After two close, competitive races for mayor in two of the Bay Area's major cities, we have two new players in the never-ending saga to build the A's a new ballpark in the region. Libby Schaaf and Sam Liccardo are the new mayors of Oakland and San Jose, respectively, and both see building a new ballpark for the A's in their city as a priority.
That's nothing new — both San Jose and Oakland have been courting the A's for the better part of the past decade. But it's tough to court a professional sports franchise when the best you can offer is land and a bit of infrastructure help; neither city is exactly rolling out the welcome wagon with a publicly funded stadium. Those don't get built in California.
Before being elected mayor, Liccardo served on the San Jose City Council, and was the councilmember who originally advocated for that city's lawsuit against Major League Baseball, claiming that its century-old antitrust exemption is unconstitutional and that the league shouldn't have power over where franchises choose to play. He's in it to win it, clearly, and will likely continue to pursue the legal route.
Even though they led up to a general election, the past few months have been a bit of of a lame duck period for ballpark-concerned politicians and other stakeholders in Oakland. Developers and team officials in Oakland haven't been willing to make a bold move without knowing who would comprise the city's next leadership team. Politicians have employed the same positive and hum-drum rhetoric throughout the period without attempting to enact real change or progress.
Libby Schaaf discusses the A's ballpark situation
This period was never a concern, and Oakland's 90-day extension of its exclusive negotiating agreement with a Coliseum City development group two weeks ago represented yet another sign that any action was simply being postponed until after election day.
Jean Quan is out of the picture, obviously, while one of her most formidable challengers — Rebecca Kaplan — still holds the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council. Kaplan was credited with many of the successes and failures in the convoluted process of securing the A's a new long-term lease at the Coliseum, and by all accounts, she has a better relationship with Lew Wolff and his ownership team than any other city official.
Libby Schaaf wasn't in the thick of things quite to the same degree as Kaplan over the summer, but she does have experience in orchestrating transit-oriented development in Oakland (the Fruitvale BART Village is partially her doing) and she's a former employee of the Port of Oakland. In short, she has qualifications that lend themselves well to a project either on the Coliseum site or at Howard Terminal.
The Howard Terminal idea, far-fetched as it is, seems to be getting a minor boost as the plan for the Oakland Streetcar takes shape, along with an under-the-radar project for a streetcar or enhanced bus system connecting West Berkeley to West Oakland and Jack London Square/Downtown. The human connectivity and transit aspects of a project near Jack London Square are in the works, but nothing has been done to address other elephants in the room like a power substation that would be immensely expensive to relocate, along with an asphalt cap sealing off toxic waste from Howard Terminal's days as a petroleum processing facility.
If one or both of the projects come to fruition, they could catalyze major development along the corridor, much in the same way that San Francisco's N-Judah extension to Caltrain in the late 1990s set up a construction boom that truly exploded once the plan for AT&T Park, two blocks from the Caltrain station at 4th and King, was finalized.
Hopefully Kaplan's defeat in the mayoral election doesn't weaken her resolve in any way. She can still be a key player in orchestrating this development, and her relationship with Wolff is an asset that Oakland can't afford to give up.
As always, the Raiders are complicating the picture. The possibility of them announcing a move to Los Angeles in the next two months is very real, and even if they don't, it has been consistently clear for years that the Raiders don't have the cash or the sway in East Bay development circles to get a stadium deal done on their own.
Schaaf and Kaplan could have a golden opportunity on their hands in the next few weeks. Schaaf won't even be in office yet, but she'll have the influence she needs, and Kaplan's job is unchanged. Every opportunity to build a stadium in the last decade has been "now or never," but that doesn't change the fact that this opportunity might truly be available now, and never again.