Saturday, February 27, 2021

Dave Kaval Has a Bridge To Sell You

By all public appearances, the A's would seem to be much closer to a new ballpark at Howard Terminal. However, despite Dave Kaval's omni-present smirk smile, appearances can be deceiving. The team is acting as though it has laddered the CEQA review exemption process completely and now is on to the city of Oakland reviewing its environmental impact report. Not so fast: as The Athletic pointed out, the CEQA streamlining process the team considers done-and-dusted isn't: an entirely fresh appeal is going to the California Court of Appeal's First Appellate District. But, classic Kaval the PR machine has been on overdrive. Starting February 26, a flurry of tweets have burst forth touting the city of Oakland's release of the team's draft environmental impact report. A draft that may prove meaningless, should the First Appellate District subject the team to a more rigorous CEQA process. In reality, what progress has been made towards the new stadium: half ownership of a site that they are not planning to build a stadium on (the Coliseum) and a bunch of fancy renderings. For A's fans, the former is new, the latter is old hat: Oak-to-66th, Fremont, San Jose -- lots of great renderings. Heck, Lew Wolff even managed to secure naming rights to a phantom stadium. (You can't say he didn't do anything.)

Kaval is the P.T. Barnum of the A's: all hat and no cattle. This way to the egress! Robbed of his food trucks, flotillas traversing the bay and fan "office hours," his impact is even more clear and more muted. The non-owner mouthpiece does everything he can to make the sale. "Rooted in Oakland!" Right. (So was Marcus Semien, literally.) Food trucks and stunts are really sufficient to take the attention/heat off of Gap hier and owner in absentia John Fisher? The man who seemingly has nothing to say and no money to spend? It's important to see Kaval for what he is: a corporate suit, toeing the company line -- for now -- and ready at the drop of a hat to move on, to Portland, Las Vegas, wherever the money and the plan are. 

Veteran Bay Area sportswriter Tim Kawakami hit the nail right on the head with a recent Twitter thread asking where Fisher is and what the plan is? Of course, Fisher doesn't respond, but Kaval does. "While I own zero percent of the team, let me tell you about our great plans -- larger cupholders for each seat!" Fisher, watching the Gap empire and inherited wealth suffer under fickle consumers stays mum. (Maybe he's just been taking part in a multi-year mindfulness silent retreat?) Eventually, Kaval offers to have a beer with Kawakami (a great idea during a pandemic). Kawakami seemed unmoved.

The Howard Terminal project is the path of most resistance. A) It sits smack next to a body of water that is poised to massive climate change risk, in addition to being on top of a major environmental mess; B) The gondola is a neat idea, but an added expense that also would need its own permitting; and C) Tangling with the Port of Oakland and well-heeled Schnitzer Steel seems foolish, especially when you consider the alternative -- the Coliseum site. Kaval in the above Athletic article also cites other supposed proposals for use of the Coliseum site, specifically an NFL stadium. While an idea, it's a pretty big stretch given the NFL isn't expanding, the 49ers are actively marketing in the East Bay and the last team wasn't exactly selling out in Oakland. But sure Dave. He knows, the city knows and you know that the Coliseum site is nearly shovel ready and incredibly accessible in terms of infrastructure. And, especially given the projected glut of commercial real estate post-pandemic, the A's real estate play at Howard Terminal and the Coliseum is overly ambitious and costly and, at a base level, impractical.

Kaval could wine me, dine me and shower me in "Rooted in Oakland" propaganda and merchandise. (He won't and I'm not asking him to.) I love Oakland. I don't think he does and I don't think Fisher does either. A's fans are being played, to what end I don't know. Maybe Fisher wants to sell. Maybe he wants to move the team. I just don't think a scion of a slowly fading clothes empire with no visible ties to Oakland wakes up thinking how he is "Rooted in Oakland." The way the team is run, both on the field and in terms of the 1,000-year stadium saga, is closer to a hedge fund than a community asset. Consistent profitability is favored over fan relations. Fisher watched Moneyball and drew the wrong conclusion: Schott was too generous. Prove me wrong. Just don't trot smiling Dave out for another PR burst. It's getting tiring and I just think A's fans are too smart for this farce.