We recently sat down for an interview with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan at City Hall. She generously gave her time while discussing several hot topics, including redevelopment, the Victory Court ballpark site, and Lew Wolff's campaign donation to Don Perata, among others.
Here is the interview:
BASEBALL OAKLAND: You made history by becoming Oakland's first female mayor, its first Asian-American mayor and the first Asian-American mayor of a major American city. How does making that kind of national history feel for you?
MAYOR QUAN: You know, the national impact was the only thing I did not expect. Being somebody from Oakland, I was the first Asian to be elected to the school board. I was the first Asian to be actually elected to the City Council, not appointed. And I was the first woman (mayor). And so, I'm used to doing these local firsts. For instance, so this morning I had to get up at 7 o'clock to do an interview on Skype with a reporter in Guangzhou, Canton.
So the two things that surprised me was the international attention that we've gotten. It ran in the the major blogs and front page in Beijing and Shanghai before it ran in the (Oakland) Tribune because of the news cycle. The attention from the White House -- I had been already going to the White House to make presentations. I'd been to the White House for conferences and meetings before, as a national leader of urban schools and representing big cities on transportation issues. The invitation to the State Dinner, though, created a huge flurry of articles in (newspapers like) the Washington Post, interviews, and they said that 356 news outlets ran the picture of (San Francisco mayor) Ed Lee and I walking in. It was sort of interesting -- that kind of phenomenon surprised us and I'm pleased that it's helped raise Oakland's profile as an international city.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: A's fans are excited that you are committed to keeping the A's in Oakland and that you back up your talk with action like when you called MLB the day after you won the election. How will the new ballpark at Victory Court benefit Oakland?
MAYOR QUAN: Well, you know, because of the whole fight over redevelopment, there will be a big question as to whether we're going to have that redevelopment money. Both our (plan) and San Jose's plan require redevelopment funds. Redevelopment in the district in San Jose actually has more economic problems maybe than ours does. So, it's interesting, what deals may or may not be made because of redevelopment. But we don't believe redevelopment will totally go away. And so with that, Victory Court obviously has the advantage that it will bring an estimated 2 million visitors to downtown. And Oakland's downtown is pretty hopping these days. I don't know if you do First Fridays. I was out and I decided to visit the mostly African American galleries on 14th Street and then I went over to the museum.
You know, it's just amazing how many people are coming out to downtown, and if you could add baseball to that mix, the whole downtown would be energized, particularly the restaurants and Chinatown and the Lake (Merritt) are so close to the proposed stadium that I think it makes the whole downtown entertainment zone much larger and more diverse. I think it would be perfect for the mix in the next century of the kinds of fun entertainment activities that you have in downtown Oakland. We have a major lake, we have the estuary activities, we have major theaters and jazz clubs, and we have this large, large, large variety of museums and art galleries. So, it would be a perfect addition to that. So, yes, I think that if it's built, that it will probably generate enough traffic for another hotel in Jack London Square, specifically that it will up the restaurants that are struggling in Jack London Square itself, and probably give a boost to Chinatown, too. Any kind of stadium structure these days will have major retail. So, all of those are things we need as a city to do well.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: Do you feel that Victory Court can be a kickstart to the Oak-to-Ninth project and to Jack London Market?
MAYOR QUAN: We focused on that one (ballpark site) because it's the one that Major League Baseball seems most interested in. Some people believe the other Jack London site on the other side is also doable. But we mostly talked about Victory Court because the city owns something like 40 percent or 50 percent of the land because of the fire (department) activity out there.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: The Eat Real Festival is held each year at Jack London Square near the Victory Court site. What are some of the other revenue-generating uses that could be held at Victory Court in the baseball offseason?
MAYOR QUAN: Yes, there is not only that festival, but there are other events that are constantly going on at Jack London, and when you build the Oak-to-Ninth (development) on the other side, it will extend the bay trail. There's talk of an outside amphitheater along the trail, and a lot of other activities. When Oak-to-Ninth is finished, there is supposed to be a long lawn area very similar to Crissy Field (in San Francisco) in size. So, I think it will make the bay trail and all of those sorts of activities along there much more interesting.
