City of Oakland gets Temporary Restraining Order against A’s-Coliseum sale

Original Coliseum pamphlet provided by Peerless Coffee’s George Vukasin, Jr.

Do you remember the name Egbert Perry?

No?

Perry was the money-partner with Ronnie Lott for a short-lived 2016 offer to buy the Coliseum complex, including both the stadium and arena, plus the additional parcels purchased extending to Hegenberger. Then just like that, the City of Oakland nixed the offer. Vegas interests and the Nevada continued to work with the Raiders on site plans for the football franchise’s move, and the Raiders have been running out the clock in Oakland ever since.

The A’s weren’t part of the Lott-Perry plan, which may have spurred the City’s decision. The offer was for $167.3 million and was made prior to a reappraisal of the complex, completed later in 2016. It was that appraisal that provides the basis for the A’s offer on the Coliseum property, a half-interest (Alameda County) for $85 million. Do the math to buy out the City’s share, and you have $170 million, remarkably close to the old appraisal. A mere two weeks after the offer was made, the offer was retracted and Perry was out after a purported double-cross.

Previously, Floyd Kephart’s New City group offered $116 million in 2015. That also didn’t get far. Which makes the news that the City is suing the County over the sale of the County’s half-interest of the Coliseum land not surprising in the least. Let’s be honest about this. Modern politics in Oakland has been shaped – for the worse – by frequent, almost constant litigation. It’s practically the only way the City knows how to operate. As reported by the Chronicle’s Phil Matier:

The suit took on added significance Tuesday when Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch issued a temporary restraining order on the sale and set a Nov. 14 hearing on the lawsuit.

“We were very close. This will put a chilling effect on us being able to close the deal,” Kaval said following the judge’s order.

A’s CEO Dave Kaval expressed shock at the lawsuit. In his professional and personal time in the Bay Area, he surely learned some local political history, especially about Oakland and California as a whole. Kaval is the last person that should be surprised by this. Kaval (and John Fisher) were shocked by the Peralta blowback. You’d think they would’ve braced themselves for City-County political tensions. After all, Oakland and Alameda County spent the better part of the last 40 years mired in tensions. Everything you see, from the original Coliseum to Mount Davis, is a product of those tensions, along with the truly unquenchable thirst for pro sports that keeps being displayed.

Now that the A’s (and MLB) have Oakland to themselves, they can start squeezing. So it was on the day of the AL Wild Card game that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred started the squeeze. I opined at the time that I didn’t expect him to start this early. Manfred, via the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

“I made it clear that it’s time for the city of Oakland to show concrete progress on the stadium effort,” Manfred said. “It’s gone on too long, and things need to fall into place to get a new stadium here. The fans here, as demonstrated by the 55,000 here tonight, are great fans and deserve a major-league quality facility.”

We’ve seen this movie before. If the City folds on the lawsuit, Manfred will back sometime in February to praise City leaders for “coming to their senses.” If the City keeps on, we’ll start hearing louder murmurs about Portland. Or Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, or maybe Salt Lake City or Sacramento. Probably not San Jose, as that ship has sailed. But don’t put it past Manfred to tighten the squeeze on Oakland, even if MLB’s apparent leverage is debatable. I wouldn’t discount the concept of Manfred taking over negotiations from Kaval and Fisher, using a team of negotiators to do the dirty work. Or Manfred could go the same route as he did with the Rays. In that case he started by granting the ability for the Rays to look at the City of Tampa/Hillsborough County. That resulted in the Ybor City domed ballpark plan, unveiled in June 2018 and dead by the end of the year. That was followed by the announcement of a potential split season situation, half in St. Petersburg and the other half in Montreal. Montreal backer Stephen Bronfman even showed up in Oakland last night, the better to get the Tampa denizens thinking.

