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Keeping the A's in Oakland: An interview with Oakland mayoral candidate Libby Schaaf

AN speaks with Oakland City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Libby Schaaf regarding her views on the future of professional sports in Oakland.

This is the fourth installment in our series featuring Oakland mayoral candidates and their stances in the upcoming November 2014 elections, discussing their feelings and policies most specifically regarding a new venue for the A's in Oakland.

Today's post is a writeup of my interview with Libby Schaaf, an Oakland native and current member of the Oakland City Council. Schaaf is a lawyer by trade, but has spent the last two decades of her career working in local politics, including a stint as one of then-Oakland mayor Jerry Brown's top aides.

My brief analysis of Schaaf's interview, before allowing her words to speak for themselves, is fairly simple. Schaaf is yet another candidate who seems to have a genuine interest in keeping Oakland's sports teams in town, and carries a pragmatic-enough mindset that she might be successful in doing so. That said, she is now the third (or even fourth) candidate to tell AN that she believes Howard Terminal is a viable site for a privately financed ballpark; her rationale is simply that it wouldn't be public money paying for the ballpark's construction, and that internal (and as-yet invisible) analyses conducted by private-sector Oakland powerhouses like Clorox CEO Don Knauss indicate the site is financially viable, contradicting the only information that, to date, is available to the public.

Schaaf is an Oakland native and, from the sound of it, has experienced her fair share of A's and Raiders games. She also seems to carry both appropriate interest and appropriate skepticism for the Coliseum City development, and a solid appreciation for the positive economic and developmental impact new sports venues can have on a city. She has experience in transit-oriented development, as she mentions below, and has worked for the Port of Oakland as well, giving her two backgrounds potentially useful for getting a ballpark done at either of the currently proposed sites.

Lastly, Schaaf is now the second candidate (after Dan Siegel) to indicate a clear preference for keeping the A's over the Raiders, should such a choice become necessary. Both candidates hold that position for exactly the right reason — the economic and cultural impact of a venue that hosts at least 80 events per year is vastly greater than that of a football stadium that might not host more than a dozen, and neither was shy in saying so.

Without further ado, here's our interview, edited only for clarity.

What are your thoughts on the recently completed lease agreement between the City of Oakland, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Joint Powers Authority, and the A's, and how do you feel about the process that took place in getting it done?

What we could've done better is had a better partnership with the county, and ensured lines of communication between the two governing bodies. We are the co-owners of the Coliseum site, after all.

There was some confusion about why the city decided not to show up for the votes, which was evidence of (a lack of communication).

There needed to be more transparency, where people felt like they had been kept informed throughout the negotiation. And again, we needed a better partnership with the county and the co-owners.

My other concern is that we never pit one team against another. Many of us had concerns about one particular team in the lease, because we never want to make our baseball team feel (like a second-class citizen).

What are your thoughts on the Coliseum City proposal?

I like the concept of a Coliseum-area development that captures the energy from sports stadiums and supports retail and hotels and other entertainment venues. That said, I'm really scrutinizing the proposition for a football stadium with a retractable roof for the city with the best climate in the world.

I want to see whether (Mayor Quan's) team of developers really has the capacity to pull off this scale of development. The idea that Oakland has not built other enterprises around our sports stadiums to capture that economic potential (is something we need to work on).

Realistically, I can't imagine that we're going to build a third venue (editor's note: she's referring to the potential for a replacement for Oracle Arena). The existing arena will still be a great revenue generator as other, newer facilities (in San Francisco and San Jose) become much more expensive.

Do you see keeping the A's and Raiders as mutually exclusive? What are some of the challenges that go along with keeping both teams in the city?

There is enough room for both teams, and my clear priority is keeping both teams. But from an economic point of view, the A's have a larger economic benefit for Oakland that should always be kept in mind. They play more than 80 games a year, compared to 10. But I just want to be clear, I'm a very proud Oakland native; my parents were season-ticket holders for both the A's and the Raiders throughout my life.

Do you foresee infrastructure help ever coming from the City of Oakland if the A's and Raiders were willing to finance the construction of their actual venues?

It's absolutely appropriate for the city to invest in infrastructure improvements to support a development, particularly transportation improvements. That's what we've seen in other cities. It's appropriate because we will own those improvements in perpetuity.

It's not just physical improvements, either — we'd want to make sure to work with AC Transit and BART, make sure that infrastructure and service were both improved in conjunction with development of new sports venues.

Do you have specific, preferred sites for venues the A's?

I'm still excited about both potential venues for the A's (referring to Howard Terminal/Jack London Square and the current Coliseum site). I also recognize that the A's ownership has a renewed interest in the current Coliseum site, which is something we welcome and should support.

I was very involved in developing the Fruitvale BART transit village, and I'm very familiar with the partnership and coordination it takes to work with BART in developing sites with them. Many of us see a new Coliseum ballpark as having much better connectivity with the BART station.

I've also worked for the Port of Oakland as Director of Public Affairs, so I'm also familiar with waterfront development, and could bring a lot of skills to the table in terms of developing both of those sites.

Several analyses of the Howard Terminal sites estimate pre-venue construction costs as reaching into the low hundreds of millions. Do you see those figures as prohibitive?

Again, this is a development that private developers are pursuing. These are people that have done development on Oakland's waterfront. (Clarifying): I'm referring to Don Knauss, and his ownership group, and my understanding is that their assessments of the site show different numbers.

That said, I will celebrate and facilitate whichever site keeps my Oakland A's in my hometown, especially with someone else's money.

Any final thoughts on your abilities as mayor, hypothetically, to keep your city's sports franchises in town?

Well, to bolster my Oakland A's cred, I grew up in a family that didn't eat blueberry muffins — we ate Vida Blue-berry muffins.

On a serious note, there is no reason that Oakland should not be able to keep its sports teams. This is one of the most exciting, vibrant, growing cities in the country, and our A's are such an integral part of our city's pride and our city's story. I'm excited that our ownership seems to be recognizing that. I feel like this whole city is pulling for our A's, not just for a winning season but also that they may have a home worthy of our team's greatness.