Feinstein floats legislation on team moves

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Tuesday she may introduce a bill requiring local officials to approve if a sports team tries to leave town with the city's name still attached.

Feinstein, D-Calif., said she also was considering legislation that would require the National Football League to sign off before teams could relocate to other cities or states. League rules now require three-quarters of clubs to approve team moves, but because the policy is not a law team owners do not have to abide by it.

The proposals, which Feinstein revealed at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, came in response to the San Francisco 49ers' announcement last week that the team would relocate 45 miles south to Santa Clara after a stadium was built, a move Feinstein strongly opposes.

"You're in San Francisco, you're a San Francisco 49er," said Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor. "You're outside of San Francisco, you're not a San Francisco 49er."

A spokesman for the 49ers declined comment on Feinstein's proposals.

"The team is happy to have discussions with the city of San Francisco, but we're moving forward with our planned talks with the city of Santa Clara," said team spokesman Steve Fine.

City officials who have been negotiating with the 49ers over plans for building a new stadium at Candlestick Point said they would continue talking with the team in hopes of staving off a move to Santa Clara.

Feinstein said she felt strongly that the city should present another proposal to team owner John York.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league shares Feinstein's view "on the importance of franchise stability."

"The 49ers are not considering a move out of the San Francisco market and are continuing to have an open dialogue on the possible location of a new stadium," Aiello said.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom already has asked city lawyers to explore whether the local government can stop the team from using the San Francisco name if it moves. Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno also is looking into introducing a bill in the state Legislature that would do the same.

The 49ers announced last week they had abandoned their decade-long attempts to build a new stadium on Candlestick Point, their San Francisco home since 1971.

Instead the team said it would seek to build a new stadium in the Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, near the Great America amusement park and the Santa Clara Convention Center.

The team said it the Candlestick site needs too many infrastructure and public transit improvements, as well as a huge parking garage, which could delay its completion beyond a 2012 goal and exceed the proposed cost of between $600 million and $800 million.

The team also does not like the idea of having to build a garage to accommodate cars, a plan which could stop fans from traditional tailgating.

Newsom said at a press conference Tuesday that he was hopeful it was not too late to persuade York that moving south was a bad idea. He said that once Candlestick Point is redeveloped with restaurants, a movie theater and space for tailgate parties it would offer a "fan experience" that Santa Clara can't rival.

"It's wildly premature to assume they are leaving," Newsom said. "I would be foolish not to keep that door open."

The mayor said that if having its new stadium in an urban area is not enough to tempt the team into staying, the city could play hard ball by withholding essential services such as game day police protection and rerouted buses until the 49ers lease runs out in 2008.

"We will be looking at all our legal options and we will strategize about making it more difficult for the 49ers to leave than they would like it to be," he said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he was sympathetic to Feinstein's concerns, noting that he fought the proposed move of the Philadelphia Eagles to Phoenix in the 1980s.

"I share your concern for the hometown team," Specter said.
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