Opinion: The state budget hid $279.5 million to build a new ballpark for Oakland A’s

Oakland A fan
An Oakland A fan before a game. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

As the 2021-2022 state budget was being finalized in June last year, a $279.5 million appropriation was quietly inserted into the massive spending plan before being sent to the governor. Gavin Newsom.

“Funds appropriated for this item will be directed to the Port of Oakland for improvements that facilitate improved cargo and passenger access and to promote the efficient and safe movement of goods and people,” the budget said.

Apparently, the legislature was responding to numerous requests from the shipping industry for upgrades to keep the port viable in the face of intense competition for international trade.

However, when the harbor commission recently approved a list of specific projects the money would fund, its long-suspected true purpose became clear. The money would not be spent on improving cargo handling, but rather to subsidize the development of a new stadium for the Oakland A baseball team at a disused container site known as Howard Terminal near Jack London Square.

The money would be used to pay for facilities to make it easier for baseball fans to access the new stadium. They would apparently be the “passengers” quoted in the appropriation.

The commission acted shortly after the San Francisco Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission officially withdrew the Howard Terminal’s designation as a cargo site.

For years, A’s owners, citing the shortcomings of the Oakland Coliseum, yearned for a new stadium while threatening to move the team if its demands weren’t met. At one point, the team attempted to move to San Jose, but that city was part of the San Francisco Giants’ designated territory and the Giants refused to give it up.

The Oakland administration, after losing the Raiders football team in Las Vegas and the Warriors basketball team in San Francisco, is desperate to keep the A’s in Oakland and a number of stadium sites. potentials were explored.

Finally, the city and owner of A, John Fisher, a scion of the family that owns the Gap clothier, settled on the 55-acre site of the Howard Terminal, not only for a new baseball stadium, but also for a $12 billion residential and commercial complex.

The decision was not well received by the shipping industry, which saw it as an intrusion into cargo handling operations.

As Fisher negotiated with city officials over the project last year, State Senator Nancy Skinner, a Democrat who represents Oakland and chairs the Senate Budget Committee, slipped the $279.5 million appropriation. dollars in the budget bill and it was finally approved by the entire legislature and Newsom.

That’s just a tiny fraction of a 2021-2022 state budget that approached $300 billion but would have been enough to build affordable housing for more than 500 low- and middle-income families.

Additionally, it represents two common but improper practices in the State Capitol.

The first is to use the state budget, which is largely drawn up in secret with few opportunities for the media and the public to see its details, as a vehicle for handing out gifts to those with influence. Politics.

Once the budget and its “trailer bills” are enacted each year, we learn – too late – exactly who received special attention, whether in the form of money or a beneficial change in law.

The second is the slavish attention California politicians devote to the welfare of professional sports teams and their wealthy owners. Every major sports arena project in recent years has received some sort of help from the Capitol, mostly exemptions from the environmental bureaucracy that other major projects have to go through.

Technically, the $279.5 million might not be a gift of public funds to a private developer, but it certainly looks like it.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters.


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