Obviously, Jack London is also known for -- it's often where we have our 4th of July, it's where we have the (Christmas) tree lighting. If the ballpark was started there I think the food court (at Jack London Square) would finally get going. They've actually built the food court, but in this economy it's been hard for them. I think they need 80 percent commitment, but I think they have gotten only to about half so far, so they haven't been able to open.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: What can you say or do to reassure business owners at the Victory Court site that they will be treated fairly if their relocation might be necessary for the project to move forward?
MAYOR QUAN: I think we're negotiating with them now. People don't know much about these processes. But we always pick outside appraisers. We're required by law to have outside appraisers to estimate what the value of the land is. Usually in a situation like this, people hold out for more than the amount that the appraiser asks for. It's clear that if you just don't want to move at all, that's problematic. But we're hoping -- and I know Nancy (Nadel) is worried about them -- we have a lot of food industries that are taking off like Peerless, etc. They would get top priority for moving. We have space along the estuary, headed toward Ignacio's district, and we still are filling in the Army Base. Looking at what's there, we're pretty confident that we could find other places for those businesses.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: Have you spoken recently with MLB's so-called Blue Ribbon Committee and, in your opinion, how is that process going?
MAYOR QUAN: You know, I can't say about the so-called Blue Ribbon Committee other than we've really been talking to them, and we have hired our own negotiator, which we had not done in the past. So, we're hoping to get a better deal, first of all, and then secondly, somebody who has a record of finishing these (deals).
BASEBALL OAKLAND: What was your opinion of Lew Wolff's and John Fisher's campaign donation to Don Perata during the mayor's election race?
MAYOR QUAN: The donation to Don Perata (laughs) -- a waste of money, I guess. You know, it explained to a lot of us -- we were pretty shocked during the (Oakland) Tribune interview, I mean, I don't know if you read the Tribune endorsement. They really didn't like me that much, but they really didn't like Don. But the one thing that shocked us all was how he just basically said, "It's a done deal." He wasn't going to waste any time or effort (on the A's). It sort of surprised us all. But maybe the contribution had a role in it, who knows.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: Has Lew Wolff contacted you personally since you were elected Oakland mayor?
MAYOR QUAN: No, the only time I've talked to Lew Wolff was when I was first elected to the City Council. We were at some kind of meeting, and someone introduced us and I asked him, "Mr. Wolff, what can we do to get you to stay in Oakland."
And he said, "Well, you need to give me about 60 blocks around the Coliseum."
And I just smiled and said, "So, I guess you really aren't very serious about staying in Oakland."
Because at that point the city had been trying to eminent domain three businesses in downtown for Uptown. It had taken them over a year. So even if we were willing to kick out 60 blocks of businesses and homes, it would have taken about 100 years at the rate the city was going. (laughs)
So it didn't seem -- he just sort of smiled and that was about the extent of our conversation.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: Tell us what you think about Gov. Brown's proposals about taking cities' redevelopment money?
MAYOR QUAN: I don't think redevelopment will die. I'm on the League of Cities. I think the lawsuits alone will keep -- because of the language of Prop. 22, if you looked at that carefully -- will keep us in courts forever, and I think Jerry wants the money now. I think there will be some deal. They're holding this up, they want a share of our redevelopment money. I don't know if they really want to kill the whole thing. I think they didn't know what redevelopment did. All they wanted was to raid the money. And because of Prop. 22 -- I mean, I heard all sorts of things, like they were going to kill redevelopment, then take the money and then give it back to us and call it something different to get around Prop. 22. I don't know, but there's clearly enough money in the Oakland redevelopment fund to help do this (new ballpark). We may debate over how much of it we want to spend on the ballpark. Clearly, private owners like with Pac Bell (Park) will have to step up because I don't think the city will give them all of our redevelopment money.
