Oakland A’s New Ballpark: Privatization, Job Losses and Gentrification

Back in 2014, when the corporate-controlled Oakland Zoo was moving to destroy a large part of the beautiful open space Knowland Park, zoo spokesman Nick Dehajia explained that the project would “change the face of Oakland”. Every person of color in Oakland, in fact every working class person, had simply to look in the mirror to answer the question: “whose faces do they want to change?”

John Fisher’s Real Estate Scheme
That now completed zoo project didn’t succeed in completely changing Oakland’s face, but it was a small step in that direction. The plans of multi-billion dollar real estate developer John Fisher to get ahold of hundreds of acres of publicly owned land along Oakland’s water front will be a much larger step, and one that will be enormously profitable for him and his buddies. That is especially so since he will be getting the land on the cheap and with city taxpayers spending what is supposed to be $855 million in infrastructure support for this development. With cost overruns and future inflation, it’s nearly certain to be over $1 billion.

How Fisher and his representatives in Oakland government have marketed this $13 billion development scheme to the Oakland population is a cautionary tale. The public face for it is the building of a new baseball stadium for Oakland’s one remaining professional sports team – the Oakland A’s. By the same token, Fisher, who is a right wing public education privatizer, has hidden behind the happy face of A’s president Dave Kaval.

Along the way, Fisher was allowed to buy the land on which the A’s present ballpark sits. Alameda County, which owns half interest in that land, sold its interest to Fisher for $85 million, an estimated $50 million discount at a minimum. Fisher bought it without any competing bids.

Plan A: Laney College
Then, in 2017, Fisher’s mouthpiece, Dave Kaval, announced plans to take over the land across the street from Oakland’s Laney College for a new stadium. That would have accomplished several goals: First, it would have doomed Laney College since just the construction alone – never mind games and other events at the stadium – would have driven thousands of Laney students away. As an opponent of public education, that in itself would have been a valuable step for Fisher. Once Laney was destroyed, the land the school sits on would have been open for development. And keep in mind that this land sits just a short distance from Oakland’s beautiful Lake Merritt, a great opportunity for Fisher if there ever was one.

Fisher’s proposed real estate deal: 1.5 miles of economically valuable Oakland waterfront.

Plan B: Howard Terminal
However, due to the opposition of both the students and faculty of Laney, the Peralta Community College District was forced to vote against the scheme. So Fisher had to resort to Plan B: Get ahold of one-and-a-half miles  of Oakland’s water front and nearby land to build luxury housing, a 400 room hotel, 1.8 million square feet of commercial and retail space and who-know-what else – plus a baseball stadium. Fisher also committed to building 3,000 units of “affordable” housing. However, “affordable” is defined as being for renters with a certain percentage of the average income in the area. Since that average would increase, so would the actual dollars and cents definition of affordability. The total estimated cost will be $13 billion, of which $1 billion will be for the stadium. In other words, as the Mercury News put it, this is “a (real estate) development deal that includes a ballpark, not the other way around.”

Economic Impacts: The Claims vs. Reality
Fisher’s front man, Dave Kaval, promises jobs and wealth for the city of Oakland. This is always the claim of sports franchise owners who hide sweet real estate deals behind building a new ballpark. Every independent study of the effects of similar ballparks shows different:

One study cited Temple University’s sports economist Michael Leeds, who commented on the economic impact of sports stadiums: “If you ever had a consensus in economics, this would be it. There is no impact…. If every sports team in Chicago were to suddenly disappear, the impact on the Chicago economy would be a fraction of one percent. A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store.” In fact, according to College of Holy Names sports economist Victor Matheson, “economic activity in Inglewood actually increased when the Lakers left town.”

Stadiums and Gentrification
In 2016, Dominique Wilkins published a Masters Degree research paper at Clark University. Among other things, Wilkins studied the demographic impact of the new stadium for the Washington Nationals in Washington DC. He found that “over time, the neighborhood changes to house mostly upper-class, single, young white professionals.” Before the stadium was completed, 42% of the population had family incomes below $50,000 and 31% had incomes over $100,000. After its completion, those figures were 15.5% below $50,000 and 70.1% above. Those with incomes above $200,000 went from 7.1% to 34.9%. The black population went from 54.7% to 34% while the white population went from 40.5% to 59.6%.

