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Keeping the A's in Oakland: An interview with Joe Tuman

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An interview with Oakland mayoral candidate Joe Tuman regarding his views on the future of the A's in Oakland.

This is the second installment in what is becoming an extended series featuring Oakland mayoral candidates in the upcoming November 2014 elections, discussing their feelings and positions most specifically regarding a new venue for the A's in the City of Oakland.

This installment features Joe Tuman, a UC Berkeley graduate and Oakland resident and current professor at San Francisco State University. As a professor, he teaches government, politics, and constitutional law. I really appreciate Mr. Tuman's participation in the interview, and hope that by series' end, we give Oakland voters and others with a vested interest in the A's stadium situation a good idea of who to support if this issue is important to them.

I'll let Mr. Tuman's responses to  my questions stand on their own, but I will add my two cents beforehand: he seems like a qualified candidate and principled academic whose lack of substantial prior involvement in the crazy world of Oakland politics could serve him well. That said — and this problem is hardly unique to him — he seems a bit too confident and somewhat unrealistic about the prospect of multiple privately financed stadiums in Oakland, namely for the A's and Raiders. Mr. Tuman also supports a new baseball venue at Howard Terminal in Jack London Square, but seems to recognize that such a plan is more of a pipe dream than anything else.

Building two venues on the existing Coliseum lot footprint won't be easy, on multiple levels. One is a space constraint. While there's certainly enough room for a football stadium and a baseball stadium, there might not be enough room for both plus the necessary infrastructure and development necessary to actually finance their construction. The other is the financing itself — the finances of that site's development don't quite pencil out if the revenue is split between two parties, such as Mark Davis and the Wolff/Fisher group.

The bottom line, though, is that Mr. Tuman is yet another candidate who seems quite set on keeping both the A's and the Raiders in town. Use his answers below to see if you think he'll be up to the task.

A painful 15-month process to secure a new lease for the A's at the Oakland Coliseum recently wrapped up after plenty of controversy and back-and-forth. What are your thoughts on the new lease, and the process that took place in getting it approved?

Recent negotiations between the A's and the JPA reflect our current elected officials' lack of a cohesive strategy for planning future facilities that can keep our teams in Oakland. After 14 months of negotiations with Lew Wolff of the A's, the Oakland City Council voted to make last-minute changes to the lease deal - reopening and threatening a lease that would keep the A's here after 2015.

When the city council raised concerns about the suitability of the lease extension in the 11th hour - either because JPA members failed to inform council members about the lease or because council members just were not interested - it reflected poorly on our city. This distinctly minor-league approach to management demonstrated a lack of professionalism.

Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, and the 10-year lease was signed.

But the truth is that a lease extension is not a long-term solution to keeping the A's in Oakland. Instead of dealing with a sustainable and permanent solution, city elected leaders grasp for whatever short-term fix they can find. We've already seen how such an orientation badly serves Oakland when applied to public safety. Temporary federal grants to hire police officers, or one-time money for CHP officers to patrol International Boulevard fail to provide permanent staffing for police. Similarly, a lease extension is only a temporary arrangement-and one that can easily be circumvented if the A's find another home.

Every modern sports team needs modern facilities that provide a more enhanced fan experience, opportunities for revitalization of surrounding areas, and a close connection between the sports franchise and the community.  Think AT&T Park. Mutually beneficial relationships between teams and their communities lead to community benefits such as jobs, economic activity, and community pride.

You mention Oakland's sports teams in your campaign platform - how important is it to keep the A's and Raiders in town, and how would you work to leverage economic benefit from their presence in Oakland?

I think that keeping both the A's and the Raiders is very important for Oakland. These franchises are part of our local history and identity. They offer a positive counterpoint  (e.g., the A's continue to find ways to be successful despite a limited payroll) to the traditional narrative of this city (one which, sadly, is mostly about crime). Their existence creates the opportunity for some employment. Their success is also pivotal to helping Oakland become more of a point of destination-a city to visit. With the proper ballpark for the A's and stadium for the Raiders, there is more opportunity for Oakland to realize some growth in seasonal jobs, sourcing of new sales tax dollars, and the potential for new room-rate-tax dollars if more hotels are built in town (that will happen if I am Mayor!). Bringing teams and fans into Oakland to stay overnight can also create a positive multiplier effect for Oakland restaurants and bars.

