Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle
Trust me, A’s fans, you caught a big break Wednesday with the news that the team’s plans to build a ballpark at Laney College fell through.
That plan had more snags and flaws than a $5 sweater.
The Laney dream site was more like a nightmare, and now the A’s can pursue realistic options, which are pretty much limited to:
•A parcel at Third and Oak streets, a site long ago discarded by Lew Wolff when he was John Fisher’s junior owner and ballpark point man.
The Howard Terminal site, near Jack London Square? The one preferred by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf? Bad climate, access problems, and deep-pockets opposition from the owner of a nearby steel yard.
The most important thing is that Laney is kaput for now. The A’s talked about opening there in 2023, but that estimate was laughable from the start in light of the hurdles.
Squeezing a ballpark into those 15 acres would have been like Shaquille O’Neal shoehorning his feet into Schaaf’s shoes.
“It’s just inappropriate to put (an A’s ballpark) in that neighborhood,” said a source with experience in Oakland’s stadium politics who requested anonymity because of concerns over future business dealings in that realm. “It’s not comparable to what the Giants did. That was essentially an industrial neighborhood they went to. There were no neighbors, except rats, and no freeway-ramp changes needed.”
The Laney site would have had to overcome strong neighborhood objections to traffic, noise, gentrification, light pollution, and having a colossal crowd magnet dropped into that quaint corner of the city. Lawyers were lining up to represent the residents.
Still, the A’s issued a statement Wednesday following the announcement that the college district’s board of trustees had ordered the end of ballpark discussions.
“We are shocked by Peralta’s decision to not move forward,” the statement said. “All we wanted to do was enter into a conversation about how to make this work for all of Oakland, Laney, & the Peralta Community College District. We are disappointed that we will not have that opportunity.”
The team declined further comment.
Photo: Noah Berger, Special To The Chronicle
Buildings line the Peralta Community College District offices, one of the sites under consideration for a new Oakland Athletics stadium, on Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.
Buildings line the Peralta Community College District offices, one…
The 2023 timeline was absurd. The environmental-impact studies alone, one expert told me, would have taken three to seven years to complete.
In past interviews with The Chronicle, A’s officials have disputed the timeline and whether or not freeway changes would be necessary.
“You know how the funding (for freeway projects) works, right?” the source said. “The state puts up so much, the feds put up so much. Matching funds. There has to be an appropriations bill, it has to be authorized, signed. In this political climate in Washington, that’s not going to be easy.”
At the Coliseum, new development might require freeway-ramp upgrades, but Caltrans already owns that land and has all the work permits, no further environmental-impact reports required. Much easier, much cheaper.
What’s wrong with the Coliseum? With the Third and Oak site?
The latter was shot down by Wolff when he was the team’s ballpark-finder.
Wolff, who wanted to move the team to San Jose, eventually was pushed out as minority owner, in part or whole because he persuaded Fisher to tacitly back San Jose’s lawsuit against MLB for blocking the A’s move there, a suit that threatened MLB’s precious antitrust exemption.
That lawsuit might have played a major factor in MLB and angry team owners phasing out the A’s annual revenue-sharing windfall of $30 million or so over four years. That tidy annual payday was pure gold for Fisher, and with that dwindling, he might be motivated to sell the team.
I believe that Fisher is trying to get a stadium plan locked into place in order to make the team more attractive to sell.
There is no evidence that the reclusive Fisher ever had an interest in the A’s as anything but a cash cow. With the team solidly in the black every year, the A’s payroll has ranked near the bottom of baseball for years, leading to a constant roster turnover and, for the past three seasons, last-place finishes. Meanwhile, the team goes up in value because it’s a Major League Baseball franchise.
The A’s also declined to comment on a possible sale of the team.
If Fisher decides to sell, there would be no shortage of prospective buyers, assuming a semi-sane asking price. Warriors owner Joe Lacob has expressed interest in buying the A’s and keeping them in Oakland. Another name sure to pop up is Larry Ellison, who struck out in his attempt to buy the Warriors.
Now that the Laney fantasyland ballpark has collided with reality, maybe Fisher’s crew will focus on a site that has a chance.
Transferring the A’s to another city is not a realistic option. Oakland, considered a city on the upswing, is home to the A’s and will remain home.
Exactly what neighborhood the team will wind up in, and who will own the A’s, those are the big questions now.