Athletics To Play In Oakland At Least 10 More Years — Or Not

For years, the baseball world has been waiting for Commissioner Bud Selig to say something definitive about a new home for the Oakland Athletics. On Wednesday, he finally did. The reaction was anything but definitive.

The A’s have been negotiating a lease extension with the Oakland-Alameda County Joint Powers Authority, the entity that operates the Oakland Coliseum complex. The current lease expires at the end of this next season. Despite all the problems at O.co Coliseum — the sewage, the water leaks, the outdated scoreboard — the A’s need a lease extension because they have no where else to play for the foreseeable future.

Lew Wolff and Gap Inc. heir John Fischer led an investor group that bought the A’s in 2005. Wolff is the managing partner and the public face on the team’s efforts to locate, finance and build a new ballpark — efforts which so far have been unsuccessful. .

Wolff’s plans for a new ballpark kicked off in August 2005 with a proposal to build a ballpark village north of the Coliseum. That proposal fell apart when the multiple landowners wouldn’t sell. A year later, Wolff set his sights on Fremont, a city with a population of 200,000 that sit 20 miles south of Oakland. Again, Wolff proposed a ballpark village with retail shops and townhouses. The A’s purchased property from Cisco Systems for the project and Cisco obtained naming rights for the new ballpark. Two-and-a-half years later — after neighborhood opposition grew to a fever pitch — the A’s abandoned the Fremont site.

Next up was San Jose, the third largest city in California by population, and the urban center of Silicon Valley. The problem? Although San Jose is only 17 miles south of Fremont, San Jose is in Santa Clara County. The San Francisco Giants own the exclusive territorial rights to Santa Clara County. In this September 2012 post, I explained how the Giants ended up with Santa Clara and the lengths the team likely would go to keep the A’s out of San Jose.

In stepped Bud Selig, with the first of many non-definitive statements about a new ballpark for the A’s. In March 2009, just weeks after Wolff announced a plan to pursue a ballpark in San Jose, Selig appointed a three-member committee to “thoroughly analyze” the various ballpark proposals. In announcing the committee, Selig said: “The A’s cannot and will not continue indefinitely in their current situation.” More than five years later, that’s exactly what’s happened.

The City of San Jose tired of waiting for Selig’s committee to decide something — anything — about the A’s plans to build a new ballpark there. Last June, the city sued Major League Baseball on antitrust grounds. After months of legal wrangling — which I explained in this post and that post —  the federal court dismissed San Jose’s claims. The case is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Oral argument has been set for August 12. I put San Jose’s chances of prevailing in the Ninth Circuit at less than 25%. The city’s attorneys have vowed to fight all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

In theory, all of this uncertainty gives Oakland and Alameda County officials the leverage to negotiate a lease extension on favorable terms to both the city and to the county. But theories of leverage don’t always work as you’d imagine when it comes to Oakland professional sports teams. The A’s want a long-term lease extension. They want to know where they will be playing while they continue to look for a viable plan for a new ballpark. And they want to invest in a new scoreboard and video displays, but to stretch that capital investment over time.

The Joint Powers Authority isn’t necessarily in a position to make a long-term commitment to the A’s playing at the Coliseum, because the authority also is in talks with the Oakland Raiders about a new football-only stadium on the site. That stadium could be part of a larger Coliseum City project, with a new football stadium, a new ballpark for the A’s, plus shops and housing. Or it could be a separate project. It could require the demolition of the current Coliseum, or it could be built around the currently facility with demolition coming later. Or something else.

A big problem for the Joint Powers Authority is the Raiders might decide to leave Oakland, either for Los Angeles (again) or somewhere else. So while Oakland and Alameda County need to stay flexible for a possible deal with the Raiders, the Raiders could walk away, leaving the A’s as the only viable tenant for existing site and a new Coliseum City project. The Golden State Warriors, which play at the Coliseum complex in Oracle Arena, have announced plans to privately-finance a new arena in San Francisco to open for the 2018-2019 NBA season.

In stepped Bud Selig — again. He issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

I commend the Oakland Athletics and the JPA for their efforts in reaching an extension for a lease at O.co Coliseum.  The agreement on this extension is a crucial first step towards keeping Major League Baseball in Oakland.

I continue to believe that the Athletics need a new facility and am fully supportive of the club’s view that the best site in Oakland is the Coliseum site.  Contrary to what some have suggested, the committee that has studied this issue did not determine that the Howard Terminal site was the best location for a new facility in Oakland.

You hear that, Joint Powers Authority? Selig supports the idea of a new ballpark for the A’s on land you control. Forget San Jose. You’re it, Oakland. Let’s make this happen. Oh, one more thing. Thanks for that 10-year lease for the A’s. That will really help the short-term situation as we press forward on a long-term solution.

Within hours, though, Oakland and Alameda County officials said the lease negotiations hadn’t concluded. Oakland mayor Jean Quan called Selig’s statement “premature.” Alameda County supervisor Nate Miley, who chairs the Joint Powers Authority, issued a statement saying that a few details remained to be worked out.

The Joint Powers Authority was scheduled to vote on the lease extension on Friday. The Oakland City Council reportedly voted on Wednesday to boycott the Authority meeting. No vote was held. Supervisor Miley was furious and concerned about the future of the JPA. The Oakland City Council has yet to issue a statement.

So far, the terms of the lease extension haven’t been released publicly, although it’s been reported that the 10-year deal includes opt-outs for the A’s if the Raiders move forward on a new stadium at the Coliseum site and the authority agrees to demolish the existing facility. Which is really just another way of saying that even with a 10-year commitment, the A’s and the authority have left their options open.

The world waited for Bud Selig’s definitive statement on the A’s ballpark saga. It finally came. The question is whether it came too late.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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xoot
Guest
xoot

Sharp summary of the situation. As an Oakland resident, I’ll add my view about the City Council’s machinations. Jean Quan, as one example, is not on the JPA Board, but she nonetheless wants to get her name involved in the reported stories about the lease negotiations to boost her re-election effort. Other City Council members seem to have similar agendas. Also, two questions:

Was the City Council scuttled vote scheduled for last Friday, 6/20? Is the JPA reconvening today–Friday 6/27?

xoot
Guest
xoot

I think I found the answers to my questions. Last Wednesday, 6/25, the Council voted to bar its two members from attending today’s (6/27’s) meeting. Now I wonder what a quorum of the Board might be. What a farce.

xoot
Guest
xoot

SF Chron/sfgate reporting that the two City Council members on the JPA Board and the two City-appointed members on the Board boycotted today’s meeting. The other 4, affiliated with the County, attended. But 4 ain’t close to a quorum, it would seem. Meanwhile, Wolff says delaying the vote to next week is ok with him. (He’s no stranger to self-serving high-jinks; he probably sympathizes with the CCMs.)

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