One of America’s richest men and an avid Trump supporter, billionaire John Fisher, wants to build 3,000 luxury housing units on the most valuable piece of public land in Oakland, the A’s stadium project, but his proposal has a lot more to do with real estate profits than it does with baseball.
Fisher wants to use the land for condominiums, hotel, and retail development along with a stadium for the A’s. There is much opposition among Oaklanders, and it centers on two problems.
First, the Port of Oakland, where the stadium project is located, is the reason that Oakland is in a better position economically than the old industrial cities of the Midwest. The Port generates 70,000 stable local jobs which, unlike factory jobs, cannot be moved to another country. And because of the historic politics of the local longshore union, many of those good-paying jobs are held by Black workers. Oakland cannot afford to limit its industrial engine because a developer can make a bigger profit from putting high-end condos in the same neighborhood. Furthermore, the new jobs promised by stadium advocates will either be temporary (construction) or low-wage (vendors, clerks and so on).
The demands of wealthy residents, who would inhabit the Fisher project condos, will ultimately overpower the needs of Port industry which can be noisy and dirty 24 hours a day. Decades of urban development have taught us that industrial and residential uses do not mix in the same neighborhood and industry inevitably loses out.
Second, Oakland already has a stadium. It’s in East Oakland, and Oakland families lost their homes to eminent domain fifty years ago when it was built. The Coliseum can be used as it is or it can be redeveloped. That’s what Oaklanders want, as indicated by several polls, and it is, after all, our city.
In answer to this opposition, the Oakland Council mandated a “community benefits” process, meaning that representatives from various groups get together and create a list of things residents might want in exchange for letting Fisher take over their land and build his project. Those serving in this capacity are to be much appreciated.
We do need to consider, however, what is the worth of “community benefits” when, in exchange, we may see maritime job loss, the further gentrification of West Oakland, economic harm to East Oakland, huge increases in traffic and pollution, and the creation of 3,000 housing units that nobody in Oakland can afford to live in. What “benefits” could possibly make up for those losses?
Other cities have done community benefits agreements on projects. Many of those were failures; the items negotiated with the community never happened. The One Hill Project in Pittsburgh and the Atlantic Yards-Pacific Park project in Brooklyn are two examples.
The City Council should vote to a) allow the use of the East Oakland Coliseum land to billionaire Fisher on condition that he actually built a stadium there – not sell his development rights to someone else, and b) reject Fisher’s proposal to take over the Port of Oakland land to build a playground for the rich.
The best thing for us, as a multi-racial working-class city, is 1) To keep the Port humming without Fisher’s interference, while making environmental and equity improvements in Port operations; 2) Refurbish the Coliseum in East Oakland; and 3) Ask some of our Democratic politicians to end their flirtation with major Trump supporter, John Fisher.
Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD is a professor of education and urban studies, an Oakland resident, the host of Education Today on KPFA; and the author of four books, including her latest “Changing Academia Forever” (2020)