Will the A’s Stay? Ball Appears to Be in Kaval’s Court

On Tuesday, the Oakland City Council approved its term sheet for the Athletics proposed Howard Terminal waterfront ballpark. The vote was 6–1–1 in favor of the term sheet, which included amendments to affordable housing, environmental measures, and perhaps most importantly, the $352 million that would be used to cover offsite transportation and infrastructure costs. So then, why did yesterday feel more like an impasse than a step forward? The answer came over two hours into the Zoom meeting when A’s President Dave Kaval joined the chat. His stance was the same as it’s been since April when he and his team proposed the self-financed $1 billion stadium: give us what we want. At first, his proposal appeared reasonable; the A’s were willing to appease the city in ways that former teams, i.e., the Raiders, were not. Yet, the city council did not look like it would budge, no matter how many times Kaval regurgitated the community benefits and private investment figures. That changed with yesterday’s vote. The city council showed Oakland that they ARE willing to find a middle ground while offering Kaval and the A’s an opportunity to show if they are truly #RootedInOakland.

The vote was not going to get shovels immediately into the ground for the new ballpark, but a majority ‘no’ from the council would have sunk the project. That is why it was confounding to hear Kaval again stress, “voting ‘yes’ is not an effective way forward.” It was the same sentiment as he expressed last Friday in response to the council’s draft term sheet. There seemed to be major gaps concerning affordable housing and infrastructure financing districts (IFDs), which, in turn, led to the reported $352 million bill that one side would have to pick up. On Tuesday, the city council amended its previous term sheet to add, as Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan succinctly put it, “the exact wording that was requested” about the transportation infrastructure funding. As for the affordable housing concern, there was a minor change from the city’s Friday proposal (30%) to Tuesday’s (35%). This could have been the reason for Kaval’s stark opening statement, but he did not clarify any of his comments.

Language has never been an issue for Kaval — it has been his actions. While he did acknowledge the city’s concessions, he also emphasized the A’s change in positions. However, outside of the original numbers he quotes ad nauseum in every public appearance, there is no tangible evidence of any A’s concessions. Kaval has yet to move off of the A’s original proposal from April and it is hard to see him doing so in the future. The city has at least demonstrated an attempt towards working cooperatively, something the A’s have yet to prove. Multiple members of the council voiced their issues with the A’s strong-arm tactics, which is why a 6–1–1 vote was optically good news. On the surface, it symbolized a majority effort towards moving forward and getting a deal done. In reality, it may mark the beginning of the end if Kaval and the A’s do not want to budge.

One reason could be the haste with which the council moved on this term sheet. They released it last Friday and amended it over the weekend, all without giving Kaval and his team a chance to deliberate on the final product. His concerns about “digesting” the term sheet are valid, but, again, it is hard to believe he would agree to anything but the A’s original proposal. Kaval mentioned a receptiveness to modifying the term sheet he proposed in April, but the city has already explicitly stated its discomfort with that. It seemed like the council crafted their term sheet to continue negotiations, which is what now can happen. After the vote, Kaval left fans doubtful that he wants the same.

Later in the afternoon, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated he was “disappointed” that the city voted on a proposal that the A’s had not agreed to. That looks like more ammunition for Kaval to use should the team end up deciding to leave. He could argue the ‘yes’ vote was a ploy to save face should Oakland lose its third team in the past decade. That strategy sounds logical because there is no doubt the PR would be disastrous for the city. But that was going to be the case no matter what fashion the A’s leave. Yesterday, the council voiced its frustrations with the A’s actions in recent months. They begrudgingly engaged Kaval’s verbal judo head-on. Despite that, they put their money where their mouth was. The council came up with significant coin. They moved the needle closer to even. They gave the proposal an 85% backing despite the room sounding closer to split. Posturing or not, the city council showed Oakland it is willing to bend for the A’s. Moving forward, we will find out whether Kaval and ownership have wanted the city council to break all along.

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