Here’s the tough part. Oakland has barely stepped onto the legal battlefield. The EIR is supposed to be released before the end of this month, and that will bring its own lawsuit. Whether it’s from port operators, transportation companies, or Schnitzer Steel – or all three – it’s almost guaranteed to tie things up. Fortunately, the exemption the A’s lobbied for in Sacramento limits lawsuits to 270 days prior to certification. From the perspective of the A’s, it makes sense for them to prepare for that particular legal onslaught.

But the City getting on the same page with the County? They probably figured they had that in the bag. In May 2018, I saw a lot of remarks about how so many key figures were in the same room singing praises of the A’s plans.

The problems, as I pointed out back then, relate to the complexity of the projects. That’s right, projects – plural. As you know by now, there is the Howard Terminal part, the actual ballpark, located on the waterfront near Jack London Square. Then there’s the Coliseum, which will keep its arena (if anyone can afford to run it) and an amphitheater where the old stadium currently stands. Around that redone complex are a sizable urban park, commercial and residential development, plus some additional community facilities. It’s a way to throw a bone to East Oakland for leaving.

The plans also provide for some amount of affordable housing to be built and either or both locations. Just how much is the big topic of negotiation, as City Council President Rebecca Kaplan cited the state’s Surplus Lands Act in trying to put the kibosh on the sale. The main issue is the percentage and number of affordable housing units to be built:

…if the disposed land will be used for residential development, at least 25% of the total number of units in the development must have rents or sale prices that are affordable for persons and families of low- or moderate-income.

Of course, over the post-recession period, the Bay Area has been plagued by an inability to build affordable housing. Call it a perfect storm of rising construction costs, the ridiculous never-ending seller’s market, and the loss of decades-long affordable housing subsidies when former governor Jerry Brown killed redevelopment. There are perfectly reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of the debate. From the City’s angle, surplus land is an extremely limited resource that shouldn’t be handed out without a competitive bidding process. For developers including the A’s, having to bake in an allowance to accommodate a greater amount of affordable housing will undoubtedly cut into the profitability of the project. In the A’s case, it could impact the feasibility of both projects, though the A’s launched their own PR offensive to counter such notions.

Thing is, the A’s haven’t done a very good job of explaining how the two projects aren’t connected. They did a media tour of Howard Terminal a couple weeks to reaffirm their stance. From reading the Community Engagement document available at the A’s Ballpark site, the two efforts appear to be directly related, if not joined at the hip. That’s a tough position to be in, because once you decouple the two projects, it’s easier to argue that one doesn’t need the other.

The explanation is not that difficult. If the A’s are approved to build at Howard Terminal, they plan to build the ballpark in the first phase, hoping for a 2023 Opening Day. The ancillary development at Howard Terminal, whatever form it takes, will take place after the ballpark opens and will take perhaps decades to complete. That makes the A’s ballpark village next to Jack London Square part of the long tail. Meanwhile, the Coliseum is already approved for some 3,000 housing units right now. That makes the Coliseum a sort of bridge financing for the ballpark. Fisher and Lew Wolff employed this to success at the separate Avaya Stadium and iStar developments in San Jose, the latter helping the finance the former. What’s being attempted in Oakland is the same thing on steroids, except for one big difference. iStar, located in South San Jose near where IBM built the first disc drive, was largely undeveloped in its previous form. To date, Avaya Stadium is in its fourth year of operation near SJC Airport after breaking ground in 2012. Some commercial and residential development has been done at the iStar site, though we’re coming to the end of 2019 and not one single-family home has been completed. In San Jose, they built a stadium and a separate subdivision on separate parcels miles apart. In Oakland, they want to do something similar, except that they’ll move the sports-related jobs from the Coliseum to Howard Terminal in the process.

