Oakland A’s Gentrification Scam

Michael Rubin

Posted December 21, 2021

Current Oakland A’s stadium (Photo: redlegsfan21, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Oakland A’s want to build a 34,000-seat stadium, accompanied by new market-rate housing and new shops and restaurants. The A’s are offering to finance the stadium and shops, but they are asking the Oakland City Council for many millions of dollars in infrastructure and transportation upgrades. The current number is $855 million. They’re also asking for money from the Alameda County government.

The result of this is an ongoing three-way struggle. We should start with the A’s. The major owners of the A’s is the billionaire Fisher family. They own the Gap clothing chain. Activists believe that their major interest in the stadium is the money they expect from the real-estate part of the deal. The A’s are not considered good employers even by their players. They have not shown any willingness to compromise and of course are threatening to leave town if they don’t get what they want.

The A’s are getting support from the real estate industry, which can see the future dollar sign for them. Also on the A’s side are the building trades, who never met a construction project that they didn’t like. The majority of the local Democratic Party pols, particularly the office-holders, also support the A’s. Calfornia is basically a one-party state, so that is important. Pressured by the building trades and the Democratic Party, the Alameda Labor Council will go along too.

The second side is led by liberal to left NGOs. They are trying to wring out some “community benefits” from the A’s in return for their acquiescence. They have some support from “progressive“ Democrats. So far the A’s have agreed to nothing and, in my opinion, will agree to nothing in the future either. Eventually, the NGOs will go along. There will be pressure from some of the funders, and they are unwilling to risk being cut off from the Democratic Party.

The third side are those who say NO. This side is led by the Longshore Union (ILWU) and their shipping employers. The Howard Terminal site of the proposed stadium is close to the Port of Oakland. The trucks that haul away the unloaded cargo work during the night. They make noise and cause traffic problems at times. Remember the market-rate housing? Complaints from their new neighbors would threaten the Port and surrounding businesses.

There is a bigger political issue at stake. The Howard Terminal site is part of West Oakland, a traditionally African American neighborhood. In recent years, gentrification has proceeded in West Oakland. The African American population is shrinking. Oakland has become a desirable place for people priced out of San Francisco. There is no doubt that the Howard Terminal project would accelerate these trends. The Oakland Greens, to which I belong, have also joined the NO camp.

The best thing that could happen is that the A’s stay at their current location and rebuild the old stadium, or even tear it down and build a new stadium there. The A’s are opposed to that because it would scuttle their real-estate ambitions for their chosen site. How the fight will end, I don’t know. But the resistance is important.