The Only Thing Oakland and Alameda County Officials Have to Fear is Fear Itself

Monday night, I listened to Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association VP and General Counsel Mike Jacob, and African American Sports and Entertainment Group Founder Ray Bobbitt take turns talking about the future of the A’s, Howard Terminal and the Coliseum Complex on KALW’s State of the Bay. There was also a prerecorded message from Oakland City Council Member and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan. All of this was moderated by Grace Won and Ethan Elkind.

A lot was said and, as usual, I have thoughts.

“A lot of the problems we have with the stadium, frankly aren’t with the stadium they are with the composite of additional uses that the A’s want to build on site. Why do you want to build 3,000 units of housing immediately next to and down wind from the largest and, frankly, potentially most disruptive part of our supply chain?” – Mike Jacob, VP and GC PMSA

I think we should start with a picture of Oakland’s Draft Downtown Specific Plan next to a quote from the episode of State of the Bay. We will come back to this, but this is a very important image when considering the arguments presented by Mike Jacob of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and that quote specifically.

Change is hard. Even incremental, small change. Massive change is more than hard, it is painful. This is what faces Oakland and Alameda County Officials, the decision between a sea change or the status quo.

They have an out. Specious as the arguments are, they can bend to fear and just keep things the way they are and finish the process of losing every sports team they have. I don’t particularly think sports teams, in and of themselves, are important to a City. I know plenty of people do and in that spirit it is important to note that this is Oakland’s last chance to keep a major sports franchise.

They can fool themselves and pretend that 18 WNBA games with an imaginary team somehow offsets the loss of the NFL, NBA and soon enough MLB. They can pretend that the NFL will find its way back to Oakland if only someone builds them a stadium on spec.

These are delusions. There will be no return of the NFL after what happened with the Raiders and within shouting distance of Levi’s Stadium. The WNBA is a different matter, but I have trouble believing that the NBA would not prefer the WNBA team play in San Francisco, or that the Warriors wouldn’t be able to wield influence and get 18 more dates at their arena booked before the league would think to put the team in Oakland.

Regardless, the WNBA won’t be an economic game changer for anyone and that is what this is all about. City Officials can see this for what it is, a nice to have and also use it as an excuse to overlook what could be at Howard Terminal by casting it as trading one sport for another.

Or they can summon the courage it takes to make massive change happen and speed up their own plan with a ballpark anchored development that pushes the Downtown Specific Plan forward, like it did in Denver and San Francisco. They can create a hole in the donut to be filled like they did in Washington DC. In Denver, a 20 year development plan for Lodo was completed within 5 years as result of this strategy. The same could happen in Oakland.

The choice they should make could not be more clear. If you believe the image above, that this is what the City of Oakland wants to see for the future of Downtown, the choice should require very little courage, even if it will piss off a well heeled special interest group. An interest group that is using their position to block the A’s development and will continue to “jealously guard their assets” when the next development “downwind” from the Port is proposed. Ballpark or no.

This doesn’t require a crystal ball to see, just listen to State of the Bay. Those words in quotes are direct quotes. The arguments being made are about stopping housing from being built near the Port in favor of a parking lot that is unusable for unloading modern cargo ships.

The choice should not even be a choice. We are in the middle of a housing crisis. The PMSA admits no jobs are at risk anytime soon because 2% of the Port is converted from maritime to commercial use. It is classic fear mongering, regardless if that description offends Mr. Jacob.

The choice is housing v. moving a parking lot. The choice is courage vs. fear. The choice is Oakland v. ridiculous arguments from the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.

The choice is not East vs. West Oakland. The choice is not Oakland vs. Las Vegas, especially if Oakland doesn’t want it to be. The choice is straight forward and I am tired of giving disingenuous arguments genuine consideration.

I sure hope Oakland City Council Members are too.


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