The sales pitch for the Avaya Stadium/iStar package didn’t arouse much debate in San Jose. The stadium was set to replace a former military vehicle manufacturing plant. San Jose’s historic sprawl had plenty of room for 25 acres of new housing, especially after the recession brought construction to a halt. Ten years later, the housing crunch is far more acute, reaching every part of the Bay Area. Collectively, local governments did a poor job of planning to add to the housing stock, including forecasting and accommodating affordable housing. If Oakland officials want to take nearly 200 acres in two high-profile locations and hand it to the A’s to finish the job, they and the A’s should prepare themselves for the lengthy debate to follow. Manfred, who played the nice guy until Wednesday, now gets to play the heavy.

P.S. – Please don’t tell me how no developers want any part of East Oakland. Besides the A’s interest, the JPA had two unsolicited bids for the land in 2018, Tesla and a group trying to build a soccer complex and stadium at the complex. What developers want is Bay Area land for relatively cheap. Interest from previous developers for Coliseum City, the 2018 bids, and the eventual exclusive negotiating agreements for the A’s shows how much people want to take advantage of the Coliseum. It doesn’t hurt that the land has freeways and a transit hub right next to it. East Oakland has no potential? Perhaps if you’re stuck with a 1968 mindset.

P.P.S. – Read J.K. Dineen’s piece in the Chronicle for an extensive description of one property owner’s CEQA-related shakedown and how it affected both San Francisco and Oakland. Then take a look at that Community Engagement document and try to understand what kinds of partnerships are being forged, and what remains to make a similar one with the City. Keeping any sports team in Oakland is/was going to cost something. The City is thankfully over direct subsidies, but the ambitious nature of these two projects has me thinking that the final price tag will approach eleven figures including cleanup, community commitments, and new infrastructure. That might be what it takes. No one is publicly talking about costs yet. That’s what truly concerns me.

P.P.P.S. – None of the oft-mentioned relocation candidates deserve more than a cursory look unless they approve or start building a major league-ready ballpark. These days that might mean 30,000 seats or less. It probably also means those 30,000 seats will be quite swanky with pricing and amenities to match. The new AAA parks in Las Vegas and Nashville are exactly as advertised – nice AAA parks. They’re not meant to handle MLB crowds temporarily given the greater requirements these days. If someone wants to ink a deal with Henderson, Nevada for a billion-dollar domed ballpark 10 miles from the Strip, good luck.

Swingin’ A’s Podcast Interview

Sometimes it’s easier to ramble on a podcast than to write and edit a couple thousand words on a topic. Actually it’s a lot easier. If you’re wondering how all the stadium business with the A’s and Raiders is going to work out, head over to today’s Swingin’ A’s Podcast at Hardly Serious. I talked for nearly an hour with host Tony Frye about the fallout from the SCOTUS decision, how the Raiders are holding everything up, and what I think is going to happen over the next few months. I even explain how a ballpark deal could get done. Take a listen, and try not to focus on how many times I pause while delivering an answer. It’s a podcast, I’m allowed.

San Jose’s antitrust case denied by SCOTUS

Today was supposed to be doomsday for San Jose’s Supreme Court case against MLB. Now we know for sure:

Here’s the list of which petitions were granted certiorari (PDF).

The Supreme Court started going through petitions Monday, with the expectation that we’d know the fate of the case sometime towards the end of the week. (SCOTUSblog details the process here.) While the case is still pending, it is being left to wither and die as there are no plans for the Court to take it up.

Now that this chapter is effectively over, MLB, the A’s, and San Jose can move on, which means watching Oakland try to get a ballpark deal in place for the A’s. That’s where the attention has been for the last 18 months, anyway. San Jose doesn’t re-enter the picture unless the A’s and Oakland aren’t able to work something out.

Reactions to be added to this post as they come.

Update 1:30 PM – Professor Nathaniel Grow chimed in further:

SC County Judge declares A’s-San Jose land option illegal

Just in from Santa Clara County Superior Court: Judge Joseph Huber, who has presided over the smaller Stand for San Jose-vs.-City of San Jose case for a few years now, has called the land option agreement between the City and the A’s against the law. Wrote Huber:

“The city is and has been in violation of (the law) for several years and it does not appear it will comply with the terms in the foreseeable future.”

