Public Land should not be handed over to a billionaire family without full transparency – especially when selling at a discounted price

Oakland Coliseum Credit: Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Municipalities everywhere are grappling with the economic fallout of COVID-19. Oakland is no exception. The city is understandably looking everywhere for ways to fill the budget hole.

But it is gravely concerning that the City Council met behind closed doors last week to hammer out a plan to sell the city’s half of the Oakland Coliseum property to the A’s at the below-market rate of $85 million.

The Coliseum is some of the most valuable land in the entire Bay Area. This public land should not be handed over without full, public deliberation – especially when the sale would be at a discounted price. At a minimum, the city must require that, if the A’s buy the land, they must actually build their stadium at the Coliseum site.

Anything less would be a slap in the face to Oakland residents who do not want their community simply used as a developer’s piggy bank so the team can finance a ballpark and luxury condos on the waterfront or elsewhere. A recent poll found that 62% of us want the A’s to stay and build a new stadium at the Coliseum.

Oakland Always Gets the Short End of the Deal

Among American cities with multiple major-league sports franchises, Oakland has ended up on the short end of the stick more than any other – at least financially speaking. The Raiders were touch-and-go with the city for many years before finally departing for Las Vegas and leaving behind a $65 million tab for Oakland taxpayers. When the Warriors left for San Francisco, they left us on the hook for $40 million in arena improvements.

The A’s have brought home multiple championships to Oakland during their decades in town and have a dedicated fan base here. The City Council should absolutely work to keep the team in Oakland – but not by recklessly giving away millions of taxpayer dollars.

The amount the A’s are offering is far below market value; some are estimating Oakland’s half-interest in the Coliseum site is actually worth as much as $150 million. Having the team buy it to alleviate the city’s financial woes could be a positive move for the city, but only if done right.

In order for this sale to make sense for Oakland, it must include a requirement that the team meet community-driven, minimum-development standards, including a new ballpark at the site to help make up the lost income to the city.

East Oakland Is the Best Option

Unlike the team’s proposed waterfront complex, the Coliseum site requires no additional review, has minimal red tape, offers plentiful public transportation options and sits in a part of Oakland that is long overdue for economic stimulus.

Keeping the A’s in East Oakland and using a new ballpark as a magnet for a fully realized housing, retail and sports complex that benefits the community and those who have stood by the team for so many years is the only thing that makes sense.

As a resident of East Oakland for decades, I have witnessed the glory of sports championships fail to translate to economic growth. After a long history of broken promises to this long-forgotten part of the city, how can residents benefit from more empty words about proposed plans that do not include a new ballpark to anchor revitalization of this community?

It is also critical to recognize that too many jobs at the Port of Oakland, which are primarily held by African American residents and union members, would be lost if the A’s pursue a stadium at the Port of Oakland. It makes no sense to move an economic driver from one neighborhood to a different part of the city – and ruin another economic engine there.

It would be a mistake for the City Council to use the pandemic as an impetus for a rushed backroom deal with no guarantees to this community. We need transparency and equity as well as meaningful contractual requirements to keep the A’s in East Oakland. 

Postscript: If you want to voice your opposition to the backroom sale of public land to billionaire John Fisher, e-mail the Oakland City Council at council@oaklandca.gov.