The Laney College Athletics?

May 17, 2017

My first thought on hearing about this proposal was that we should change the meaning of “A’s” from “Athletics” to “Arrogant,” but the fact is, it’s the way all of Oakland’s professional sports teams—A’s, Raiders, Warriors, whoever—treat the City of Oakland. We’re such suckers in Oakland for major league attention, some of us. And so, when you find yourself being the target of the street hustlers every time you walk outside, there’s a point where you need to stop complaining about there being so many hustlers around and, instead, go back inside the house and take a long look in the mirror to try to find out why you’re the one who they always seem to be targeting.

That’s how my thought process went last week after I learned that the Oakland Athletics were considering the Laney College grounds as one of the possible sites for their proposed new professional baseball stadium. That is, if the A’s don’t go the Raider route and just up and leave.

Yes, children, I said the A’s are considering the Laney College grounds as a baseball stadium site.

I first got word of this from an Oakland Magazine story written by our good friend Robert Gammon (“The Oakland A’s Have Narrowed Their Ballpark Choices To TwoOakland Magazine May 10, 2017). However, an earlier account of the ballpark proposal was published last month in the Laney Tower college newspaper (“Hands OffLaney Tower April 20, 2017), and the East Bay Times has also since picked up the story (“Suspense Growing Over Oakland A’s Stadium DecisionEast Bay Times May 14, 2017.

The title of the Laney Tower article—“Hands Off”—may give you a clue as to how the young folks over at the college view this idea. The title comes from a line in the article which reads “Laney’s Head Librarian Evelyn Lord offered her feelings towards an A’s stadium on Laney land in just two words: ‘Hands off.’”

My first reaction—as was maybe yours—was to question what was in the mind of the idiot who proposed this idea? Were they talking about plunking a baseball stadium down in the middle of what is now Laney College and, if, so, where did they propose that Laney College go? But when I looked for details in the various published stories about the proposal, everything suddenly got suspiciously, um, vague on those particular points.

Mr. Gammon, for example, is usually a careful reporter, but the actual location of the A’s ballpark proposal presented in his Oakland Magazine story was, to say the least, confusing.

The beginning of Mr. Gammon’s article, for example, reads: “The Oakland A’s are now focusing on two sites in the city for a new ballpark: Laney College near Lake Merritt and Howard Terminal on the waterfront next to Jack London Square, according to four knowledgeable sources. ... The A’s have been surveying local residents on stadium sites, and in one recent poll, the team’s representative made it clear that Laney College is the No. 1 location. The pollster focused heavily on Laney, asking numerous questions about the site, which sits between the lake and Interstate 880 and is just a few blocks from the Lake Merritt BART station.”

Seems pretty plain from that paragraph that they’re talking about Laney College as the ballpark site, right?
Except that when you get to the end of Mr. Gammon’s story, there comes the “clarification”: “The A’s are looking to build a stadium on property that’s currently being used as the headquarters for the Peralta College Community District. The team also is interested in adding housing and retail on the Laney parking lot next to I-880.”

The assertion that the A’s proposed “Laney College” stadium site is actually the “Peralta Community College District headquarters” stadium site (with a side dish of the Laney parking lot) would seem to be confirmed by the East Bay Times’ “Suspense Growing” story, which reads, in part: “Though referred to as the Laney College site, the land [for the proposed stadium] is really home to the Peralta Community College District headquarters, along Fifth Avenue just east of busy Interstate 880...”

This now requires a bit of orientation, for those who are not familiar with the Laney College area.

Laney sits just west of Lake Merritt but not within actual sight of the lake, between 10th Street—across the street from both the Oakland Museum and the old Kaiser Convention Center—and the divided-lane 7th Street/East 8th Street interchange that runs parallel to the 880 freeway just to the west. The campus is divided in the middle by the Lake Merritt Channel which connects Lake Merritt proper with the estuary on the other side of the freeway. To the north of the Lake Merritt Channel are the campus buildings, to the south of the channel are the athletic fields. If you cross the 7th Street/East 8th Street interchange, the Laney parking lot is north of the channel, while the headquarters of the Peralta Community College District, which oversees Laney and three other community colleges in the East Bay, is south of the channel.

