Deal for Raiders Has Oakland Taking Sides : Pro football: Some are outraged by Davis’ actions and the cost. Others say the team will restore city pride.
The city that fought so bitterly to retain the Raiders football team nine years ago is no longer sure it wants them back. In the two weeks since Al Davis promised to return the Raiders here, euphoria and celebration have given way to anxiety and suspicion about the financial arrangement that could bring the team back. A petition drive to repeal the still fragile agreement with Davis is under way, and the pact’s architects have been put on the defensive.
In the city’s restaurants and bars, talk about whether the more than $600-million deal is good for this city still hobbling from the October earthquake quickly escalates into arguments. Sentiment is divided everywhere, from the rows of tiny houses with their postage stamp-sized lawns in the working-class flatlands of East Oakland to the large designer homes in the thickly wooded hills.
“Al Davis will take us like he took Irwindale,” warns Mel Ferreira, an Oakland barber for 34 years. The small Los Angeles County city lost $10 million in its fruitless effort to lure the team.
To win back the Raiders, Oakland and Alameda County have agreed to sell all the tickets to Raider games and guarantee Davis 60% of the projected proceeds. Because of the guarantees, taxpayers would have to pick up the costs unless the Raiders consistently drew at least 57,000 fans to the expanded 63,500-seat stadium. If all tickets were sold over the 15 years of the proposed contract, Alameda County taxpayers could earn a return of at least $51 million. But if 20% of the best tickets and 10% of the general admission seats are unsold and the Raiders leave after 15 years, taxpayers could be liable for paying $23 million in outstanding bonds.
“I’ve had it with the Raiders,” said Ferreira, snipping a patron’s hair in his shop in the upper middle-class Oakland district of Montclair. “We’ve got taken once by them, and I don’t care to be taken twice.”
The man sitting in the barber chair, Dave Anderegg Jr., chimed in: “We call them the Oakland Traitors.”
The Raiders abandoned Oakland in 1981, after years of sold-out games and at a time when Oakland was reeling from economic problems and high unemployment among its youth. A lawsuit by the city to retrieve its lost heroes failed and, as a consequence, Oakland was ordered to pay the Raiders about $8 million in damages and legal fees.
Some of the city’s once adoring fans--who followed the team from the downtown Oakland field where the Raiders first played under the shadow of a freeway to the sparkling Coliseum built to display them--never forgave Raiders’ owner Davis.
Ferreira, for instance, took down the Raider pennants that had covered a wall of his barber shop, leaving only a small framed photograph of the Raiders team that won the city two Super Bowl victories. In the pennants’ place now hangs a poster of Joe Montana, quarterback of the 49ers, the football team across the bay that won four Super Bowl victories in the last nine years and to which many Oakland fans have since defected.
Robert Scott, 37, a gardener who lives a world away from Montclair in one of Oakland’s struggling neighborhoods, shares Ferreira’s hurt at the Raiders’ snub.
“They just upped and left Oakland and went to L.A.,” he said on a recent chilly morning while riding his bicycle in an East Oakland neighborhood. “Seems like they just turned on us. The A’s (the Oakland Athletics baseball team) didn’t leave us.”
The depth of bitterness over the Raiders’ departure testifies to the spell the team still holds over much of this town. Just as many Oaklanders fear the city will rue the day it signs another contract with Davis, others are relishing the prospect of welcoming home their prodigal sons.
It was largely with these fans in mind that city and county officials began negotiations last year to bring the Raiders back to Oakland. Competition for the team from other cities, including a lucrative offer from Sacramento, hampered Oakland’s progress. Finally, on Feb. 15, Oakland unveiled the details of its offer to Davis.
The deal would be the most generous ever offered to a sports team to relocate. The Raiders stand to earn $627 million over the life of the 15-year pact from projected revenue from tickets, parking and concessions and guaranteed cash payments. In addition, the city and county would spend $53.5 million to expand the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The agreement would put local government in the ticket brokerage business, with the public bearing the risk if too few tickets were sold to pay off the tax-exempt bonds the city would sell to finance part of the arrangement. Success would depend on the willingness of East Bay fans to pay high prices for premium seats and commit $2,000 to $16,000 in advance to secure season tickets for many of the Coliseum’s most sought-after viewing spots. Although the East Bay still has plenty of Raider fans, the team is not the same winner that packed the Coliseum a decade ago.
