shame on silly hall if they let it happen. It really is time for downtown to pay its fair share.