I don't think we necessarily have to execute it (protecting redevelopment funds) before the date. We're prepared to, anyhow, if we have to. But our lawyers are telling us we don't really have to pull the plug right now.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: We would like Oakland to envision a pedestrian/bike linkage from Oak-to-Ninth to Victory Court to Jack London to Downtown to Uptown and Lake Merritt. Do you envision the Victory Court site as being excellent for bicyclists, as well as auto traffic?
MAYOR QUAN: I think the trail -- I mean, there's a bay trail and it's going to be there. So, I think you're going to see that. That part of the bay trail is required in the Oak-to-Ninth agreement for them to do their side. I'm guessing when we do the stadium, we would do our side. We pretty much require, as each lot on the estuary or the bay gets developed, that that owner as a condition of their development has to do their share of the bay trail. As you know, there's no state or federal funding for the bay trail, so we include that in every agreement we've done so far, so this would not be an exception.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: Right, and the concept is that we're trying to get linkage not only from that end, but all the way up to Uptown and Lake Merritt, as well.
MAYOR QUAN: Well, I mean, we have a lot of bike paths here, and then you've got the shuttle. So, if you look at the Bike Master Plan, there are bike lanes throughout the downtown. And the bay trail would be the main one along the water, I think.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: The dream of many Oakland sports fans is this: An A's ballpark at Victory Court revitalizes Jack London Square, which serves as the Super Bowl village when a new Raiders (and maybe 49ers) football stadium at the Coliseum Complex revitalizes that area and puts Oakland into the NFL's Super Bowl hosting rotation. How does that vision sound to you?
MAYOR QUAN: Wolff clearly could have made some money by taking the land accumulated around the Coliseum and developing it. But he wanted literally 300 acres, I guess, in Fremont. I think he told me that he needed to make $300 million. So, there wasn't enough right at the Coliseum site to make that much money.
It's clear that should we build a new stadium, that people are now looking at the Staples Center model where you have a combination of hotels and retail as a part of the sports venue. I was just down in San Diego with the League of Cities and I was looking at the stadium (Petco Park) that they put into the Gaslamp District. I thought it was interesting how they left the historic buildings and built the stadium around it, and used it as an alternative entrance. I also thought it was interesting how they had a little public space where people, if they were willing to stand, could just see the game from the side -- whatever they call that area. And I was at a fundraiser inside the stadium at night. I liked the idea of the stadium boxes being able to be used for events. Although, where this (Victory Court ballpark) is going to be there are going to be a lot of great restaurants. A lot of great restaurants have moved into that area, and there's going to be the (Jack London) food court.
So, I think that that probably would fit in pretty well with the revitalization of the Coliseum Complex. We've had a lot of people study that area. It's been a combination of a place for the car dealerships to go because car dealerships aren't surviving in downtown kinds of locations anymore. They do better when they have lots of space. Many of our car dealerships, big ones, are out there (near the Coliseum). But they've wanted to have big box in that area, too. So, it could be a combination of big box, traditional retail, something to do for the wives who don't want to watch the games, I don't know. (laughs)
BASEBALL OAKLAND: Is there any way we can take better advantage of that ramp between the Coliseum and BART? The land that's there, those are businesses that if they could be relocated, and then you could put something with a little bit more of a retail flavor there that could take advantage of those thousands of people who use that corridor.
MAYOR QUAN: People are talking about all of those things, clearly, if they redo the character of the stadium in and of itself. I think we haven't done a good job in planning or integrating any of the area down there. So, for instance, even with the new BART connector, they have reserved the space and we're actually buying the land around the area. They haven't planned the secondary stop between the Coliseum and the airport that we would see as the natural place for additional office buildings and hotels, so that there we would have our own hotel conference center. Right now, we have a little one with the Hilton, but most major cities like San Francisco and L.A. have a whole set of hotels near their airport just for people who fly in for conferences and leave. So, I think one of the problems is that the port commission and the city economic development leadership haven't been closely linked. So, I'm being very careful before I appoint the next series of port commissioners to make sure there's closer coordination with the city.
BASEBALL OAKLAND: Thank you so much. We appreciate the time.
MAYOR QUAN: Thank you. Good luck with your site.