Avaya soccer stadium in San Jose. Its construction helped create the situation in which this San Jose State adjunct professor, Ellen Tara James-Penney, ended up living in her car.

Dave Kaval, president of the A’s, claims that nothing of the sort will happen in this case. At the time that the proposal for the Laney College site was still in the works, Kaval did an interview with the school newspaper, the Laney Tower. In that interview, he cited the construction of Avaya (soccer) stadium in downtown San Jose as an example of what they intend to do, and he pointed out that it was essentially the same management team responsible for the construction of that stadium that will be responsible for the proposed A’s stadium. In fact, that stadium is a perfect example: Katherine Naso, an organizer with the International Migrants Alliance in San Jose explained (in a personal interview with Oaklandsocialist) that the construction of that stadium was central to the development of that entire area of the city. The result has been that rents for a studio apartment in the area ranged at that time from $2500 to $3000. She said that, contrary to Kaval’s promises regarding the A’s stadium, no housing has been built for students or faculty of nearby San Jose State University and that some students are homeless as a result.  A similar process has already been under way in West Oakland for quite a few years. Fisher’s real estate deal actually intends to accelerate and intensify that process.

Nor will the stadium bring new riches to Oakland small businesses. Dominique Wilkins cited the “substitution effect”. In other words, the entertainment budget for most people is fairly inelastic; what they spend on one form of entertainment will be subtracted from spending on another form. Restaurants, bars and clubs in other parts of the area can expect a decline in business if more money is spent on attending a sports event.

Community Benefits”
The Fisher/Kaval team proposes a “community benefits” clause. At very best, this would simply give a few millions (out of $13 billion) to a few non-profits and local small businesses. That may be very nice for those owners, but there can be no benefit for “the community” as a whole. This clause is simply hush money, intended to buy off some of the opposition.

Jobs Loss
Through Dave Kaval, Fisher promises jobs and increased income for Oakland. Wilkins finds just the opposite: “Baade (in Siegfried and Zimbalist 2000) asserts that there is no evidence that a new sports stadium increase the per capita income in the host community. Coates and Humphreys (1999) find that new stadiums actually reduce per capita income in the host city.”

There is every reason to believe that this will be the case for Oakland and surrounding communities. As the East Oakland Stadium Alliance points out: “The port is home to almost 90,000 union jobs, many of which would be lost forever to part-time ballpark and retail jobs if they are displaced by conflicting real estate demands.”

A main reason is that the Howard Terminal, where the proposed stadium would be built, is used by truckers waiting to pick up loads from offloading ships. Once construction starts there, those trucks would be forced to wait in the local streets, causing not only noise and parking problems and traffic jams but also slowing down the entire longshore process, especially on game days. An article in the SF Chronicle explained: “Oakland is the 10th largest port in America, but its customers have other options, including Los Angeles and Seattle.” Already, according to a spokesman for the East Oakland Stadium Alliance, “We already have (shipping) customers and carriers that say, ‘I don’t want to sign any long-term deals with Oakland…”

Then there is the impact on the surrounding community. Once the stadium is completed, they expect around 10,000 cars looking for parking on nearby city streets. This will add to the trucks forced out of Howard Terminal onto surrounding streets.

Lurking behind Dave Kaval (speaking in foreground) and the A’s baseball team is owner, billionaire real estate investor John Fisher. He keeps out of sight as much as he can.

Who is John Fisher?
Just as is the case with Chevron in Richmond, such a development in Oakland would make John Fisher a major player in Oakland city politics, more so than he already is (hiding behind Dave Kaval). Fisher is an inheritor of the founders of the Gap clothing stores and is “worth” $3.6 billion in his own right. As Oaklandsocialist has pointed out elsewhere: John Fisher has been a major player in the charter school/education privatization movement, as he sits on the boards of the KIPP Foundation and the Charter School Growth Fund. Along with the Walton family and Betsy DeVos (former education secretary under Trump), Fisher has been a major donor to school privatization/charter school campaigns.

