OAKLAND | Oakland city officials had tough talk for Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff Monday night accusing him of manipulating the media and virtually ignoring talks with the city over a new stadium.
“Lew Wolff won’t talk to us,” said Oakland Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell at an event in Oakland for the grassroots group, Save Oakland Sports, while adding a change of ownership “would do wonders to negotiations.”
Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana accused Wolff of playing games in the media, reiterating a much-publicized letter details a desire by Wolff to renew the team’s lease at O.co Coliseum was a ruse. Santana said Wolff never forwarded the letter to city and county officials, only to the media.
“When you saw the recent letter Lew Wolff put out that was highly-covered through the media about his desire to stay and negotiate a lease extension for five years with the city and with the county, what you should know is that letter was never forwarded to the JPA or it was never forwarded to the city and county, it was forwarded to the newspaper. It’s just some of the game-playing we struggle with without them being at the table in good faith in order to have discussions around these negotiations when the media is feed a different impression.”
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s office confirmed Tuesday afternoon the city never received Wolff’s correspondence. Sean Maher, communications director for Quan said the city only recently confirmed it was not received and only responded last December to press inquiries regarding the contents of the letter. “We read about it in the press and saw the letter that way, and responded publicly on the assumption it was in the mail,” Maher said.
“This all sounds very confusing to us,” Bob Rose, director of public relations for the A’s. “Mr. Wolff indeed sent the letter and the Mayor's office confirmed they received it.”
The A’s nearly five-year flirtation with moving to San Jose is still the subject of a so-called “blue ribbon” committee of Major League Baseball officials. A report has yet to be issued and baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has long been silent on the subject of relocating the A’s. Blackwell says the lack of a resolution is frustrating, along with constant erroneous leaks over the years. Nothing will happen regarding a new ballpark in Oakland, said Blackwell, unless the all the parties meet. “We have to sit across the table with someone that wants to talk to us,”
While the A’s seemingly have no interest in staying in Oakland. The Warriors, however, due to an exclusive negotiating agreement with San Francisco for a new waterfront arena, cannot legally talk to city officials and the Raiders and NFL are interested in the Coliseum City plan, yet very skeptical. For sports fans in the East Bay, this is a very dour scouting report showing the prospects, at this point, of keeping the trio of franchises in Oakland unlikely.
Blackwell, a former head of San Francisco’s redevelopment agency, knowingly mocked the prospects of the Warriors building a futuristic-looking arena on the bay. “We haven’t any dialogue on prospects of staying with the existing site,” he said. “We will be waiting with open arms when they get exhausted with that process.” Building on the water is a state issue, says Blackwell, along with the property at Pier 30-32 already being high-traffic areas. “We know it’s not going to be a slam dunk,” said Blackwell. “No pun intended.”
Although the Raiders are the only franchise in town actively in negotiations with Oakland and Alameda County about Coliseum City, complications still exist. Blackwell reiterated comments made last month identifying the Raiders as an “anchor tenant” for the project he viewed as potentially the largest transit-only development project in the state. However, the Raiders and the NFL still appear skeptical of the viability of the Raiders in the East Bay.
“We seldom have meetings when [the Raiders] don’t mention being 32 out of 32 teams in revenue,” said Blackwell. While grassroots support for keeping the A’s in Oakland has been strong, Santana says the lack of organized corporate support for the Raiders concerns the NFL. Citing weekly meetings with the Raiders, Santana said the NFL is looking for signs of county-wide and regional support for the Raiders.
Added Blackwell: “It’s not enough to say, if you build it, they will come. I hate to say it, but corporate support is more important to them than fans.” When it comes to selling lucrative suites for Raiders games, the discrepancy in the amount of revenue the 49ers are receiving at their new Santa Clara home and what the Raiders get “is like this…” Blackwell said with his arms outstretched wide.
The city and county, however, do not want to reprise the debacle following the 1995 return of the Raiders from Los Angeles and renovation of the Coliseum that included the outfield structure unaffectionately referred to as Mount Davis. The city and county are still saddled with over $100 million in debt, which Santana said was recently refinanced. The deal eats up nearly $10 million annually from Oakland’s general fund, Santana said. And any future stadium proposal must have the huge debt “baked-in” to the deal, she said.
She also expects to soon choose a firm to perform the site plan study approved last month by the Oakland Coliseum Authority. A handful of bids were quickly received by the city just days after the request for proposals was released in late January. “We have a tremendous amount of urgency right now,” said Blackwell. “The next 60-90 days are critical.”
NOTE: A version of this story appears in the East Bay Express.