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Keeping the A's in Oakland: An interview with Oakland mayoral candidate Dan Siegel

AN speaks with Oakland mayoral candidate and civil rights attorney Dan Siegel regarding his stances on professional sports in Oakland.

Dan Siegel at a campaign event in January 2014.
Dan Siegel at a campaign event in January 2014.

This is the third installment in an (increasingly) 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.

Today, I've written up my interview with Dan Siegel, a longtime Oakland resident and civil rights attorney who served as Mayor Jean Quan's legal advisor until 2011, when he resigned in protest of the Mayor's administration's response to the Occupy Oakland process.

I'll let Mr. Siegel's words speak for themselves, just as soon as I highlight two stances he took. So far, Siegel is the only candidate who has gone on record as saying that, if forced to make a choice, he'd favor keeping the A's in the city over the Raiders, simply because of the economic benefits you can create with 85-ish annual events as opposed to 10 at a football stadium. It's an obvious stance to take, but given the way the City and County have repeatedly bowed at the Raiders' will over the last two decades, it's a very important one.

Mr. Siegel did bring up Howard Terminal as a potential ballpark site, but seemed to understand that it's questionably realistic at best. He also floated an idea of a truly downtown ballpark somewhere within a few blocks of the Broadway corridor, likely north of Broadway and between 12th and 19th Streets.

All in all, he seems like a solid candidate who knows the issues and is appropriately skeptical of projects like Coliseum City.

Bear in mind that the following is a transcribed phone call, edited for clarity only. Amendments in parentheses are my words, while everything else is Mr. Siegel's (though not always 100 percent verbatim).

What are your thoughts on the Oakland Coliseum lease process that recently wrapped up after over a year of negotiation, resulting in a 10-year lease for the A's at the Coliseum?

To me, it was a terrible process. I think it really demonstrates a lack of focus, and really competence, in City Hall. It was important to get the deal done, but also important to get it done in a way that the city and county and the A's were on the same page.

It seems like there was an agreement that was reached, and announced with great fanfare. I believe the motivation (to step back from the deal agreement) was likely the article in the East Bay Express that it wasn't such a great deal, and the city reneged on the deal without getting county representatives to agree with them.

It created a dynamic where and MLB was jumping in and making threats...I'm just glad it's final.

What are your thoughts on the Coliseum City project, and the EIR that was recently released, providing a bit more detail as to the scope of the project?

I've followed it for a while. It seems like a lot of wishful thinking without having people willing to make the required investments. From my own point of view, I want to separate the issue of that whole grand development scheme from what we're going to do to ensure both the Athletics and Raiders stay in Oakland. The goal is to have two new, separate facilities.

What are your thoughts on entrusting either the Wolff/Fisher ownership group, the Davis ownership group, or both with developing the land at the Coliseum complex?

I don't know a lot about the Davis group and what resources it has. I certainly know a lot about Wolff and Fisher. These are people who have a lot of resources, and a lot of access to resources. I think (Wolff and Fisher's) interest is real and one that should be supported.

What's the ideal scenario for the future of Oakland sports?

The Raiders get a new stadium at the present location. It works for football, the nature of football, the relatively small number of games, the fanbase is spread out, and the enjoyment people get out of parties and tailgating is great. It strikes me that a football stadium in the middle of a huge parking lot with freeway access (is ideal).

If I had my druthers, the baseball stadium would be downtown. As a lifelong baseball fan, I've made it a point to go to cities around the country with downtown parks, like Houston and Denver. I love the environment. I was really disappointed when (then-Oakland mayor) Jerry Brown and (then-City Manager Robert Bobb) had that dispute (in the early 2000s) about being able to put a baseball park where the Forest City development is now (near Telegraph Ave. and 19th St.).

OK — What downtown location(s) do you have in mind?

I can imagine Howard Terminal. I know there are lots of environmental and regulatory issues, especially because of the BART tracks (the BART alignment near Howard Terminal is difficult to work with from an expansion standpoint).  Maybe slightly west of where Forrest city is, she did toward downtown. One of the things I'd be thrilled to do as mayor is make sure all the zoning, regulatory and, if necessary, eminent domain issues go smoothly (were we to build a new downtown ballpark).

That said, I don't think the city is in a position to dictate to owners what sites to build at.

Could you also foresee infrastructure help coming from the City of Oakland, if needed?

Yes, I could. A BART station (at Howard Terminal) is justified in terms of public investment. It would give easier access to Jack London Square and facilitate the development of residential housing in the area. I would also anticipate buy-in from BART and Alameda County.

In terms of the environmental cost, I would want to study it and not make a commitment right now. I want to look at the scope of who benefits. If the only beneficiaries would be a private ownership group for the team, that would be harder to justify.

What can you say about the potential for having to choose between the A's and the Raiders as the professional sports franchise to keep in Oakland?

You would have to say that the A's are more important than the Raiders. That's kind of a cold assessment, but it's based on the fact that at the very minimum, you have 81 home games. What's the ability to impact the local economy with 81 games plus exhibition plus postseason? That's substantially more than you can do with the football stadium where you have eight regular-season games, and one or two exhibitions.

If a choice had to be made, the A's would get first preference. I'd like to figure out a way that would avoid having to make that choice. I'd like to think we're a long way from having to make that choice…There's lots of land at the Coliseum area, especially when you factor in the conversation about property along 880, west of the freeway and across from the current Coliseum site.

Again, it seems like having two teams should be in everyone's interest. Even though the baseball season has more dates in it, it doesn't last all year. It would be great to also have football there lasting at least through December. As Mayor, I'd be seriously involved in the efforts to keep both teams.

Closing thoughts?

I think sports teams are an important part of the urban landscape. It's certainly valuable to a city like Oakland to be the home of the A's and Raiders and previously the Warriors. I think there's a lot of credibility that goes with that, and there's both actual and potential economic value. I'm confident as an individual and leader in this community (that we can) try to keep as many of the teams as possible, and do what can be done given budget constraints.

Thanks, Dan, for speaking with AN!