As was the case with Knowland Park, this real estate deal represents privatization of public land for the profit of big time capitalists. An increased political role for Fisher – possibly through Dave Kaval – would be used to further the privatization of public education in the city.

Real Estate Developers and Oakland City Politics: Libby Schaaf & Rebecca Kaplan

Oakland Mayor Libby “Yuppie” Schaaf.
Her main campaign donors come from the real estate industry.

Rebecca Kaplan, former environmental activist turned corporate politician.

Fisher would be adding to the already powerful influence of the real estate industry in Oakland city politics. A glimpse of that influence can be gained from looking at the donors to Oakland mayor Libby “Yuppie” Schaaf and council member at large, Rebecca Kaplan. According to their Form 460 reports, donors of the maximum allowable amount to Schaaf’s 2020 campaign for mayor included: Michael Covarrubias, developer, TMG Partners; Wayne Jordan, Jordan Real Estate investment (twice); Mark Kroll of Sares Regis Group (real estate developers); and Jack Myers of Myers Development Company. This is only a small sample. Kaplan received similar support, for example from John Bliss of SCI Consulting, Eric Breitbard of Amazon (!), Andrew Diamond of Diamond Investment Properties and also of Christine Diamond, Marti Diamond, and Stephen Diamond individually. Kaplan’s support from the real estate industry is less than that going to Schaaf, but years ago when Kaplan was just starting out in Oakland politics, she did not receive any at all.

Prior to that, she had been an environmental activist. Now, she and Schaaf are two of the three key players in this real estate deal.

Carroll Fife: She organized for housing rights until she got onto the city council. Now she, too, is in with John Fisher

Carrol Fife
The third such player is Carrol Fife, council member from West Oakland, where this development is supposed to take place. A similar process is under way for her. Before getting elected to the city council in 2013, Fife was director of the housing rights group ACCE and was a founder of “Moms for Housing”. She doesn’t report any major donations from the real estate developers… so far. But give it time. Since she “represents” the district in which the Fisher deal is supposed to go (West Oakland), her support for that deal is critical. And along with Schaaf and Kaplan she is supporting it.

Nikki Bas. This newcomer to the City Council rocketed to its president. She might “hecka love Oakland”, but that didn’t get in the way of hecka loving Fisher’s real estate deal.

Nikki Fortunato Bas
Another newcomer to Oakland politics is current Oakland City Council president Nikki Bas. Like Fife, Bas did not receive major donations from the real estate industry. Also like Fife, Kaplan and Schaaf, Bas is supporting Fisher’s deal. She is sure to start getting those donations in the coming years. (To find campaign disclosure forms for Oakland politicians, go to this website and scroll down.)

Stop Fisher: Oakland Should Lead the Way
Presently the only organized opposition to Fisher’s real estate deal posing as a stadium project is a group called the East Oakland Stadium Alliance. This seems to be a coalition of the Longshore union (ILWU Local 10) and the shipping and stevedore companies with the latter as the dominant force. Possibly because of this, their focus is almost strictly on publicizing the issue, lobbying and possibly lawsuits. That seems almost certain to be inadequate. What’s needed is the mobilizing of Oakland’s working class and youth. Oakland led the way politically in the past – from the founding of the Black Panther Party to Occupy Oakland to many of the Black Lives Matter type marches. It is time for Oakland to step up again and say “NO” to Fisher’s blackmail that he will take the Oakland A’s out of Oakland if we don’t add to his billions in wealth. This is the extortion that cities all across the country have been conceding to. Oakland can set an example for other cities that are subjects of this extortion.

Working Class Candidates
The influence on the role of these Oakland officials goes far beyond just some donations. What is equally important is the Democratic Party endorsements for and involvement in their political campaigns. That is especially so in a Democratic Party dominated city like Oakland, despite the fact that city candidates officially run as “non-partisan”. This shows that what’s needed is candidates who openly acknowledge that they represent working class people of Oakland, that the Democratic Party represents the employers and real estate interests, and that their campaigns are intended as a first small step towards building an alternative. There is no better example of the need for this than the fact that even former activists Carrol Fife and Rebecca Kaplan have fallen into the camp of reactionary billionaire John Fisher. For relatedarticles, see:

2 replies »

Leave a Reply