During the past month, local and national media have focused intensely on the question of whether the NFL will greenlight the Oakland Raiders' move to Los Angeles and on Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's steadfast refusal to offer public subsidies to keep the Raiders from leaving. But behind the scenes, the public agency that actually runs the Coliseum complex has been making some questionable moves that deserve attention. Namely, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, a joint panel of the City of Oakland and Alameda County, quietly voted last month to spend big bucks on an outside law firm whose chief lobbyist in California is former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata.
I say "quietly" because the Coliseum authority failed to notify the public that it was planning to hire Perata's firm at its December 18 meeting. In fact, the authority didn't even post an agenda of the meeting on its website until last week — after I heard about the hiring decision and called the authority office. Under state transparency laws, public agencies must post an agenda of their meetings and the issues they plan to vote on at least 72 hours in advance.
So why all the secrecy? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Perata is the last person on Earth you'd want to be caught hiring when dealing with professional sports teams and public money. Not only was he the target of a wide-ranging FBI corruption probe that lasted for a half-decade, but he was also the chief architect of the one of the worst financial debacles in Bay Area history: the 1995 deal that brought the Raiders back from Los Angeles. That deal has cost East Bay taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and twenty years after it was signed, the city and county are still shelling out about $20 million annually to pay it off.
In interviews, Oakland City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Larry Reid adamantly maintained that they voted to hire Perata's firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, because of its legal expertise — and not because of the ex-state senator. They both stated emphatically that Perata (who charges $715 an hour for his services) will not be involved in dealing with the three teams that play at the Coliseum complex: the Raiders, A's, and Golden State Warriors. "We did not hire the law firm because of Don Perata," Reid said. "He will have no role. He just works for the firm."
But Perata having "no role" may be news to Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. On the firm's official application to be the Coliseum authority's outside legal counsel, it listed Perata as the top member of the "team we have designated." In addition, in the firm's official application letter to the authority, attorney Carolynne White stated that "Senator Perata will play a consistent strategic and advisory role in every phase of our work." White did not return a phone call seeking comment as to whether the firm had changed its mind about Perata's role with the authority.
In an interview, Scott McKibben, who is the Coliseum authority's executive director (and former publisher of the Oakland Tribune), also maintained that Perata, who is not a lawyer, will have no involvement with the Coliseum complex or its sports teams and said he recommended that the authority members hire Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck because of the firm's legal acumen. "They bring a great deal of expertise," McKibben said.
But there are questions as to whether the authority will be able to use that expertise in court should the need arise. The reason is that the two lawyers whom McKibben said would work most closely with the authority — White and C.J. Chapman — are not authorized to practice law in California, according to the California State Bar. That's because Perata's firm is based in Denver, not California. In fact, California State Bar records show that nine of the eleven attorneys whom Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck identified as members of its Coliseum "team" are not licensed to practice law in California. And the only two who are — Peter Brown and Beth Collins-Burgard — are both based in Santa Barbara.
McKibben contended that the lack of licensed California attorneys will not be a problem and noted that the firm has a Sacramento office (where Perata is based). However, according to the firm's official application to the authority, no attorneys in its Sacramento office are members of its Coliseum team.
So why hire an out-of-state law firm with lawyers not licensed to practice law in California? And why do it when it looks as if the NFL is going to turn down the Raiders' move to Los Angeles, and so the team will need a new lease at the Coliseum — and when the Warriors are planning to move to San Francisco and leave East Bay taxpayers with millions in unpaid debt on the Arena?
Well, it's no secret that Perata still has political juice and is still a prodigious fundraiser. According to two knowledgeable sources, he is already raising money for Coliseum authority chair Nate Miley, a county supervisor who is facing a tough reelection fight this year against Oakland Port Commissioner Bryan Parker (Miley did not return a phone call seeking comment for this report).
It'll also be interesting to see if Perata does the same for any of the other authority members who voted to hire his firm.