Combine that with the blows that San Jose has received in federal court, and you have to think that any chance of a ballpark happening in the South Bay is toast, short of a miracle. Yet it all comes down to some serious strategic errors on San Jose’s part that could have strengthen their case, in this local venue and the federal one.

Remember that it was former mayor Chuck Reed who wanted to go to the ballot box in November 2009 (!), then March 2010. The deal would’ve set up the possibility of a voter-approved stadium deal in San Jose. Instead, he had a discussion with former MLB president Bob DuPuy, who relayed then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s desires to keep the deal on the shelf. Reed complied, there was never a referendum or initiative, and San Jose’s position has looked significantly worse ever since. All San Jose has right now is a prayer for SCOTUS to take the case, which isn’t likely. Throughout all of the various legal battles, at different levels, the weakness of the option agreement has been cited. The A’s have little vested interest in San Jose, and the City is no closer to putting together a deal than it was six years ago.

Now that even Lew Wolff has for all intents and purposes given up on San Jose, the spotlight is on Oakland, where that city faces an uphill battle at Coliseum City and could entertain an A’s proposal should the football stadium plan fizzle out. That brings to mind three scenarios.

  1. If Oakland can’t get Coliseum City done and the NFL doesn’t allow the Raiders to move to LA, the Raiders would either be forced to limp along at the Coliseum indefinitely or consider a move to either San Antonio or even St. Louis. The former would be a continuation of the awkward status quo, with no new venues in sight for either the Raiders or A’s.
  2. Should the Raiders vacate, they would clear the path for the A’s to build a new ballpark at the Coliseum, infrastructure or other public contributions to be up for significant debate. Or maybe no new infrastructure (no baseball village) because no one has figured out how to pay for it.
  3. If Oakland gets Coliseum City to work out with only a football stadium (the NFL’s and the Raiders’ preference – no one sane is buying into the multi-venue fantasy at this point, right?), the A’s are pushed out (per lease terms) and have no obvious backup plan. Would MLB direct the A’s to start looking in the East Bay and maybe the broader Bay Area for ever diminishing land opportunities, or start playing hardball and making threats as it does with so many other markets? How does a stifled San Jose factor in? And what of the Giants?

It’s just as well, we’re so overdue at this stage for a stadium that San Jose will soon have to deal with Sharks owner Hasso Plattner on his designs for a makeover at the 21-year-old arena that bears his company’s name. And if the goal is to get on par with the best new hockey arenas, it won’t be cheap. That discussion is for another day.

P.S. – The scant output over the last month was an intentional move on my part to see what would happen if I chose not to be swayed by every little gesticulation in the media over the A’s or Raiders. While readership was down a little, I felt it was the right move because there was no need to blog about mostly vague details or the rumor mill. Therefore I’m getting to stick to publishing 2-3 times a week while using Twitter to get out quick notes or retweets. If you haven’t already, follow the feed. Things should pick up again in June with the next set of Coliseum City deliverables is expected to be released.

Opening Day success, Wolff says San Jose “Not worth nasty battle”

Well, that was nice. The A’s finally won on Opening Day for the first time in forever, Sonny Gray nearly pitched a no-no, the scoreboards were a huge success (with a few hiccups), and many new A’s made solid debuts.

Off the field, Lew Wolff broke his own news, courtesy of Phil Matier:

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said a possible move to San Jose is ‘not worth a nasty battle’ over territorial rights with the San Francisco Giants, and is hopeful the city’s new mayor can helpthem get a new stadium built in Oakland.

Wolff also fought back against the constant critics, while reserving praise for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. I’m not sure what’s going to convince the critics that Wolff is serious besides an actual groundbreaking ceremony. I’m glad that at the very least Schaaf doesn’t have the same combative tone as her predecessor.

