For years, journalists and sports pundits have blamed Oakland and Alameda County officials for the fact that the owners of the A's and Raiders have yet to come up with viable plans for new stadiums in Oakland. The Bay Area News Group, which owns the Oakland Tribune, the city's hometown daily, did it again this week, arguing in a page one news story that "if Oakland stumbles in its ballpark bid" for the A's, then the team will once again be looking to leave.
It's a strange paradox of the news business — that it's a given that public officials, who are in charge of safeguarding taxpayer dollars, are responsible for coming up with detailed proposals for new facilities for wealthy owners of sports teams. No other privately owned enterprise enjoys such treatment. Indeed, journalists would typically be quick to question and criticize (and rightly so) if public officials were to use taxpayer resources to devise detailed plans for new facilities for other types of wealthy corporations.
It's not clear when sports team owners started to receive such special treatment from the press. But it's silly when you think about it — especially in a city like Oakland and a county like Alameda, which both struggle mightily each year to pay for basic services for their citizenry. It's even more absurd when you consider the fact that both public agencies were badly burned the last time they opened up their wallets for a sports team — the Raiders in 1995 — and today are still each paying $10 million annually to pay off the debt from that ill-advised deal.
In reality, it should always be up to the owners of large wealthy enterprises to come up with their own plans for their own facilities.
And now that the US Supreme Court has rejected the City of San Jose's attempt to lure the A's to the South Bay, team owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher no longer have an excuse for not coming up with one in Oakland. That's especially true given the fact that Oakland and Alameda County also recently parted ways with Coliseum City developer Floyd Kephart. Wolff had made it clear that he had no interest in Kephart's proposal for a massive mixed-use development on the Coliseum site.
Same goes for Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis. He, too, had rejected Kephart's proposal earlier this year, and now no longer has an excuse for not coming up with a plan for a new stadium on the Coliseum site. In fact, the city's proposal to spend $90 million to $120 million on infrastructure upgrades for new facilities at the Coliseum is more than generous enough.
Oakland officials have said that working on a plan with the Raiders is the higher priority, because the team is also seriously eyeing a proposal to build a new stadium in Southern California with the San Diego Chargers (or, perhaps, the St. Louis Rams). But hammering out a deal with the Raiders also could be tougher — primarily because Davis is not as rich as other sports team owners.
As it currently stands, the Raiders have a significant shortfall — Davis only has about $500 million for a new football stadium that is estimated to cost $900 million. And $200 million of the Raiders' $500 million would come from a loan from the National Football League that the team would have to pay back. In other words, even though he has said repeatedly that remaining in Oakland is his first choice, Davis faces some serious financial issues in building a stadium here. It seems clear that he's going to have to find some other revenue source — perhaps from developing his own mixed-use project on the site — in order for an Oakland stadium plan to pencil out. But it's his responsibility to do so, not the city's or the county's.
Oakland and Alameda County, of course, have no money to spend on a new football stadium beyond the infrastructure upgrades. Indeed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf deserves much credit for repeatedly promising to not use public dollars — and to not push the city further into debt — to build new sports facilities.
The A's owners, Wolff and Fisher, by contrast, face fewer financial hurdles than the Raiders. For starters, a baseball park is cheaper to build because it's smaller — it might cost as little as $600 million. Moreover, Fisher, co-owner of The Gap clothing empire, is a billionaire who is far more wealthy than Davis. The A's have also said repeatedly that they don't need public dollars for a new ballpark.
Nonetheless, Wolff and Fisher have continued to drag their feet on an Oakland stadium plan. Maybe it was because they were holding out hope for San Jose's lawsuit against Major League Baseball. San Jose had argued that MLB used illegal monopoly powers to block the A's from moving to the South Bay. On Monday, however, the Supreme Court dismissed San Jose's claim.
In short, it's time for Wolff and Fisher to step up to the plate.