Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is the one I back for re-election as our leader, but that’s not going to stop me from making some very pointed criticisms of the way she’s handled the topic of sports in Oakland.
As I write this, she’s about to annouce her new point-person for the Oakland A’s Stadium. Ok, but one person will not solve the problem and she certainly didn’t ask for my input. A giant mistake. That person’s not going to be Oakland Coliseum JPA Executive Director Scott McKibben, nor will it be former Oakland City Manager and public builder of the Washington Nationals Stadium Robert Bobb, nor will it be Former Oakland City Manager and local development wiz Kofi Bonner (whom I put Libby in touch with two years ago). She’s ran out of capable names who are locally known and can get this problem of not having a stadium plan done out of the doldrums. The reason is one I will explain later in this column.
Indeed, what I’m about to explain that focuses on her could be applied to most of the Oakland City Council, but she’s the Mayor, so I’ll start there.
First, let’s take stock of where we are right now, January 28th, 2019:
• The City of Oakland has lost the Golden State Warriors to San Francisco, and after an aggressive economic development campaign led by the late San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, and with no real challenge from either former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan or current Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
• The Oakland Raiders are attempting a move to Las Vegas, but that effort is as of this writing five months behind where it should be, and that gap could widen with the latest political dispute around minority stadium construction jobs. Still, the NFL granted a conditional relocation, dependent on the Raiders ability to actually get it done.
• The Raiders have a lease that extends to 2019, but are working to have it extended to 2020 or perhaps longer, and based on a set of conditions of need. In other words, “if you don’t have that new stadium in Las Vegas finished and open, the Oakland Coliseum’s your home.” It’s also worth noting that the extension has the same wording in it, not removed: that is the parties, Oakland and The Oakland Raiders can enter talks toward a new stadium at the Coliseum. Anyone surprised here should not be: the Raiders always leave an out for themselves.
• The Oakland A’s, getting no active help from Mayor Schasf or the Oakland City Council, on their own tried to work a deal with Peralta Community College, only to be rebuffed by the board. The A’s are setting up the situation so they can indeed say they were committed to Oakland – and move if the current situation of complete lack of leadership continues. And here’s where we get into the problems Libby has created.
Second, Mayor Schaaf, my friend of 30-plus years and who’s really smart enough to know better, failed to and still has not, established a sports task force – really, it should be called the M.I.C.E task force, but that would not ring a bell with anyone, save for economic development specialists. M.I.C.E stands for “Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions”, and it’s an industry folks. An industry that Oakland, because of it’s completely baseless and personal way of looking at economic development, is all but non-extentent in.
That task force could form a plan for the retention of sports in Oakland, and its future growth, and in the process solve the problem of not having enough space for meetings (like for electrical engineers), conventions (like for comic books), incentives (like a Pharell concert) or exhibitions (like an auto show). A really good sports stadium district has, by design, space for all of that. We have that in the Coliseum and with Oracle Arena and the current Raiders / A’s Stadium. We also have a deficiency of over 800,000 square feet of convention and meeting space – adding that equals more events and more jobs.
Second, Libby has had something like four years to establish a sports task force, and did nothing- she points to her staff of people as that group. That action flies in the face of all of the task forces assembled in history: each one consists of leaders in the community, both business and non-business, and who represent what I call a “value chain” of actors that can help solve specific problems associated with a development project, from permits to media and public relations. I tried to get Libby to set that up years ago, but I got this stuff both from her and from Oakland and Alameda County Consultant Pat Cashman talking about the task forces that didn’t work. Look, in Oakland, we need a task force. I solved the problem of lack of cooperation when I formed the Oakland Downtown Coalition in 1997 – that got us the 14th and Broadway Transit Cooridor for AC Transit’s large buses. If I can do, it, I can do it again. If Libby would ask me – which brings me to my next point.
Between Oakland’s now deep list of people who are experienced enough in many ways related to sports stadiums and the M.I.C.E industry, and Libby’s relationships with those Oaklanders, like me, you’d think she’d form a task force to call on her friends, right? Not done. And that’s because Libby’s taking bad advice from her political consultants, and is afraid to take bold action. Mainly because she and the other Oakland City Council members are completely freaked out by the homeless problem.
And on that, I take this aside:
The City Of Oakland’s Homeless Problem is there because we don’t have a good fund to pay for the construction of afforable housing. The equation is simple: government investment via subsidy can help make a development project pay for itself with lower rent. We need tas increment financing to do that, which means we need a district, and that means we need and have legislation that allows it in California: SB 628, called Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts.
SB 628 specifically allows Oakland to finance affordable housing construction. It can be used with the A’s Stadium Plan to generate up to $80 million in financing assistance ear-marked for housing, in that case. We can use it in the case of Oak Knoll, or the Coliseum City project. When I talk about this with Oakland Councilmembers, they just tell me “redevelopment is dead” – as if they’re resigned to do nothing, let alone avoid using government policy tools that can solve the problem.
But for the homeless, the City can create a grant program that gives up to $3,000 per homeless person to get them housing – times the estimated 4,000 homeless in Oakland, and that calls for $12 million. Give them the grants – help them get into housing, and then that gives us time to rebuild our stock of both affordable and cheap homes.
The problem, it seems to me, is that Democrats seem to want people who need help to exist, rather that doing everything it takes to invest in those same people and eliminate their problems. Giving money, at the end of the day, is the solution – but Oakland’s Democrats don’t want to do that because it means no one to look down on and say “oh those poor people need our help.” I’m a Democrat, but that’s the way our party has turned, and Oakland’s ran by Dems. Time to call it as I see it. Back to the main point: sports and Mayor Schaaf.
Mayor Schaaf needs to do the following: 1) make a sports task force, 2) stop fooling around and call the one person with the nerve to really solve this problem fast, me, 3) let me stock the task force with capable Oaklanders and SF Bay Area experts in development and sports specialists, 4) ask Oaklanders to vote on what land they want used for the A’s, 5) work with the A’s to form a development plan for the stadium, 6) set a list of goals and objectives with respect to the M.I.C.E industry, 7) develop an overall finacing plan for structures, and 8) work on a plan for the development of the Oakland Coliseum of the future, which includes a review of change in the very nature of sports – for example, we now have E-Sports.
In closing, Mayor Schaaf and the Oakland City Council, and many Oaklanders, must change what their view of sports is. For example, a couple of people interrupted my interview with an Oakland A’s fan at FanFest to tell us they didn’t want a stadium at Jack London Square. One reason one of the persons gave was the idea that it added low wage jobs at $13 per hour! Wrong! The average stadium worker makes $68,000 a year – that’s on a par with nurses according to Simply Hired – and that’s the average and well above $13 an hour – it’s $32 an hour.
We also have to stop making the conversation about economic development and sports one about personalities, like Oakland Raiders Owner Mark Davis, and Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval, and make it about financing, land, goals, and objectives. Historically, whenever we talked about tech economid development, it was about just that, not about personalties like Steve Jobs or Jack Dorsey. You see? Our approach to sports in Oakland has been parochial and more often than not nasty and personal.
We have to stop that, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf can and should lead the charge to do so.