Whether Wolff was told outright by The Lodge or not, San Jose is not in the plans anytime soon. And if Wolff actually wants to get this done while’s he still breathing (something he’s alluded to in jest more than once), Oakland’s the only path. The only way San Jose opens up is if a Raiders’ plan is approved, kicking the A’s out. Then you have to deal with the payout, the CBA, all these things that The Lodge has avoided like the plague over the last two CBA ratifications and would prefer to avoid again. Of course, many of the A’s brass are totally on board with building in Oakland. Broadcasting veep Ken Pries, from last July:

From our position, we just don’t think that (Raiders project) is going to happen – we are betting it doesn’t.

This isn’t hard to figure out. A’s ownership knows that the money is in San Jose. Anyone with a brain can figure that out. Wolff and Fisher also know that they are boxed in, try as they did to escape that box. With the Raiders’ future up in the air, the A’s should take advantage of a potential Raiders departure. As I mentioned Saturday, there are still issues to work out in terms of revenue sharing, but they’re minor compared to a T-rights fight, whatever that may entail.

Unlike Coliseum City, there’s no real timeline or framework for the A’s to do anything. So far their strategy is to wait the Coliseum City process out. If they, like MLB, are gambling on Coliseum City failing, the Coliseum should be delivered on a silver platter. Then again, Wolff did hedge a bit by re-signing that land option in San Jose.

Hey, Lew’s gotta have a Plan A and Plan B, right?

We’re All Screwed

Great sentiment to take into a new season, isn’t it? Things may not seem that dire, but consider that I’ve been writing this blog for ten years and we’re no closer to a stadium than we were in 2005. As Howard Bryant explains in his latest ESPN The Magazine article, we may actually be further from a solution than before. There remains a single site in the Bay Area that baseball is willing to consider, and it is encumbered by a competing development process (Coliseum City). Everyone involved has acted and looked bad and has generally failed abysmally:

  • A’s don’t want Oakland, still covet San Jose
  • Giants remain greedy and recalcitrant
  • MLB provides no leadership
  • Oakland interests trashed A’s ownership, tried to force sale of A’s to no avail
  • San Jose sued MLB, making them a non-entity in terms of negotiation while lawsuit was ongoing

Bryant goes on to explain that MLB is banking on the Coliseum City falling through and the Raiders leaving, which would leave the A’s at the Coliseum to work out a deal, a solution presenting itself with no intervention required on Commissioner Rob Manfred’s part. Convenient, right?

Of course, progress made recently on the EIR process won’t necessarily translate into actual deal success. City archives all over the state are full of dead EIRs from projects that were never built.

An under construction Coliseum in more hopeful times

An under construction Coliseum in more hopeful times

Nevertheless, that’s the outcome MLB sees. It’s one that A’s management is willing to play along with, for now at least. It doesn’t mandate getting a ballpark built right away or even soon, thanks to a lease that can take the A’s through the 2024 season.

Like Lew Wolff assuming that The Lodge would work out a deal for San Jose, MLB assumes that the Raiders are in LA after 2015. But even that’s difficult to forecast at this point. Stan Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium plan has the most momentum at this point, and the Carson concept is being spearheaded by the Chargers. Both teams have plans to accommodate a second team, though they have both declared that a second team is not a necessity. The NFL wants no more than two teams in Southern California (including the San Diego market). Those two teams could be the ones spearheading separate stadium projects. Or they could partner together on a single stadium. The Raiders, not having their own stadium plan to push, have to hope that Kroenke’s plan falls through and Carson succeeds, allowing the Raiders and Chargers to be the LA teams. If Kroenke gets his stadium, it doesn’t matter whether the Chargers stay in San Diego, move to Carson in their own stadium, or partner at Inglewood, the Raiders are the odd man out. There’s the odd chance that either the Chargers or Raiders could move to St. Louis, but few outside of St. Louis are considering the idea seriously.

