Tags: None [From the San Jose Mercury News online edition] Oakland Coliseum operator defends planning leading up to U2 concert
By Angela Woodall Oakland Tribune
Posted: 06/17/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
In July 2010, an Alameda County grand jury stepped up criticism over operations at the municipally owned sports and entertainment complex in Oakland, now called O.co Coliseum.
Jurors issued a troubling list of lingering concerns over the "fragmented, uncertain and unclear" oversight exerted by the Coliseum Authority, an eight-person board of commissioners.
Management improved incrementally since, but a June 7 U2 concert sparked criticism over operations after concertgoers found themselves stranded in a traffic snarl on Interstate 880 or fruitlessly searching for parking in sight of the Coliseum.
Some of them gave up, forfeiting hundreds of dollars in tickets, baby-sitting, gas and other expenses.
A man claiming to be one of the inconvenienced would-be attendees set up a website where others could record their U2 concert traffic stories. Patrick Missud also tried to rally concertgoers to demand compensation for, among other things, better security to "prevent road rage"; compensation of costs to people who didn't get to see the concert; and more parking.
He cited the NFL's decision to compensate Super Bowl fans who missed the kickoff in February. But in that case a seating blunder was to blame.
If the Coliseum did not respond similarly, relief would include "lots and lots of out-of-pocket losses," Missud wrote Wednesday in an email that landed in the hands of the Oakland Coliseum Joint Venture, which monitors operations.
The Coliseum complex is owned by the city of Oakland and Alameda County and subsidized by taxpayers -- $21 million in fiscal year 2009-10 and about the same amount in previous years, according to financial statements.
The Coliseum Authority created the Oakland Coliseum Joint Venture to monitor operations. But the principal owner of the Joint Venture is SMG, which received $616,312 during fiscal year 2009-10 to take care of daily operations and is not audited by Oakland or Alameda County, according to financial statements.
SMG also lacked oversight, according to the 2010 grand jury, whose recommendation to appoint an executive director was fulfilled that same year with an interim manager and more recently a permanent chief.
SMG executives, however, defended the company's planning for the U2 concert.
The company opened the main lot at 7 a.m., hired 18 Oakland police officers to direct traffic and parking and had 58,000 of the 59,400 attendees in their seats on time, SMG General Manager Ron Little said.
Police ushered drivers to overflow parking after cars filled the main lot by 7 p.m.
Leading up to the concert, SMG, the Coliseum Joint Venture and concert promoter Live Nation put out multiple warnings about transportation by website, email, Facebook and Twitter.
"The decision (unfortunately made by a number of ticket holders) to drive to O.Co Coliseum close to the starting time of the concert and during the height of the combined rush-hour traffic and concert traffic, rather than to arrive earlier or take public transportation, is not a basis for a refund," wrote Attorney Elliott Myles, in response to Missud's demands and threat of legal action.
A lack of familiarity with Oakland and fear compounded the problem.
One woman complained that she and her husband, who left the South Bay at 5:50 p.m., had to wander around a mile from the Coliseum "in the middle of the night" in Oakland.
They parked across the overpass on Oakport Street where overflow parking is routinely directed during Raiders games. The woman meant that they were in danger because the roadways from there to the Coliseum are not designed for pedestrians and because the couple was unfamiliar with the area and didn't make their way east to streets where parking places stood empty. Police did not appear to have directed people to them.
Little said SMG's control ends at city streets except for the overflow parking lots the company operates.
In addition, BART had warned riders that the last train would leave at midnight, prompting many people to flood the walkways at 11:30 p.m. Service actually ended at 2:28 a.m. Yet BART alerted no one to the service extension.
Myles also argued there's more parking at the Coliseum than other Bay Area venues, such as the HP Pavilion in San Jose and most major San Francisco venues, which must rely more heavily on public transportation.
The closest in size is Candlestick Park, home of the San Francisco 49ers. The stadium offers close to 10,000 parking places and has a total seating capacity of 69,732. The Coliseum seats 70,000 during concerts, more than any other venue in the Bay Area.
Coliseum parking totals about 8,800 in the parking lot and about 1,100 in the two overflow lots. That leaves many thousands without a spot in both venues.
And traffic around Candlestick is known to be difficult. The Candlestick website, however, provides better instructions than the Coliseum's site and gives tips about traffic, more meticulous maps and a video called "Candlestick Park Traffic 101."
SMG Executive Vice President Doug Thornton said his company would consider following Candlestick's example.
But, he added, June 7 "appears to be an anomaly."
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[Originally published on mercurynews.com.]