A New A’s Ballpark in Jack London Square?

Mayor Dellums and team boosters are pushing two new sites that could keep the A's in Oakland. Plus, Dellums' tax problems could go away soon, and instant-runoff voting gets certified.

The City of Oakland and an Oakland A’s booster club have put forward
two new ballpark sites in the Jack London Square area. The sites, which
have never been fully considered by the team, are at Third and Oak
streets and in an area west of Broadway, between the railroad tracks
and Interstate 880, according to three knowledgeable sources. Major
League Baseball’s special task force on the A’s is aware of the sites
and has analyzed them, according to the sources, raising hopes among
East Bay boosters that the team might stay in Oakland after all.

Mayor Ron Dellums is poised to reveal the new sites publicly
and plans to urge Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig
and the A’s to begin negotiating in earnest with the city, the sources
said. The two new sites are among four that the city and A’s boosters
are pushing. The other two sites are the Oakland Coliseum parking lot
and the Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, also west of Broadway
in the Jack London Square area. However, A’s co-owner Lew Wolff
has already analyzed the Coliseum parking lot and the Howard Terminal
sites and dismissed them as unfeasible.

Proponents hope that the two new sites will short-circuit Wolff’s
attempt to move the team to San Jose. Wolff has maintained that he has
exhausted all possibilities for a new ballpark in the East Bay and, as
a result, he should be allowed to relocate to San Jose, despite the San
Francisco Giants’ territorial claims on the South Bay. But if
baseball’s task force finds that one or both of the new Jack London
Square sites are viable, then it could force Wolff to change course and
reexamine Oakland.

Selig appointed the three-member task force earlier this year to
make a determination on whether Wolff was right — that there were
no viable sites in Oakland or anywhere else in the East Bay. Selig, an
old college buddy of Wolff’s, then later asked the task force to also
examine San Jose, according to the sources. One of the sources said the
task force also has looked at Fremont. Wolff abandoned his Fremont
plans in February after some members of the community spoke out
strongly against both of his preferred sites.

It’s not clear, however, when the task force will complete its work.
Some believe it may happen before baseball’s ownership meeting in early
2010. But Selig spokesman Mike Teevan said there was “no
timetable” for when the task force would be done. The task force
includes Corey Busch, a former Giants executive, and Irwin
Raij
, a lawyer who was closely involved with the Washington and
Miami ballpark proposals.

Teevan said Selig likely would not make the report public when it’s
completed, although he added that the commissioner may reveal some of
its findings. Teevan also said that the task force has not disclosed to
the commissioner what it has discovered so far.

At first, it looked as if the task force was embarking on a
whitewash because it reportedly was going to review only ballpark sites
that Wolff and the A’s had previously examined. That looked to be
especially true when Selig asked the task force to also analyze Wolff’s
favored spot in San Jose. But then the mayor’s office and Oakland
boosters changed the game by stepping in and presenting the task force
with the two new sites.

A ballpark at either site could provide a huge boost to Oakland.
Both would provide significant economic synergies with the planned
dining and entertainment district in Jack London Square by adding two
to three million new visitors a year to the area. In addition, both
sites are in close proximity to mass transit. The Oak and Third site is
not far from the Lake Merritt BART station, while the west of Broadway
site is within walking distance of both the Oakland City Center and
West Oakland BART stations. Both are also close to I-880 and I-980,
although parking in both areas could be a challenge.

Both sites also could provide views of the hills and San Francisco
Bay, along with the estuary. One drawback is that parts of both are in
private ownership, so the city’s help may be required to purchase the
property. If that were to happen, the city could use redevelopment
money, so its debt-ridden general fund would not be affected. Mayor
Dellums declined to comment for this story through his spokesman,
Paul Rose. However, the mayor may hold a press conference on the
topic as early as this Thursday.

It’s widely believed that Wolff had been counting on the task
force’s report as a validation for his plans to move to San Jose. If
both the task force and the team could convince the rest of baseball’s
ownership that there were no other viable spots in Northern California,
that could persuade owners to abrogate the Giant’s territorial rights
to the South Bay. However, the new Jack London Square sites could
change that equation.

In addition, recent news out of the South Bay raises questions as to
whether San Jose residents really want the team. As first reported by
the San Francisco Chronicle, a recent poll revealed that San
Jose residents are evenly split on the team moving to their city
— 45 percent in favor versus 44 percent opposed.

Finally, it should be noted that a story last month in the
Chronicle misidentified one of the two new sites and placed a
third one in the wrong part of town, according to the sources. The
story identified one of the new sites as being in East Oakland on
Howard Street, across the Nimitz Freeway from the Coliseum. However,
the sources said the actual site is in Jack London Square, west of
Broadway, between the railroad tracks and I-880. (Full disclosure: That
site would apparently force this newspaper to move out of its brand new
home.) The Chronicle also mistakenly placed the Howard Terminal
in East Oakland, across from I-880. In actuality, it is west of
Broadway on the estuary in Jack London Square.

