By Steven Tavares.
Raise a banner from the rafters at Oakland City Hall! By refusing to acquiesce to the threats of the Raiders and the National Football League, the city proved once again that the East Bay rests in the bluest county in the bluest state in the country. From an entirely political standpoint, it’s no surprise the East Bay would stand firm against the NFL and the type of extortion it applies in nearly every city with a franchise. In fact, Oakland has fought back against corporate greed time and again over the past few years.
This is a region represented by the intensely popular Rep. Barbara Lee, likely the most rock-solid progressive in all of Congress. Oakland is a city that through a small band of activists almost single-handedly turned back the rapidly-creeping surveillance state attempting to put eyes and ears at the Port of Oakland, various points on public streets and even schools. This is where Occupy flourished on the west coast, in addition, to other protest movements, such as Black Lives Matter. Oakland is where city council meetings are forcibly shut down by housing activists.
In recent months, Oakland and other surrounding East Bay cities have led the sanctuary city movement to protect immigrants from the federal government. Its move to seek divestment from banking institutions such as Chase and Wells Fargo that have wrought misery on minority home owners through unfair lending practices and environmental disasters in the making at the Dakota Access Pipeline are clearly tied to the type of corporate avarice the NFL routines employs to pry away taxpayers’ money for lavish stadiums. Last week, Oakland joined other Bay Area cities in foregoing city contracts with companies seeking to work on President Trump’s wall.
In this view, it comes as no surprise that Oakland residents, Mayor Libby Schaaf, and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors drew a deep line in the sand against the NFL, a cartel that grosses $9 billion annually, yet still relies on an exhaustive amount of corporate welfare. Oakland residents understand politics at a very high level and easily saw through the NFL’s mantra that a “viable plan” in Oakland actually means taxpayers funding a $1 billion sports cathedral for the chance to host a meager 10 games a year.
In the three-plus years of the entire Oakland stadium saga, including the Raiders, Warriors and Athletics, there never was a single outpouring of sentiment to consider a path for the Raiders in Oakland outside of Schaaf’s prescription for relying mostly on private money, while the city and county footed the bill for auxiliary infrastructure costs like roads leading to the facility.
Whenever a diehard fan repeated at Oakland City Council meetings the team’s long-standing marketing mantra tied to the “Raiders mystique,” there was no cheering from the almost always boisterous crowd, but a smattering of boos, followed by some snickering. Even during the 15-person Oakland mayoral campaign in 2014, not a single candidate voiced support for using taxpayers’ money to help the city’s sports teams build new stadiums. There was simply no appetite whatsoever in Oakland for the course the Raiders and the NFL demanded here and from other cities.
Meanwhile, Oakland again has a hemorrhaging deficit to be worked out before the end of June. The same day as the Raiders move to Las Vegas was announced, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told sanctuary cities like Oakland that it will be forfeiting federal funding from the U.S. Department of Justice for its declaration, in addition, to “clawing back” funding already allocated.
In most part, this means the loss of federal funds for the hiring of police officers. If proven legal, this development is deeply detrimental to the city’s public safety. But Oakland and the East Bay clearly realizes it makes more sense to give money to police officers to protect Oaklanders than to give $1 billion to a corporate entity in order to pay hulking offensive lineman to protect a millionaire quarterback.
Yet, it’s not always wise to give elected officials too much credit. If, like the first time around in 1995, the public was pushing to keep the Raiders by any means necessary, Schaaf, the Oakland City Council and some on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors would have played along. That’s politics. In addition, oddly, very few Alameda County elected leaders are actually legitimate sports fans. If so, their own fandom might have predisposed them toward talking the NFL’s game.
But the wind, in the form of public support for the Raiders, was never at the politician’s back. A number of surveys consistently placed the Raiders stadium issue at the bottom of Oakland’s priorities. Absent support, it was very easy for public officials to refuse to play footsie with the Raiders and the NFL. But, no other event likely did more to harden the resolve of Oakland and Alameda County officials than the realization, starting about three years ago, that the remaining debt for the remodel of the Coliseum in the mid-1990s was still costing each municipality about $10 million annually.
Occurring during the end of the excruciating Great Recession and early on in this stadium saga, this annual outlay, which currently is roughly $82 million, clearly peeved officials (Don’t forget the Golden State Warriors are trying to get off the hook for another $60 million in debt service for Oracle Arena before heading to San Francisco.). Within the realm of all politics being local, the lines of non-profits begging for money to help underprivileged children, in-home health care services, affordable housing for seniors, the poor, and many other safety net issues, had a perverse impact on the mindset of Oakland and Alameda County leaders. Clearly, $20 million in debt service on a portion of an edifice no longer even used by the Raiders and Athletics clearly seemed like a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money better suited for helping people.
Surely, the local officials and the public would have liked to keep the Raiders, but not at any costs like Las Vegas. In the end, they had no choice other than to stick their collective fingers through the NFL’s face mask and poke them in the eye over the course of the last few years. It’s yet another reminder that the East Bay exists in a political bubble unlike anywhere else in the country. A region where unions are still relatively strong and a city like Oakland where just over 4 percent of its voters cast a vote for Donald Trump last November.
More precisely, this is an informed populace that asks and gets what it wants when it comes to its progressive ideology. Invariably, many in the sports media will ask why didn’t Oakland do more to keep its football team? In truth, the question should be why didn’t the residents of Las Vegas ask their elected leaders why did they do so much to snag the Raiders? And at what cost to their schools, roads and housing?