Coliseum Contract Goes Out to Bid

For a while last week, it looked as if politicians were going to extend a no-bid deal with a firm that had come under heavy criticism.

For years, Oakland’s major, publicly owned event venues — the Coliseum and the neighboring Arena — have lagged behind the competition, booking fewer big concerts and raking in less money for taxpayers than comparably sized venues in other cities. In 2008, an outside audit declared the Arena to be “underutilized” and “underperforming”; and earlier this month, the Coliseum’s operators came under fire for mishandling the parking situation at a U2 concert.

Over the years, the Golden State Warriors, the main tenant at the Arena, also have heavily criticized the venue’s private operator, SMG Management. But for a time last week, it looked as if the public officials who oversee the Coliseum and Arena were going to renew SMG’s no-bid deal for another ten years. SMG was expected to receive the go-ahead, sources said, in part because it had offered the cash-strapped Coliseum Authority $1.5 million.

But after the Express broke the news about the proposed contract extension on its web site, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority — a joint city-county panel that governs the Coliseum and the Arena — changed course, and decided to open the bidding process up to other firms. The charge was led by Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who started the discussion by stressing the need for competitive, open bidding. “For me, personally, when there has been a contract in place for more than ten years and there hasn’t been a public process, it’s important that we go out and do that,” she said.

At the meeting two experienced venue management firms expressed interest in the Coliseum-Arena contract: AEG, or Anschutz Entertainment Group, a sports-management company that owns teams and operates arenas worldwide, including the Staples Center; and Global Spectrum (also known as Comcast-Spectacor), which manages hundreds of sports and entertainment venues around the country.

Representatives from SMG also pleaded their case for why their contract should be extended without a bidding process. They pointed to their experience running the Coliseum and Arena, and argued that they would be better at attracting concerts and other events because, unlike other firms, they’re not a concert promoter and so they don’t favor some acts over others.

However, critics of Coliseum-Arena management say that SMG has not been aggressive enough in attracting concerts — like a concert promoter would do — and thus hasn’t had much success in helping pay off the public debt on the Coliseum and Arena. Every year, both the City of Oakland and Alameda County have to pay a total of $20 million to the authority to pay debt incurred from remodeling the facilities in the 1990s. That’s money that could be spent on cops, firefighters, libraries, or parks.

The country’s largest concert promoter, Live Nation, also was said to be interested in the Coliseum-Arena contract, but none of its employees spoke at the meeting. According to well-placed sources, SMG may be looking to partner with Live Nation and file a joint bid.

After comments from the three companies — in addition to those from two union representatives, speaking for the Coliseum’s ushers, security staff, and custodians about concerns regarding outside contracting — Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty seconded Brooks’ motion, saying that the commission “can gain a lot by at least testing out the market and seeing if there’s something else out there.”

Oakland Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente began his remarks by focusing on the supposed downsides of a public bid process, but in the end, he did not object to Brooks’ motion. The authority board eventually ruled by consensus to put the contract out to bid.

Ignacio, Desley, and the OPD

De La Fuente and Brooks, in particular, may also have been looking to avoid more public criticism in light of a Bay Citizen news story that broke the morning of the Coliseum Authority meeting. The Bay Citizen reported that De La Fuente and Brooks had requested and received special treatment from the Oakland Police Department after each of their cars were burglarized.

The councilmembers denied any wrongdoing, but police reports indicated that they both used their political influence to call high-ranking OPD officials to get police to respond to their problems — in possible violation of city law. In addition, the understaffed police department normally makes car burglaries a very low priority and often doesn’t respond to them, but the department sent sergeants to investigate both councilmembers’ burglaries.

The incidents also occurred at a time when both De La Fuente and Brooks had refused to hire more police officers than the 22 laid-off cops that Mayor Jean Quan plans to bring back. But our favorite detail was this: What was De La Fuente doing with a briefcase in his car stuffed with $1,000 in cash and twenty Rihanna and Sade concert tickets?

Tuition Doubles at UC and CSU

California’s dream of providing a public college education at a reasonable cost to its residents is now merely a distant memory in light of decisions last week by the University of California and California State University systems to jack up tuition costs yet again. After the CSU board voted to raise fees by 12 percent and the UC regents voted to increase them by 9.6 percent, both systems now cost twice as much as they did during the middle of the last decade. That’s a 100 percent tuition hike in just six years.

Both university systems blamed massive state budget cuts for the latest round of hikes. This year, Governor Jerry Brown and the Democratic-controlled legislature voted to slash $650 million each from CSU and UC. The cuts and fee hikes will have a huge impact on middle-income families who don’t qualify for student aid and are not wealthy enough to pay the higher tuition. Former UC Regent Bill Bagley, appointed by Republican Governor George Deukmejian, noted to the San Francisco Chronicle that the tuition hikes amount to “a parent tax” effectively enacted by the legislature. “It’s a massive, progressive parent tax,” he said.

Three-Dot Roundup

In a major victory for LGBT rights, Governor Brown signed a bill into law that requires California public schools to teach students about the accomplishments of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people throughout history. … And the Alameda firefighters’ union continued to hand out major campaign donations to city politicians at a time when they were negotiating a new contract, the Alameda Sun reported. The firefighters donated a total of $10,500 to Mayor Marie Gilmore and Councilmembers Lena Tam, Rob Bonta, and Beverly Johnson to help them retire their campaign debts from last year’s election. Those four also voted for the firefighters’ new contract, which critics have derided as being a sweetheart deal. The firefighters also were the biggest contributors to Gilmore, Tam, and Bonta in 2010.


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