Mayor’s Tax Problems Could Be
Solved

If Dellums is instrumental in stopping the A’s from moving to San
Jose, while finally turning Jack London Square into a true regional
destination, it would be a major accomplishment, unmatched by those of
any of his recent predecessors. The mayor also may be on the cusp of
more welcome news — a solution to his federal tax problems. As
first reported last week on the Express’ web site, Dellums may
be able to resolve his IRS debt when he and his sister sell their
deceased mother’s home.

The mayor and his sister, Theresa Simmons, put the
four-bedroom house on the market just after the Express broke
the story about the mayor’s IRS debt. The IRS says Dellums and his
wife, Cynthia Dellums, owe at least $239,000 in back taxes.

According to the probate records of Dellums’ mother, Willa
Dellums
, the mayor and his sister believe the home is worth
$880,000. Dellums and his sister are listed as the beneficiaries. Willa
Dellums died on August 17, 2008 at the age of 89.

Dellums spokesman Paul Rose said the mayor had no comment on
what he planned to do with the proceeds from the sale of the home. But
last month, Dellums said in a statement that his tax problems would be
solved in “short order.”

According to public records, Willa Dellums’ home was built in 1912,
measures about 2,000 square feet, and sits on a 4,400-square-foot lot.
Zillow.com valued it last week at
$720,000, but property records show a nearby home sold recently for
more than $800,000.

Instant-Runoff Voting Approved

Dellums also hasn’t said whether he plans to run for reelection next
year. And now it looks as if he’ll have several more months to make up
his mind. That’s because California Secretary of State Debra
Bowen
officially certified Alameda County’s new voting system on
Friday, thereby allowing Oakland to hold only one election next year
— in November. Bowen’s decision was first reported on the
Express‘ web site on Friday.

If approved by the Oakland City Council, as expected, the November
election will feature instant-runoff voting, also known as
ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank their top choices and
thus eliminate the need for a costly primary. A supermajority of
Oakland voters approved instant-runoff voting in 2006 with 69 percent
of the vote. San Francisco has been using the system for several
years.

Alameda County Registrar Dave MacDonald said the
certification means the county “is ready to go now” and fully able to
conduct instant-runoff elections on behalf of Oakland, Berkeley, and
San Leandro next year. The Oakland City Council plans to take up the
issue in January, but it should be no more than a formality because
city law requires the city to use instant-runoff voting once MacDonald
declares that he’s ready.

Mayoral candidate Don Perata had been lobbying behind the
scenes to delay the new system, claiming that it’s complicated and that
seniors and non-English speakers would be confused by it (see
Manipulating the Vote,” 10/28/09). The former state senator would
greatly benefit from having two elections because he is a prodigious
fund-raiser and has strong name recognition.

Bowen’s office had been expected to certify the system for Alameda
County earlier this fall. But her office, Alameda County, San
Francisco, and voting-software vendor Sequoia Voting Systems had to
iron out a few glitches first. The problems, if left unfixed, would
have affected disabled Chinese-language-speaking voters and the hearing
impaired. The glitches didn’t affect the accuracy of the vote counts
but limited voters’ ability to review ballots before casting them.
Bowen’s office said Friday that they had solved the problems to her
satisfaction.

However, her office also said that Alameda County must conduct a
thorough educational outreach campaign, and she has issued benchmarks
for the county and city to meet. Some Oakland councilmembers have
raised concerns about whether the city can finance such a campaign. But
that won’t be an issue as long as the council decides not to go ahead
with a June mayoral primary, which could cost about $800,000. The money
saved from not having the election would easily finance an extensive
outreach campaign.

Diallo Loses Two More Properties

The City of Oakland, however, may be out $50,000 that it granted
earlier this year to the self-styled “Mayor of West Oakland,” Marcel
Diallo Jack
. The city council awarded the grant to Diallo’s Black
New World social club for seismic retrofitting. As Full Disclosure
pointed out last month, the grant appeared somewhat questionable
because the club is a rusty corrugated metal shack with at least one
large hole in the side (see “You Don’t Know Jack,” 11/18/09). But now
the grant appears to have been even more misguided because Diallo lost
the club to foreclosure on the same day the Express‘ story came
out.

Property records show that Diallo also lost a significant portion of
his Village Bottom Farms to foreclosure last month for repeated failure
to pay his mortgage. It was at least the fifth West Oakland property
that Diallo forfeited in the past two years. He had applied for a
$152,000 grant from the city for the urban farm, but was turned down by
a West Oakland city advisory panel. As this newspaper previously
reported, Diallo allegedly became angry after the panel’s decision and
threatened one its members, Max Allstadt. Twelve days later, a
fake e-mail that libeled Allstadt was sent from an account registered
and maintained by Diallo.

Correction:
An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that Willa Dellums died on August 17 of this year at the age of 90.

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