By Arthur Delaney - 11/29/06 12:00 AM EST
Like some other pro sports teams, the San Francisco 49ers may move from their hometown to a suburb, where a better stadium deal awaits. And, as is typically the case, the team would expect to retain its name and city affiliation.
But not if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has anything to say about it. On Nov. 21, Feinstein discussed the possibility of offering legislation to prevent the 49ers from leaving without changing their name accordingly. And Mark Leno, a California assemblyman from San Francisco, is planning to introduce legislation of his own next month.
“You can’t move to Santa Clara and call yourself a 49er,” Feinstein told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
But if you moved to Landover, Md., could you call yourself a Washington Redskin? Would legislation by Feinstein force the Redskins to admit they don’t play in Washington and change their name? We’ll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, the Washington Redskins are already under some pressure to change their bogus name and home stadium.
On the “Washington” front, D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans is pushing a plan to build a new stadium on the RFK site once the Washington Nationals have moved to their new ballpark. Evans doesn’t like the Skins playing in Landover, and he doesn’t like the stadium they play in, either.
“The stadium is a piece of junk,” he says. “It’s just the worst place to go to see a football game, whereas the RFK site is ideal.”
Evans wants Redskins owner Dan Snyder to demolish FedEx Field, sell the land, and use money from the sale to build a new stadium where RFK is now. The new stadium would have a retractable roof, so D.C. could host the Super Bowl someday. Evans says he’s getting lots of positive feedback about the plan and that it wouldn’t cost the city a dime.
On the “Redskins” front, a group of Native Americans filed a new petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in August complaining that “Redskins” breaks trademark law, which prohibits trademarks that may “disparage” or bring into “contempt or disrepute” any people, institutions, beliefs or national symbols. (With the way their season’s going right now, the Redskins themselves are a bit contemptible and disreputable.)
Crazier name changes have happened.
For a couple years starting in 1997, Redskins then-owner Jack Kent Cooke changed the name of the area around his new stadium in Maryland from Landover to Raljon in honor of his sons Ralph and John. Though it lasted only until 1999, Raljon should go down in history as one of the most hideous place-names ever created — the perfect pair: Ralph for vomit and John for toilet.
Ten years ago the Washington Bullets became the Wizards, because team owner Abe Pollin deemed Bullets inappropriate for a city plagued by gun violence. Imagine if Pollin’s team name was an obvious racial slur!
Neighbors twist developers’ arms
Residents of D.C.’s tiny southwestern quadrant have achieved a minor victory in their ongoing struggle with big-time development. The local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) wrestled a concession from developers in their plans for the Waterside Mall site: There will always be a supermarket.
Right now the mall’s been the same way it’s been for a couple of years — fenced in, boarded up, and mostly vacant, except for a bank, a dry cleaner, a CVS and a Safeway. The Safeway’s lease runs out in 14 years, after which there would have been no guarantee of a supermarket — a major problem for Southwest residents, as the Safeway is the only supermarket in the entire quadrant.
“We moved further than we have moved before because we took out that potential[ly] very big glitch,” says ANC chairman Andy Litsky. The “glitch” allowed the developers not to have to maintain a grocery store after Safeway’s lease runs up if another store is built in the “neighborhood,” which, according to the old Land Distribution and Development Agreement, could be as far away as the southeast Navy Yard.
The Waterside Mall land is currently owned by the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), a quasi-public entity charged with fostering private-sector development while “empowering” the locals. Under the current terms of their decades-old lease, which undervalues the land significantly, the kind of mixed-use development that is the goal of the private company Waterside Associates can’t happen. NCRC is extinguishing the old lease, giving the land to the developers, and retaining less than two acres. This tiny parcel, worth between $22 million and $30 million, is a big boost to the NCRC’s portfolio — the rest of the land, worth many times more, is an incredible gift to a private enterprise. Under the new arrangement, the Waterside Associates must obey a number of terms set by the NCRC.
Wary of the sweet deal developers are getting, Litsky and the ANC sought to ensure that the NCRC made the developers promise to keep a supermarket, and neighborhood commissioners consider themselves victorious on that front.
“This was the very first time we met with them,” Litsky says. “For three years we’ve been asking to meet with the developers and for three years they’ve turned us down.”
NCRC development manager Jennifer Budoff strongly disagrees with Litsky’s characterization: “Just over the past year I’ve had over 13 meetings with different community people.”
Gambling initiative has no luck in court
You’ve seen the people working for the slots initiative. They walk up to you on the sidewalk, ask if you’re a D.C. voter, and then, if you are, they ask you to sign a petition to put a slot machine referendum on a ballot. They’re aggressive — they earn two dollars a signature.
Well, looks like you won’t have to deal with this anymore. D.C. Court of Appeals judges John Fisher, Noel Kramer, and Theodore Newman ruled Nov. 22 that D.C.’s Home Rule Act doesn’t give the District government the authority to put a slots initiative on a ballot. In other words, abject subjugation to Congress has saved the city from being preyed upon by out-of-town “entrepreneurs” who wanted to stick slots in Anacostia.
Slots opponents, led by DCWatch Executive Director Dorothy Brizill, argued that the District’s 1973 Home Rule Act forbids the D.C. government from overturning any act of Congress “which is not restricted in its application exclusively in or to the District.” The appeals court ruled that D.C. can’t have a slots referendum because doing so would be overturning the federal anti-gambling Johnson Act of 1951, which explicitly prohibits gambling here.
Brizill’s DCWatch website received a couple of angry letters over the decision. Bill Coe wrote that while he was agnostic on the slots issue, he thought this a “contemptible” way of settling it: “It’s rather like the grown-up child who whines about controlling parents and then, when he runs into trouble, runs to daddy for help.”
Brizill’s husband Gary Imhoff upped the rhetoric, countering that because the Johnson Act forbids gambling not just in the District but in the colonially held territories as well, “D.C. will have to become an independent nation” to satisfy people like Coe. Imagine that — secession of the nation’s capital! Even weirder than the Redskins playing in Maryland.