At the time the city agreed to the lucrative package, negotiations were under way with the Oakland A’s on their lease at the Coliseum. With an eye to the generous payments offered the Raiders, the World Champion A’s began demanding more concessions and talked of deserting Oakland should the Raiders return and slice into the East Bay sports market. Among the terms won by the baseball team was a $500,000 additional annual payment from stadium concession revenues.
On March 12, Davis accepted Oakland’s offer, and the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors met and approved it. A thousand people showed up at a downtown auditorium to address the council. About half of the 144 citizens who spoke at the hearing favored the deal, half opposed it. Two-thirds of the Oakland residents who spoke urged the council to reject it.
The timing of the agreement was not favorable to its supporters. It was unveiled against a backdrop of boarded-up downtown buildings damaged in the Oct. 17 earthquake. Among the losses in the quake were the historic, ornate City Hall, now closed indefinitely, and the city’s major department store, which is not scheduled to reopen until August.
Oakland schools are in crisis, reeling from a corruption scandal and perennial budget deficits. In the last two decades, manufacturing plants that employed Oakland’s sizable blue-collar labor force deserted the city for the suburbs, and many of the modern high-rise office buildings built downtown in the last decade have yet to be filled. Recent gains made in attracting a handful of major corporations, a huge federal government agency and the University of California’s administrative offices to Oakland--definite bonanzas for the city--have yet to be fully realized in new employment and tax revenue.
Moreover, the Raider deal was made in a city election year, and the terms have become deeply embroiled in city politics. Opponents of Mayor Lionel Wilson, who supports the Raider package and is up for reelection in June, have charged him with giving away the store.
“This has been a firestorm, ever since the day we first voted on the package,” said longtime Oakland City Councilwoman Mary Moore, who opposed it. “That whole week after the vote was a firestorm of phone calls, letters, telegrams--people just outraged. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was so clear-cut that people inside Oakland were furious about it and people outside Oakland were supporting it. . . . By the end of the week, I think we almost lost four secretaries. They had just been drowned in phone calls.”
A petition drive asking the council either to repeal its vote or put the package on the ballot in November was launched Monday by an aide to one of the mayoral candidates, an Oakland business leader and an attorney who formerly chaired the Alameda County Democratic Party. Hundreds volunteered to solicit the 30,000 signatures that supporters believe they will need to ensure qualification by the April 11 deadline.
Although city officials insist that the package cannot be decided by referendum, many concede that a successful petition campaign could doom it. Mayor Wilson, for instance, said the petition campaign could force the issue to the courts and “without a doubt” kill the deal.
Even if the drive were to fail, the agreement could be unraveled by the failure of a state bond allocation committee to grant Oakland the right to sell tax-exempt state bonds upon which the deal now hinges. A decision on the bonds is expected April 19.
Such uncertainity has unnerved the still-significant number of East Bay Raider fans counting the days until they can buy tickets. These fans scoff at skeptics who believe tickets will go unsold. A Raiders-Houston Oilers exhibition game in Oakland last August sold out within 2 1/2 hours, and more than 20,000 Bay Area residents remain on waiting lists for season tickets to the 49ers.
Just as opponents of the plan worry that it could bankrupt city coffers, boosters contend it will mark Oakland’s salvation and provide a morale lift to a community weary of being known for its crack problems, its murders and its poverty.
Contrary to its image, Oakland enjoys some of the most scenic parks in the East Bay, relative racial harmony and booming neighborhood commercial centers. Proponents of the Raider plan view it as a medicine for relieving the inferiority complex that has beset Oakland for years in its constant rivalry with San Francisco.
“This (controversy) is ripping this town apart,” said Raider fan John Sharon, a lawyer who hopes the deal will return the team. “We don’t need that right now. We really don’t.”
Although Councilwoman Moore believes the Raider package is a bad deal for the city, she is hopeful that good may come from the backlash it has ignited.
“If this thing serves one purpose, I hope it is to start a voter revolt around the country,” she said. “Because as long as most cities are willing to spend outrageous sums of money to get teams, then every city is held hostage.”