Therefore, MLB’s hopes rest with a very silent man who has little interest (and zero actual financial interest) in baseball. Kroenke owns or has owned franchises in every other major sport, including top tier English soccer (Arsenal).

Whither the A’s in all of this? As usual, that depends. If the Raiders are shut out of LA because of the Rams’ and Chargers’ activity, the Raiders would effectively be forced to work on a stadium in Oakland, ostensibly at the Coliseum. Naturally, that would conflict with the A’s and MLB’s plans. Don’t believe for a moment that either team or league is going to actively work with the other on a joint development plan. With no public subsidy in sight, the Raiders and A’s will look to horde whatever revenue-generating opportunities they can, whether we’re talking entitlements or parking. Either way, that will run into conflict with Oakland’s designs on the Coliseum land, which are to create a new neighborhood with up to 10,000 new residents. Strangely enough, a “same as existing” use plan for the Coliseum lands would work best for entrenched interests in the area, including East Oakland residents concerned about gentrification and businesses west of 880 fighting against losing industrial land.

Should the Raiders look elsewhere in the East Bay, the A’s would be in the driver’s seat for the Coliseum. Yet as previously investigated sites are eliminated – Camp Parks and Concord NWS have their own plans underway – the Raiders will be even more boxed in at the Coliseum. Worst case they stumble to Santa Clara, where they would play tenant to the 49ers instead of the JPA. Chances are that they’d partner with a developer (SunCal?) for the Coliseum. Finally, that choice that I’ve been talking about for years, the one nobody in the East Bay has wanted to talk about publicly, would have to be made.

That doesn’t mean any choice would be made immediately, let alone a stadium built. Look at what happened for the San Jose Earthquakes. The team was reborn in 2008, had a stadium promised in 2010, didn’t start construction until 2012, and didn’t open until 2015. Seven years, and for a city that Lew Wolff actually loves. It’s easier to start construction when you’re absolutely sure the checks will come in.

Having to privately finance an entire stadium is hard enough, now the A’s would have to do so in small market Oakland. It’s not even so much about whether Wolff and John Fisher want to do it, does MLB want to subsidize it for 30-40 years via revenue sharing? If the A’s are going to carry a big mortgage in Oakland with iffy corporate support, revenue sharing seems an absolute necessity to keep the A’s in good financial health. That’s the alternative to negotiating with the Giants.

And if the Raiders build at the Coliseum instead? Well, the A’s would be able to leave the Coliseum, but for where? San Jose is not a player in this scheme, but you’d be surprised at what avenues can open up once MLB runs out of options and leverage. That might mean Diridon, it might mean Howard Terminal. It would be fitting for MLB to actually do something after years of actively sitting on its hands. As long as the A’s remain in the Bay Area, even severely delayed progress would be well worth it.

Corey Busch talks Blue Ribbon Committee on CSN

Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area provided a bit of a surprise on Yahoo! Sports Talk Live, when they had Corey Busch, former Giants executive and member of the three-person Blue Ribbon Committee (Irwin Raij & Bob Starkey were the other two). Busch explained some of the panel’s activities and charges. Jim Kozimor did his best to pry what little information he could out of Busch, who didn’t answer a number of key questions because of the state of the San Jose-vs.-MLB lawsuit.

Corey Busch interview Part 1

Corey Busch interview Part 2

Busch clarified the territorial rights deal that occurred in 1991, giving the Giants control of the Santa Clara County, which prior to that point had been an open territory. He also called San Jose’s lawsuit a mistake on their part. While you may glean additional information from the segment, you’ll probably come out of it even more frustrated than before, whether you’re an Oakland or San Jose partisan or are location-agnostic. My preference for the show: Ray Ratto in a talking head box in a corner, providing running commentary as Busch answered questions. Good work on the interview Koz, and maybe we’ll get to uncover the bodies when the lawsuit business is over. Busch promised!