It’s been awhile. Today’s unusual joint meeting of the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors was the first such joint session in several years. It’s also been more than a couple of years since I wrote a post titled The adult conversation, which implored Oakland (and Alameda County) to start talking about what it will truly take to keep the pro sports franchises in town, and what it might mean to lose one or more of them. After watching today’s proceedings, I can say that we’ve had our first session, one of many to come.
If you were an unabashed supporter of Coliseum City, things didn’t get off on the right foot as AlCo District 5 Supervisor and Board President Keith Carson demanded to know the state of the Coliseum’s outstanding debt. Oakland City Council President Pat Kernighan tried to reel the discussion back in, but Carson insisted, and eventually he got what he wanted – a plain telling of debt for both the stadium ($113,790,000) and arena ($90,290,000) by County Auditor Pat O’Connell, who also happens to be the JPA’s auditor. That’s $200 million combined for the complex, though that figure goes down every year thanks to a $20 million annual debt and operating subsidy paid by City and County. Carson emphasized that there will be no future project if debt isn’t addressed first. The debt may prove to be a structural problem, since whatever public borrowing has to be made for infrastructure or other uses will be on top of or consolidated with the existing debt. The City and County want the teams or the private development group, BayIG, to cover that debt as part of the plan. Incidentally, Carson’s district covers Berkeley, Albany, and much of Oakland.
The debt talk lingered for 10 minutes, then Kernighan got the discussion back on the rails. Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell gave an overview of the current situation, with the renewed leases for the Raiders and A’s, their desires, and the Warriors’ plans. Blackwell said that the funding gap for the Raiders stadium, which he called a “sunken cost,” was $400-500 million after the Raiders’ contribution. AlCo Supe Scott Haggerty cast doubt on the viability of the three venue configuration of Coliseum City, noting that so far only the Raiders have been willing to listen. Haggerty suggested that the most effort should be put towards the Raiders’ venue because of that reality, and that the A’s, who don’t even have a set date for their Phase III ballpark, could easily show that information to MLB and say, “we’re not even on the radar.” CM Desley Brooks, a previous JPA Board member, expressed doubt in a different way, citing the need for multi-use venues instead of single-sport venues. Brooks was also concerned that the project wouldn’t pencil out, asking for a pro forma for that configuration (and others, presumably).
Next up in the presentation were two members of Oakland’s Office of Neighborhood Investment, Larry Gallegos and Gregory Hunter. Gallegos gave more detail about the project’s phases and master plan. Due to the photocopied quality of the images, I skipped over this slide initially. Upon closer inspection, something needs to be explained further.
The top image, Phase I, shows an outdoor football stadium, some ancillary development, and outlines for the “spine” of the project and the ballpark. The next image shows a dome on top of the stadium and the spine in place. Hold the phone – is the dome part of Phase II? There’s no other mention of a dome anywhere else in the presentation, nor was it brought up during today’s session. That dome, assuming that it is part of Phase II, is no trivial matter at $300 million to construct. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has been pushing for a dome, and while the interest in holding conventions and other types of events is understandable, it seems like this rather important detail was merely snuck into the preso with no explanation whatsoever.
Discussion then centered on the phases and once again, the venue configuration. Blackwell admitted that if only the Raiders’ stadium were built, ancillary development potential may be limited as few examples of such a plan were found. The limited number of football game dates contributes to this problem. CM Rebecca Kaplan, a staunch supporter of Coliseum City, talked up the need for more density within the project as that’s where the payoff is. Of course, that brings to mind the question of whether Coliseum City is even feasible if it never goes past Phase I. In addition, how dependent is the project on Phases II and III to provide enough funding for everything? Those questions won’t be answered until the spring.
Mayor Quan repeated her usual hackneyed sports metaphor and pushed for more information. If that’s the case, why did this meeting occur because of a letter from Carson to the City of Oakland? Quan, who hastily made her remarks before heading to the airport, is supposed to be the champion of this project. Yet Kaplan is clearly the more informed, more passionate advocate. Someone desperately needs to grab this thing by the reins and control it, as it’s considerably late for all this confusion given the very tight timeline imposed on the City and County. CM Libby Schaaf was silent during the session, just hours after she filed papers to run against Quan for mayor in 2014.
Hunter talked about the goals and key elements of the project, one of which is the property transfer element. It’s unclear what that means. City has indicated in the past that it’s not willing to give away land, and may not even be interested in selling land. Unfortunately for them, the only valuable resource the JPA has at its disposal is land. Discussion of this topic was deferred to the DDA, though it will clearly become a hot topic before then.
Members of the public spoke, followed by questions and remarks by members of the City Council and Board of Supervisors. General bewilderment gave way to soapbox speeches. CM Larry Reid, already on the outs with the JPA, claimed that Quan took credit for his concept while calling Coliseum City “insane.” Supe and JPA board president Nate Miley asked if there had been an appraisal on land the JPA owns. Hunter said it wasn’t. Miley expressed frustration that developer BayIG hasn’t put down earnest money to kickstart some of these studies. Blackwell said that only recently the agreement was finalized in which BayIG (Colony Capital & HayaH Holdings) replaced Forest City as the investor group. Miley then dropped a mini bombshell when he asked if the City could buy out the County’s half of the JPA. Blackwell laughed it off, replying that the City didn’t have the resources to pull off such a move. Nevertheless, it’s quite telling that Miley could even suggest that the Coliseum is such an albatross that the County would be fine divesting its share. There’s also a situation in which the County could buy the City’s half. Judging from the across-the-board sentiments from the Supes, that seems even less likely.
- District 2 Supe Richard Valle: “Gifting of public funds to any franchise is not part of my political framework.”
- There was continued confusion over Howard Terminal. Blackwell mentioned that the Port of Oakland has to explore all possible maritime uses before moving to non-maritime uses like a ballpark. That would explain why a recent RFP for Howard Terminal makes no mention of a ballpark.
- There was no discussion about how long the teams would be displaced or where they would play if Coliseum City came to fruition.
- Blackwell mentioned that the market study, which is key to determining the project’s feasibility, would be delayed 30 days.
- I tweeted that the football stadium deal could come by the end of the 2014 NFL season, but that seems like a long ways away considering the amount of work that has to be done.
- Brooks got in a shot when she said that leverage had “walked out the door” when the new lease extensions were approved.
As the first substantive meeting of this kind for Coliseum City, it was bound to be at times painful and awkward, and it sure delivered. That’s part of the process and a welcome one, because there’s no way in hell this thing moves forward without much greater detail. Everyone on the dais was keenly aware of the political fallout that could occur with a bad deal. The Board of Supervisors felt that Oakland was leading and dragging them into the deal, which brought about Carson’s letter and this session. There was a general consensus that communication about the project has been poor. Right now there’s a lot of skepticism to go around, most of it healthy. Project proponents have every opportunity to whip up sentiment and numbers to back their claims of renaissance and jobs. As long as the numbers are there, Coliseum City has a fighting chance. If it doesn’t pencil out, that information and the new short-term leases will conspire to make MLB’s and NFL’s decisions easy. And they’ll make today’s recriminations look like a civil dinner party.