It's time for Jean Quan to get serious about the A's

Ezra Shaw

Jean Quan's tenure as Oakland mayor has seen more than its fair share of empty, meaningless rhetoric regarding the Coliseum City project and the general effort to keep Oakland's teams in town. Does Mayor Quan have what it takes to get something done?

In yet another "what the hell is she doing" moment, Oakland mayor Jean Quan has decided to play hardball with Lew Wolff and the A's, stating in a recent interview that she doesn't want to pursue a long-term lease for the club at the Coliseum until it commits to building a brand-new, permanent venue in Oakland.

The logic behind the statement is nonexistent. Wolff's willingness to sign a five-year lease extension with a built-in, five-year option makes it obvious that he has no expectation of gaining the territorial rights to San Jose at any point in the near future, if ever.

Wolff has also made recent statements hinting at his openness to building a new ballpark on or near the current Coliseum site and reiterating his opposition to building at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square. The stance makes sense: one site is already controlled by local government, has preexisting transportation infrastructure on-site (BART, Capitol Corridor, great freeway access, and the nearly complete Oakland Airport Connector) and doesn't have well upwards of $100 million in necessary cleanup costs before beginning to build.

That's not to say the infrastructure costs for the new Coliseum City Complex, which would hypothetically be home to new venues for the A's, Raiders, and Warriors — heck out this great post from newballpark.com estimating them at between $344 and $425 million. But spread out between two professional franchises, multiple local government agencies and some yet-to-emerge deep-pocketed developers, that obstacle is hardly insurmountable. As a matter of fact, the more teams become involved, the less of an issue it becomes.

Quan's insistence on continually alienating both franchises is bizarre. Does she not realize the practical implications of refusing to negotiate with a team that, as of now, has no place to build a stadium anywhere in the Bay Area? Other MLB owners are not happy with the A's epitomizing the term "welfare queen" year after year, operating at massive profit margins despite drawing below-average crowds and generating relatively little revenue. Other cities — Portland, Montreal, San Antonio, Sacramento, and others — want Major League Baseball. If he wants to, Selig (or his successor) and the owners can take the A's not only out of Oakland but out of the Bay Area entirely. Quan is playing with fire, pretending that the A's truly have nowhere to go no matter how much their city neglects them.

Now that the Warriors have purchased land for a new arena in Mission Bay in San Francisco, it's clear where Quan's focus should lie — with the two teams that actually carry her city's name. Oddly, despite her incompetence when it comes to effecting real change, it seems that she actually has both teams right where she wants them. They might need Oakland as much as Oakland needs them. So what's with the harsh, pointless rhetoric? Does Quan think this is a game?

To be fair, it might be a game, one of politics and strategy and logic. Unfortunately, the game Quan has played involves making up stories about Middle Eastern princes being interested in financing a sports complex in Oakland. God forbid the city make a serious proposal to the A's and/or Raiders about the future of the Coliseum complex — the Coliseum Authority is scared of alienating one team by striking a deal for a new venue with the other. Quan's former city administrator literally lost a letter from Lew Wolff, leading the city to publicly accuse Wolff of lying to the public about his intentions for a new lease at the Coliseum. It's easy to see why negotiating this people is difficult. You can't make this stuff up.

The reality is that it's not very complicated. There's room for three venues on the site. This can happen with minimal disruption and team displacement, as follows: 1) Build a new baseball stadium in the parking lot immediately north of the current Coliseum. If the Coliseum becomes unusable during construction, fine — move the A's to San Francisco for a season or two, and stick the Raiders in Santa Clara. 2) Demolish the current Coliseum and build the Raiders a new venue on the existing footprint or just south of it. 3) Develop the area, do what you will with Oracle Arena, and reap the benefits as a city.

The conflict between the A's and Raiders doesn't exist. There's room for both teams, and both seem to have concluded that the Coliseum site is the best place for them to play in the long term. If Quan wants to make it happen, the time is now. The Raiders are on board. The A's are starting to look like they're on board. The Warriors are gone, but so what?

Bear in mind that Quan was the first pick of less than 25% of Oakland residents in the 2010 mayoral election; she won because the City of Oakland uses ranked-choice voting, meaning votes from people who ranked her as their second or third choice for mayor ended up carrying her to a win.

But regardless of the means of election, Quan is the mayor. And for all her whining about how Lew Wolff isn't open to staying in Oakland, her latest stance is unbelievable. She has the opportunity to lock up her town's baseball team for at least five years, in all likelihood 10, and somehow the line of thinking is that it's productive to stonewall the A's into making a ridiculous and illogical commitment without having any leverage or a real proposal to back it up.

Quan's re-election bid doesn't look too rosy at the moment. But whether she wins or not, let's hope that whoever is at Oakland's helm throughout the next few years — which will likely include a new MLB commissioner, unless Bud Selig amends the CBA to allow zombies to remain in office indefinitely — is willing to do what it takes to keep their town's teams, instead of the stream of head-scratching decisions we've seen from the current administration. San Jose is still very much a possibility, and the Raiders or A's staying in Oakland is far from a good bet. Let's get serious, Mayor Quan.

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