At a different level, it's also worth noting that losing these teams would negatively effect how Oakland residents feel about our city. When I talk to residents about this issue, I always pay attention to the exact words they use to describe their feelings about losing either of these teams. They have used the same words to describe the impending move of the Warriors. One word that stands out in their statements is: "rejection." Having a team leave is a form of rejection-almost like when a lover or spouse leaves you for someone else, implying that this someone is also better. We don't need more self-esteem problems in Oakland. This is enough-all by itself-to make me prioritize keeping the A's and the Raiders here.

Do you have preferred sites for A's and Raiders venues? What about those sites is attractive to you?

The frugal side of me says that the logical venue for both teams is to remain within the Coliseum complex footprint, with a new stand-alone ballpark for the A's, while the Raiders remain within the Coliseum, remodeled or rebuilt to whatever specs they wish. The logic of being there is that the parking infrastructure and the BART station (two big challenges for other venues) are already in place.

The other side of me, however, would love to see the A's relocate to a ballpark at JLS within the old Howard Terminal site. A waterfront ballpark would help complete the development of JLS, and frankly be a better bet for supporting existing businesses and developing new retail outlets, restaurants and bars. There is considerable upside for the city and the A's with this location. Nevertheless, it would not be without some challenges.

For starters, any deal to get the Howard Terminal site means that efforts must be made to reach out to Schnizter Steel, which is on the other side of the Howard Terminal, and which owns some land that is currently within the rendition/plans for the new ballpark. Additionally, we would have to consider the larger port facility and the reality that a lot of trucks have to get into and out of the Port on a daily basis. There would likely need to be some kind of buffer between port traffic congestion and pedestrian traffic coming to/leaving from the ballpark. Moreover, as there is no current BART station at JLS - and we would not want thousands of cars driving into that area for games - it would be necessary and appropriate to plan for ways that fans might use existing mass transit to get to get close to the ballpark and then walk the rest of the distance (ideally, past many existing and new retail shops, restaurants and bars). For this, I would consider trying to source dollars to build a street level light rail service, perhaps running from the downtown near the 12th Street Oakland City Center BART station, down Broadway, under the overpass and into JLS.

Do you see keeping the Raiders and keeping the A's as mutually exclusive? If so, which team would you prefer to keep in the City and why? If not, how can you keep both teams in town without diluting the financial incentive for owners like Lew Wolff to build venues and develop around them?

Keeping both is not a mutually exclusive situation. Ideally, as indicated above, I think we need separate facilities for both. Keeping the teams here - especially the A's - means that individuals like Mr. Wolff should ideally be offered an opportunity to bid for developing some of the retail or hotels or property that would go up around the new facilities.

As Mayor, what steps would you take to ensure the A's stay in Oakland? Are you open to the prospect of any public funding for a new ballpark? What opportunities do you see for infrastructure development concurrent with the construction of a stadium?

I think I covered this in response to the third above. Let me add that this must be part of a cohesive strategy that is also tied to economic development outcomes for the city. I have been a fan of the A's for many decades, and I was a season ticket holder for the Raiders before they moved to Los Angeles. I grew up idolizing players like Ken Stabler, Cliff Branch, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Gene Upsaw and others-back in an era when players actually were often members of the communities in which they played (remember Uppie's bar in JLS?). In spite of this, free agency for players, and ownership participation in league revenues, lucrative TV contracts and brand merchandizing cured me of any sentimentality about professional sports a long time ago. The reality is that staying or going will always be a business decision for professional teams. It should be no less for the city. If it pencils out for them to stay, it has to pencil out for the city as well. In our current environment I would not commit city dollars to the construction of a new ballpark or stadium; how could I when we cannot even afford enough police officers to keep the city safe? What I will do, however, is commit to help make the planning and zoning for new facilities efficient and timely. I will also help bring together a coalition of local leaders to:

-Privately develop and finance a new stand-alone baseball facility for the Oakland A's, either within the existing coliseum complex footprint, or at the Howard Terminal site in Jack London Square. I would welcome and invite Mr. Wolff to participate in the development of areas near the new stadium.

-Privately develop and finance a new football stadium for the Oakland Raiders at the Coliseum complex.

This is absolutely doable, and if it is approached the correct way, it can benefit all parties.

Anything else you'd like to add regarding your hopes and thoughts for a new baseball stadium in Oakland?

Oakland needs new leaders ready to step up to the plate to work with the professionalism and dedication that our citizens deserve to keep our historic sports teams where they belong - in Oakland.


The next segment will be with Dan Siegel, a former staffer of current Mayor Jean Quan's and a formidable candidate in his own right. Stay tuned, and thanks again to Mr. Tuman for participating!