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Editorial: The 49ers are a regional business

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When Bank of America moved its corporate operations to North Carolina, when Chevron moved its to nearby San Ramon, when Matson crossed to the other side of the Bay — did The City lift a digit to keep them?

Did the mayor, by letter or fax or even bicycle courier, make any effort to coax them to stay? Did the Board of Supervisors pounce on his honor for his failure to retain these majestic enterprises, so long a part of San Francisco’s identity? Did anyone from The City so much as telephone BofA’s new owners and plead, in the name of A. P. Giannini, to establish their newly merged corporate headquarters here?

Did a state senator from these progressive precincts introduce legislation to make the exodus of these companies illegal? Did a U.S. senator from California, San Francisco’s erstwhile mayor, try to block this passage of private enterprise to outside the city limits?

Guess not. If any of that happened, we know precious little about it. These companies were not especially known for encouraging tailgate parties in their parking lots. Of course, they created jobs and yielded up plenty of revenue for The City, but in San Francisco the political class felt more comfortable dissing “big business,” even as it expected businesses large and small to meet its political demands.

How interesting, then, that when John York, co-owner with his wife of the San Francisco 49ers, grew dissatisfied with plans for a new venue at Candlestick Point and announced his intention to move the footballers to Santa Clara, local politicians were aghast.

Why the intense concern for the Niners and not for the aforementioned businesses, you may ask? The team really is a business, is it not?

Of course it is, but for the politicians professional athletics are bread-and-circuses, that ancient practice of keeping the populace blissfully amused — not that we aren’t in love with the Niners ourselves. To some fans, professional sports are a secular religion, complete with cathedrals and rituals. What politician in his right mind would want to antagonize the fervent among us?

So we have Mayor Gavin Newsom, lest he be faulted for “losing” the Niners, offering the Yorks a whole new site at Hunters Point. We have State Sen. Carole Migden introducing a bill that would prohibit a smaller city from tantalizing big city teams with “tax breaks and land giveaways.” The bill is smartly (and rightly) opposed by Santa Clara’s State Sen. Elaine Alquist.

Not to be outdone, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein pushes federal legislation that would require the Niners to secure permission from San Francisco to keep their name should they end up on the Peninsula.

All this posturing is silly and unseemly, of course, not to mention a waste of The City’s resources. If the Yorks dubbed their team the San Francisco Bay Forty-Niners, to whom — outside the political class — would it really matter?

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