Here’s how to break the Oakland A’s grip on the Coliseum

With the Oakland A’s headed for Las Vegas, it’s time for local elected officials to stop fantasizing about keeping the team in the Bay Area and start working to protect the public’s interest.

That means that Oakland and Alameda County officials need to stop groveling to team ownership and start playing hardball. They need to wrest back control of the Coliseum, one of the Bay Area’s prime development sites. That’s the real prize now.

The region badly needs transit-friendly housing. The 120-acre property has an existing BART station right there as well as two adjacent Interstate 880 on-ramps, making it probably the best transportation-ready site in the Bay Area.

And yet, even though the A’s are about to move, prospects for any future housing and commercial development are stalled because the team’s billionaire owner, John Fisher, has a stranglehold on the land.

Blame a horrible deal the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in 2019 struck with Fisher and his sidekick, team President Dave Kaval, that was promoted as a way to help the team remain in Oakland.

The county and the city co-own the Coliseum site. But county supervisors — two of whom are still in office — agreed to sell the county’s half to the A’s. Amazingly, the sweetheart agreement failed to require that the team stay put.

The sale is expected to close escrow in 2026, when the outstanding bonds for past Coliseum improvements are paid off. But Fisher already essentially has veto power over any development of the land.

As a result, Oakland’s attempts to plan for the site are stalled. They can’t move without Fisher’s support.

Oakland leaders have entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with African American Sports and Entertainment Group to eventually sell it the city’s half-interest in the site. AASEG envisions a sports complex, restaurants, nightlife, retail shops, hotels and market-rate and affordable housing there.

The group has signaled that it’s willing to buy the A’s out of their half-ownership of the property. But the team has shown no indication it’s willing to sell. It’s time for the city and the county to ratchet up the pressure.

The city’s options

For their part, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and the City Council need to stop their political posturing and focus on the prize.

That means that Thao should abandon her silly demands that Fisher rebrand his team so Oakland can keep the A’s name for an expansion team and that Major League Baseball guarantee the city that future franchise. That’s not going to happen.

Instead, Oakland officials should start thinking strategically. While the Las Vegas ballpark is being built, the A’s need a place to play for at least two years after 2024, when their lease at the Coliseum runs out. There’s room for a deal here: Oakland agrees to the extension in exchange for Fisher’s selling the Coliseum rights to the AASEG or another development group the city finds.

If the A’s won’t agree to that, the city should take back control through eminent domain. If the city demonstrates that it plans to use the site for a public purpose — such as redevelopment, economic revitalization, recreational amenities or open space — it could force the sale of the A’s share of the Coliseum, legal experts say.

County’s options

As for county officials, it’s time for them to stop enabling Fisher’s and Kaval’s abusive treatment of fans and the community. To be sure, having entered into the foolish 2019 deal, they can’t now act in bad faith by failing to hold up their part of the bargain. That would be legal suicide.

But they can and must insist that the A’s hold up their part of the deal. Specifically, the team still owes $45 million of the $85 million purchase price for the half-interest in the Coliseum property.

Under the deal, the team is required to make three final payments, $15 million each in January 2024, February 2025 and January 2026. But if they announce they are leaving town, the $45 million is due within 180 days.

The team made just such an announcement in April, far more than 180 days ago. Yet, according to supervisors, County Counsel Donna Ziegler has yet to call for the payments. It’s past time to do so. If they county didn’t intend to enforce the provision for accelerated payment, why did they put it in the contract?


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