While, yes, Laney College is directly across the 7th Street/East 8th Street interchange from both the college’s parking lot and the Peralta headquarters, no-one who has ever looked across that busy interchange between the properties would confuse one of them with one of the other. So why would both the Oakland Magazine and the East Bay Times stories refer to this area as the “Laney College proposal” instead of the Peralta headquarters proposal?

That may be because—despite the insistence that the stadium proposal is actually about the Peralta headquarters property—there is not enough room on the Peralta headquarters site for the the stadium plan in that area to work without also taking in the Laney College parking lot property on the western side of 7th Street/East 8th Street as well. And if the Laney College parking lot property is taken over for an A’s stadium, where would Laney faculty and students park, and if Laney faculty and students didn’t have a place to park, what would that do to Laney College?

Interesting questions, which the folks running the A’s probably don’t want us to be asking right now while they’re hoping to dazzle us with the prospects of a new Oakland stadium and the A’s remaining in this city.

But, in fact, it isn’t just the Laney parking lot that the A’s may be interested in. When I tried to untangle the confusion in whether it was a Laney College stadium proposal or a Peralta Community College District headquarters proposal, I got the following Facebook exchange with Mr. Gammon:

Me: “So I'm confused, Bob. Are the A's looking at the Peralta headquarters for their new ballpark, or the Laney College campus, or both?”

Mr. Gammon: “The Peralta headquarters, and possibly part of the sports fields.”

Me: “But the Peralta headquarters is across the E. 8th Street throughway from [the Laney College athletic fields]. Are the A's proposing shutting down E. 8th Street at that point and building a stadium on top of it?

Mr. Gammon: “From my what I understand, they haven't decided yet, but one plan calls for re-aligning the street grid in that area.”

Meanwhile, the Laney Tower article speculated that “past attempts to buy or lease portions of Laney’s campus suggest that the most likely location for a ballpark would be the athletic fields between the Lake Merritt Channel and 5th Avenue.”

That raises the logical question that if the Oakland Athletics were to take over the Laney College athletic fields for their new baseball stadium, where would the student athletes at Laney college play and practice their athletics? The Laney Tower article noted that in 1992, when Kaiser Permanente made a bid to purchase the Laney athletic fields in order to build a new hospital on the land, “Laney’s football, baseball, and softball teams would have been relocated to either College of Alameda or Merritt College, summarily ending a large portion of Laney’s popular athletics program.”

The Laney Tower article went on to say that “Laney students and faculty have a generally apprehensive attitude toward the concept of the A’s building a stadium on campus.

“‘What good is it to have a baseball team out there?’ former Laney Athletic Director and football head coach Stan Peters said in a phone interview with The Tower. ‘What does Laney get out of it?’

“Peters, the head coach of the Laney Eagles for 32 years, said that the negative effects to the campus would be enormous, and that the sheer volume of people attending games would take its toll on the campus.”

The local newspapers are also reporting that city and college officials are taking a dim view of the A’s stadium proposal.

According to the Laney Tower, “Neither [Peralta] Chancellor [Jowel C.] Laguerre nor new Laney President Tammeil Gilkerson say they have been contacted by the A’s in any way related to the stadium.” The Tower quoted Laguerre as saying “We are sitting in such a beautiful and strategic area that makes sense for us to keep. I think it would be dumb for Laney to sell its land.”

And according to Mr. Gammon’s Oakland Magazine article, “[Oakland Mayor Libby] Schaaf ... said she has concerns about the effects of a new ballpark at Laney on the nearby Eastlake neighborhood. Eastlake is home to numerous Asian-American businesses that could be priced out of the area if a new ballpark goes in.”

But we’ve been down this road before, with the City of Oakland willing to sacrifice citizen interests over the interests of its professional sports teams, and Peralta Community College District officials willing to sell out Laney College for development interests. So forgive us if retain a large amount of skepticism, and keep our powder dry, as the old saying goes, until any idea about a Laney College location for a new Oakland A’s stadium is both officially and actually slaughtered and left for dead at the side of the road.


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