Public Comment

Commentary: Oakland Should Consider ‘Municipalizing’ the Oakland Athletics

By Jean Damu
Friday June 30, 2006

There’s a new sheriff in town and he has called for new ideas to help make Oakland a better city.  

One idea might be to apply a legislative form of the Denver Boot to the ankles of the Oakland A’s. The Denver Boot is that odd-looking, 150-pound piece of metal parking control officers apply to vehicles with excessive parking tickets to anchor and immobilize them until the tickets are paid. The A’s need to be anchored to Oakland.  

Oakland has numerous problems. Keeping in mind that we do not want to “obscure the priorities,” as mayor-elect Dellums stated at his June 19 press conference, the concept of Oakland taking control of the A’s baseball team, and possibly the football and basketball franchises as well, should be considered. 

Oakland A’s owner du jour, Lew Wolff is threatening to move the team unless Oakland comes up with a plan to build him and his team a new ballpark at public expense. Wolff never bothered with the sheep’s clothing. The estimated cost of a new park is in the $300-400 million range. Wolff paid $180 million for the A’s just over a year ago and now he wants a new $400 million ballpark at little or no cost to himself. Wouldn’t it be cheaper for Oakland just to buy the team?  

Conventional wisdom tells us that the Green Bay Packers is the only publicly owned professional sports franchise in the U.S. Conventional wisdom is somewhat off the mark. The Boston Celtics and the Florida Panthers franchises are owned by the fans to the tune of 51 percent. Several minor league baseball teams are non-profit corporations owned by their municipalities or counties of residence.  

Also in 1998, and again in 2003, the New York State Assembly considered an act that would have created a State Sports Authority to administer professional franchises. The act would have allowed the Sports Authority to obtain the franchises through eminent domain.  

Oakland tried something similar when it attempted to acquire the Raiders through eminent domain in 1982, before the team finally moved to Los Angeles. Eventually Oakland’s right to eminent domain was overruled by California Court of Appeals after the California Supreme Court had earlier backed the city. Most recently however, the U.S. Supreme Court has boiler plated eminent domain rules, in the favor of cities, governing almost all forms of private property.  

It seems to me if creative thinking is brought into play on this issue Oakland, possibly in combination with Alameda County or even the State of California, could take over ownership of the Athletics or create a governing board, perhaps similar to the Port of Oakland, to run all its professional sport franchises.  

Quite naturally the biggest stumbling block to any notion of publicly owned professional sport teams are the owners. In 1992 when Joan Kroc, widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, attempted to donate the San Diego Padres to the city of San Diego, major league owners fatuously adopted a resolution forbidding the sale of any franchise to a non-profit corporation. That was like the congress of the Confederate States of America passing a resolution forbidding the abolition of slavery.  

Citizens who are concerned about the perpetual state of conflict between the City of Oakland and her professional sports teams should urge Mayor-elect Dellums to convene a body of concerned and knowledgeable citizens to investigate a city takeover of the Oakland A’s.  



Jean Damu is a Berkeley resident.