A’s preferred stadium site criticized for causing gentrification, killing waterfowl

The Oakland A’s decision to pursue a new stadium on a site owned by public Laney College didn’t exactly get off to a gangbusters start, with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf saying she preferred other sites because there’s “less existing community to disrupt” and the councilmember for the district, Abel Guillen, saying two-thirds of residents were opposed to a stadium there. And now there’s criticism that a stadium near Lake Merritt won’t just produce gentrification and create public infrastructure costs, it’ll kill birds:

The [Golden Gate Audubon Society], which has more than 7,000 members in Oakland and nearby cities, said the proposed ballpark in the Eastlake neighborhood would be disastrous for nearly 200 species of ducks, herons, songbirds, nesting cormorants and fish that make their homes in Lake Merritt, the nation’s oldest wildlife refuge.

“We’re not antibaseball. We love the A’s, but we want them to stay where they are,” said Cindy Margulis, the executive director of Golden Gate Audubon. “When you put in a stadium and have all the additional cars and traffic, there will be additional contaminants coming into the lake. Oakland is a creative, imaginative city, and I think they can do better.”

This now makes a growing chorus of people who would like to see the A’s pursue a new stadium at the Oakland Coliseum site, which, as I’ve said before, isn’t a terrible idea from the city’s perspective. Sure, the A’s owners would no doubt rather be near Lake Merritt — everybody would rather be located in the cool part of town — but that wouldn’t necessarily be in the best interests of the city as a whole. I mean, maybe it would, but somebody would have to study whether a redevelopment of the Coliseum site would make more sense, and nobody’s done that yet.

This all raises another question, which is why everyone always sits around and waits for sports team owners to pick a site that they want, instead of a city saying, “Okay, you want a stadium site? Here’s what we have available, hope that works for you.” I guess doing it this way makes it seem like you’re being considerate of the team’s needs, but it also lets the team set the agenda instead of elected officials who were voted into office precisely to decide this things, which seems kinda problematic, to say the least.


15 comments on “A’s preferred stadium site criticized for causing gentrification, killing waterfowl

  1. At some point you can’t have you cake and eat it too. A privately financed stadium is just like any other business location. If you want to get a business to move to a preferred part of town you usually have to give some incentive–like when San Francisco gave tax breaks to Twitter and a few others if they moved to Mid-Market.

    On the flip side, ballparks seldom cause development or gentrification except in a very, very small area. They tend to follow it. That corner of Lake Merritt is going to develop/gentrify with or without the ballpark with higher number of people and all the impacts on waterfowl, etc. The patterns of people coming and going might spike higher with a lower average with a ballpark than with generic mixed use development, but it’s not appreciable different. In short, the A’s want to be in Oakland because Oakland is gentrifying and more people are going there, not the other way around.

    • What makes this situation different from Twitter-in-SF is that the A’s want to use public land for their stadium — which does change the equation a bit. I think it’s reasonable to take public opinion into account when considering whether public land should be provided to a private business.

      • Sure, public land of the Peralta Community College District, a separate government entity from the city of Oakland. And the A’s don’t want to be gifted it, they want to buy it. Therefore, the question is does the Board of Trustees think selling the land and relocating their headquarters make financial sense for them which would come down to what’s fair market value and what would be the costs to move their offices elsewhere. I’m not sure they have made that decision but it’s their decision, not that of the Oakland City Council.

        • “the A’s don’t want to be gifted it, they want to buy it.”

          Or lease it. The mixed-use development they propose across the Channel (same parcel) would also have revenue tagged to go to Peralta.

          That would be two long-term guaranteed income streams for a community college district that, like most CA community colleges, is always strapped for cash.

        • I agree that it’s not the decision of the Oakland City Council, but at the same time the Board of Trustees are elected positions by the voters of Oakland (and the nearby cities of Alameda, Piedmont, and Berkeley). So their decision-making process probably should consider the opinions of their constituents.

          • Assuming the district gets more money by selling or leasing the land than if they didn’t (admittedly a big if but that was the promise) do you think the majority of district constituents who live nowhere the stadium would be opposed?

            Let me put a finer point on it. Here’s the district maps. http://web.peralta.edu/trustees/

            The stadium is in district 1 but near the border of districts 7 and 5 such that no trustee even has a significant portion of their constituents close to the stadium. I doubt it was intentional but that’s a gerrymander so pro-this project that it would make the Texas legislature blush.

