Don’t believe the hype – Warriors’ waterfront arena plan just that for now

Editors’ note: This is the first in an occasional series about the pros, cons and pitfalls of building sports venues in California.

The writing was already on the jersey.

A year-and-a-half ago when Joe Lacob and Peter Guber shelled out a record $450 million to purchase the Golden State Warriors, one of the first changes for the franchise was that of its duds. The Golden Gate Bridge is prominently featured – despite the fact that it connects Marin County and San Francisco, neither of which are Oakland, where the team plays. Until Tuesday the Lacob/Gruber era had been a dud.

That may have been the first hint at Lacob and Gruber’s intentions (or holding their introductory presser in San Francisco), which were laid bare for all to see on Tuesday. The ambitious dreamers endeavor to move into a privately-financed arena built upon Piers 30 and 32 in San Francisco by the fall of 2017. The site is unmatched in terms of scenery put against any arena site in the country sitting in the shadow of the Bay Bridge – the one that actually connects San Francisco and Oakland – just four blocks north of picturesque AT&T Park.

Not surprisingly the local media is already throwing water on the story, having seen many a venue proposal appear and disappear just as rapidly as the ever-present Bay Area fog. But in far-off places like New York, Chicago and Miami, sports fans are seeing different headlines. Out-of-market folks are reading that the Warriors “will” move back to San Francisco, where they played since moving from Philadelphia in 1962 until 1971.

It’s understandable for the pool reports that appear in papers, online media and over broadcast in markets thousands of miles away not to include the immediate stakeholder details that local reporters provide. But to call this a done detail without mention of the hurdles the project still faces is a leap as wide as San Francisco Bay.

Because this is California.

Lacob insists that the private funding is a “done deal,” which is good, because if you’re asking taxpayers in these parts to foot the bill, you’re screwed. While the use of public vs. private money is a major hurdle in building other sports palaces around the country it’s a relatively small one here compared to environmental impact reports, building codes and municipal government approval.

California is as unwieldy politically as it is large with more than 500 state agencies and just as many special interests making massive public works projects notoriously hard to complete (see: high speed rail). Lt. Governor and former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who chairs the State Lands Commission, was on hand Tuesday to pledge his support, but he’s one of dozens if not hundreds who will need to sign off on a finalized deal.

The parcel is state-owned land in the city of San Francisco – a municipality that makes its Big Brother statehouse look like the sane one. By the time the celebratory “press conference” had already concluded, the same opposition that decried the construction of AT&T Park – civic groups worried about traffic headaches and local property owners concerned with their Bay views being oscured — had already lined up. Peter McGowan overcame them mainly because he had a solid plan with an even more solid site. Piers 30/32, however, are falling apart.

So if you have visions of a sparkling new arena on the water dancing through your head, don’t be surprised if in the fall of 2017 there is still an asphalt patch with wooden pilings falling into Bay.