Laney Site Has Big Potential, Challenges

Feels weird, doesn’t it?

After 22 years of uncertainty and constant threats to leave town, A’s owners have chosen an Oakland ballpark site and pledged to pay for it entirely with private funds. We repeat, no public money will be spent on the new ballpark in Oakland, according to team President Dave Kaval, and they’ve identified an actual Oakland site. It’s everything we’ve ever asked for. It feels great, yet a little strange, right? Being an Oakland A’s fan the past two decades has not been easy. Good news is accepted warily, we’re trained to scan for the fine print at every positive turn.

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With that in mind … We’ll remain cautiously optimistic – emphasis on cautiously. But the fact that we have a new Oakland ballpark site to be optimistic about – after all those years of hearing “The A’s are gone! They’re moving!” – is amazing. After months of rumors, whispers, and media speculation that land near Laney College would be the site, Matier & Ross made it official with a San Francisco Chronicle story Tuesday night. The story noted that Kaval had delivered a letter to Peralta Chancellor Jowell Laguerre, announcing the team’s intentions to build at 5th Avenue and E. 8th Street, where the Peralta Community College District offices sit. The following afternoon, the A’s held more of a fan party than a press conference at nearby La Estrellita restaurant to announce they want to use their own money to build and STAY in Oakland. It’s a great site with tons of potential. And if all goes well, the A’s would move into the new yard in 2023.

This is California in the 21st Century, so it won’t be easy. One of many reasons we love Oakland is that its residents – including us – are not shy about exercising the First Amendment. So, critics will not be silent – that comes with the East Bay territory. Ballpark opponents fear a new stadium will accelerate the residential displacement that’s already begun in the Eastlake and Chinatown neighborhoods abutting Laney College. An unfortunate consequence of Oakland’s economic revival – along with the Bay Area’s failure to build housing at rates fast enough to match its job creation – has led to the displacement of longtime residents who can’t pay rapidly rising rents. Gentrification, in a word.

Kaval and the Athletics are aware of these issues and, if the four-page letter they submitted to Laguerre is any indication, they seem genuinely enthusiastic about helping and working with the neighborhoods that might be affected by the ballpark. What really gives us hope is how emphatically Kaval and the A’s pledged on Wednesday to work with community groups to find solutions for affordable housing, displacement, and other stadium impacts. The A’s this week launched a website and video – OaklandBallpark.com – that noted, among other things, how they aim to address these important community concerns.  

Are we naive to be optimistic? We don’t think so. We’ll get into this even further as this debate unfolds in the coming months and years. But for now, we’ll say this: Every successful city has new investment. If done properly, new projects and private investment can help generate growing tax revenue that allows a city to better provide services for those less fortunate. We don’t know yet if Kaval’s proposal will do exactly that, but he’s off to a good start. Kaval and Mayor Libby Schaaf will have to display thick skin and strong political will to get it done. Meanwhile, the site announcement is but one of many milestones required to complete this project and create a world-class venue for this world-class city. 

It’s just one step. But it’s a very important one. 

The Athletics owners for the first time in decades are offering to commit to Oakland and invest in Oakland, by building a privately financed ballpark. That’s a big, new change in how the A’s operate. And the team is publicly pledging to work with neighborhood groups to minimize negative impacts and find a way for the ballpark to enhance the surrounding communities. That’s wonderful. The challenge – for all parties – is to work together so the project simultaneously keeps the A’s in Oakland and helps Oakland residents, not hurts. 

It’s a thin line to walk, but it can be done. If Oakland aims to fulfill its vast potential, it must be done. Change doesn’t have to hurt. In this case, if done right, it can help. After more than 20 years of Oakland being insulted and frustrated by the likes Steve Schott and Lew Wolff, this ballpark announcement calls for celebration among fans. If Kaval’s letter is genuine, this could be worth celebrating from the community’s perspective, too. And as soon as the buzz of this great ballpark news wears off, we’ll do what every proud Oaklander does: We’ll roll up our sleeves and get to work to help the city.

For the first time in decades, we’re finally confident the leaders of the Oakland A’s will do the same.

“We’re rooted in Oakland. We’re proud of that, and it’s something that means a lot to our organization,” Kaval said in a KQED interview with Nina Thorsen. “Oakland is in our name, it’s who we are. And we’re going to do everything we can to put the best foot forward to develop this ballpark in a winning way for the the city, the community and us. And so, we just want to stress to folks we’re here, we’re Oakland, and we’re excited about the next step.”

This announcement is exciting. And still feels kinda weird, right? The first step of any great, new journey often does.     

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