    • If this was just like “any” other business development then the business owner would pay for the land and construction, and at most would hope to receive some modest concession on development fees or property taxes if they located in a given area (the exchange being that good paying jobs and the people who hold them also land in the area).

      Sports stadium extortion is simply nothing like normal business development.

      For one thing sports franchises do not create very many good paying jobs (a few fabulously high paying jobs, and lots of minimum wage 20-28 hr/wk casual jobs). Secondly, the high earners rarely move into the area the stadium is built in. Finally, the business development they move into is not occupied and operating 365 or even 250 days a year like a normal business park would be. It’s 85-90 at most (and often much less than that for non baseball facilities).

      There’s just no comparison between a business that spreads it’s $160m payroll among 2,500 employees and one that pays that to 40 employees while sprinkling $3-4m among another 200 casual workers.

      • I agree in general. However, in this case they are paying for land and construction.

        As for the other points, again agree but so what? That’s all true no matter if they build a stadium near Lake Merritt, near the airport or in a vegetable field near Tracy. As long as the taxpayers aren’t paying for it, as the kids say, whatever.

        • From the original article:

          And then there’s this:

          Although they plan to privately finance the ballpark’s construction, the A’s will need support from the Oakland City Council to come up with what outside experts say could be hundreds of millions of dollars in federal, state and local funding for new freeway ramps, improvements to the Oakland estuary shoreline and other infrastructure upgrades.

          That doesn’t sound to me like they are paying for “everything”. If they were, I would agree with you.

          Often “adjacent infrastructure” demands have a way of mutating into something more, like ‘all of the infrastructure and land improvements’ needed to support the ballpark.

          We don’t know that one way or the other yet, but it looks to me like the “100%” private funding isn’t going to include a lot of things that a normal place of business would.

          • Thank you , John. You saved me from bringing up the infrastructure costs the A’s would expect somebody else to cover. Which is why the Coliseum site is the city’s preferred choice.

          • Correct me if I’m wrong but wouldn’t freeway ramps be the responsibility of CalTrans, which again is not the Oakland City Council. I’d be interested in how a freeway onramp costs “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

            Basically, just reading that statement let me guess: Phil Matier. The style is Phil Matier and every Phil Matier article has a bunch of vague stuff like that that basically boils down to “there’s some other stuff I didn’t have time to research before I filed this story.” I put zero credence into that until I know what exit ramps and where are being referenced.

  2. Maybe there’s an obvious answer I’m missing so I’ll apologize in advance, but is there a reason why (with the Raiders scheduled to leave town) a Coliseum retrofit to a baseball-only facility apparently isn’t on the table? I think we’re all aware that it’s presently a horrible facility, but wouldn’t it make more sense (and cost less) to renovate an existing facility with the needed infrastructure already in place?

    • In short, no.

      The Coliseum is a huge, 60-year-old concrete structure built on a dirt berm foundation with the playing field 23 feet below the outside ground level.

      The work to access and replace the 60+-year-old utilities (which are now ‘a bit less than perfectly adequate’) buried under that berm (while attempting to prevent subsidence stressing old concrete, or groundwater intrusion) would be less easy than a tear-down-and-rebuild.

      Also, the A’s have evidently determined that they wouldn’t be able to secure enough financing (loans against Fisher’s money) to build a *sufficiently-profitable-to-stop-having-to-MoneyBall* new ballpark on the Coliseum site.

      TL;DR – it’d be difficult, very expensive, unlikely to get financed, and not get the team out of it’s revenue issues.

    • Oh, bloody hell. Oakland just dodged a bullet by turning down massive public subsidies to sports teams, something study after study shows has a negative ROI for taxpayers and the first thought is “we could use the now vacant site to give massive public subsidies to a company for a corporate relocation, something study after study shows has a negative ROI for the the taxpayers.” Frying pan, meet fryer.

      No.

      It would be a great site for Amazon especially as Amazon already employs a large number of white-collar employees split between offices in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Burlingame and a single campus would help them consolidate their highly dispersed and very large Bay Area workforce in a site close to transit. It would also give them access to a very large skilled workforce that isn’t about to relocate to whatever second-rate city gives the biggest corporate welfare when they can easily find a job near home. If they like that location they should buy it at market value and pay their taxes like anyone else.

      Oakland shouldn’t “bid” for anything. Whoever wants that site should bid for it. Oakland is selling, not buying.

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