So there I was Tuesday night, home sick with the flu instead of at my weekly Pub Trivia night. I figured that I’d keep an eye on the Oakland City Council session, because the debate regarding the William Bratton hiring was expected to be thick and fierce. To my surprise, the discourse was more civil and less disruptive (measured in degrees) than many #oakmtg sessions, As I write this, the meeting is still going on and there remains a large number of speaker cards, meaning the session may easily run past 1:30 AM.
There was one item of tangential interest to the crowd that reads this blog on the meeting’s agenda. That was the appointment of two City Council members to the Coliseum JPA’s 8-person Board of Commissioners. Former Councilperson Ignacio De La Fuente was the Chair until last weekend, while the other seat representing the City Council on the board is currently held by Desley Brooks. Larry Reid, who has previously served on the Board, was appointed without a hitch. That was no big deal because Reid is replacing De La Fuente. Brooks, on the other hand, had expected to remain in her capacity on the Board but was cast aside in favor of Rebecca Kaplan. After a motion was made to nominate Kaplan, a full 30 people came up to speak in support of Brooks. Many spoke about Brooks’ record supporting the black community. The Twitterverse blew up with jokes about Brooks, her colleagues in the Council, and the rather personal, catty, tense nature that the proceedings transformed into.
Brooks has been out of favor with Council President Pat Kernighan, who has the power to make appointments such as this one. A major criticism of Brooks that emanated from the debate (though not from the Council members themselves) was that Brooks’ abrasiveness makes her difficult to work with. Being an outsider to Oakland politics, I can’t substantiate that claim, or the undercurrent of corruption taint that follows Brooks. But there is some level of agreement within that Brooks’ attitude was an issue despite her legion of supporters. As an alternative, Kaplan’s more congenial nature was meant to improve working conditions inside the board. I guess.
Eventually the Council voted 7-0 to approve Reid and 6-1 to approve Kaplan, with Brooks being the dissenter on the Kaplan vote and Reid absent for both votes. The discussion leading up to those votes shed some light on the struggles in the JPA and the problems the City has having the $20 million annual subsidy for the JPA as the City’s albatross. In defending herself, Brooks noted that she brought AEG in to replace SMG. She mentioned that her focus has been to reduce the drain that the sports complex has on the City, even if that means forgoing certain opportunities that might come its way. For instance, remember how there was talk about having a WNBA team play in Oakland, especially after the Sacramento Monarchs franchise folded? Brooks argued that hosting a team would’ve cost $35,000 per game that the City didn’t have. That translates to $600,000 for a full season of games, plus whatever nominal costs would be associated with prepping the arena to host a team. (Obviously there’s more to having a WNBA team in Oakland, but we’re focusing solely on hosting the games right now.)
Who was the Oakland politician most gung-ho about bringing in a WNBA team? Kaplan. Who’s pushing Coliseum City the hardest? Kaplan. When it was Kaplan’s turn to speak on her nomination, she didn’t hesitate to bring up Coliseum City’s potential, though she qualified her words a little by saying that it wasn’t solely “about the sports (teams)”, it was as much about redeveloping an area that long needs it. As we all know by now, redevelopment as an institution has been blown up by Governor Brown, with mostly small-scale efforts like affordable housing left as available project types for cities to work on.
Just like that, two of the councilmembers who could be considered more skeptical of the sports-as-savior strategy (IDLF, Brooks) were replaced by two who are all for it (Kaplan, Reid). None of this means that anything substantial will happen with Coliseum City anytime soon. It’s still going to cost billions of dollars to pull off and will require commitments from at the very least the Raiders to have any shot of happening. However, if developers or AEG wanted a sign that things could go more smoothly on the political front for them, this is it.
The WNBA team idea, which has receded from consciousness in the Bay Area over time, sounds like a very good project for Oakland and its business community to pick up. A franchise is worth somewhere in the $10 million range, less than MLS. Player salaries are affordable. The schedule runs during the NBA’s offseason, so there are no date conflicts at Oracle Arena. Plus there’s the advantage of the Bay Area as something of a hotbed for women’s basketball, thanks to the stalwart Stanford program and a recently powerful Cal program. It’s achievable, doesn’t require ridiculous amounts of resources from the business community, and as has been demonstrated in Seattle, a franchise can survive and even thrive when its NBA brother leaves town. That’s not to say that Oakland should give up on the A’s/Raiders or even the Warriors. Far from it. It would show that Oakland and the East Bay can coalesce to get a team that the community can rally around. Even Mayor Quan has referred to that possibility. It’s kind of hard to know if Oakland is capable of big successes if it doesn’t have small ones to build upon, and its biggest success were decades ago. If you want a test case, well, there it is. Seize it.