A New A's Ballpark in Jack London Square? 

Mayor Dellums and team boosters are pushing two new sites that could keep the A's in Oakland. Plus, Dellums' tax problems could go away soon, and instant-runoff voting gets certified.

The City of Oakland and an Oakland A's booster club have put forward two new ballpark sites in the Jack London Square area. The sites, which have never been fully considered by the team, are at Third and Oak streets and in an area west of Broadway, between the railroad tracks and Interstate 880, according to three knowledgeable sources. Major League Baseball's special task force on the A's is aware of the sites and has analyzed them, according to the sources, raising hopes among East Bay boosters that the team might stay in Oakland after all.

Mayor Ron Dellums is poised to reveal the new sites publicly and plans to urge Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and the A's to begin negotiating in earnest with the city, the sources said. The two new sites are among four that the city and A's boosters are pushing. The other two sites are the Oakland Coliseum parking lot and the Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, also west of Broadway in the Jack London Square area. However, A's co-owner Lew Wolff has already analyzed the Coliseum parking lot and the Howard Terminal sites and dismissed them as unfeasible.

Proponents hope that the two new sites will short-circuit Wolff's attempt to move the team to San Jose. Wolff has maintained that he has exhausted all possibilities for a new ballpark in the East Bay and, as a result, he should be allowed to relocate to San Jose, despite the San Francisco Giants' territorial claims on the South Bay. But if baseball's task force finds that one or both of the new Jack London Square sites are viable, then it could force Wolff to change course and reexamine Oakland.

Selig appointed the three-member task force earlier this year to make a determination on whether Wolff was right — that there were no viable sites in Oakland or anywhere else in the East Bay. Selig, an old college buddy of Wolff's, then later asked the task force to also examine San Jose, according to the sources. One of the sources said the task force also has looked at Fremont. Wolff abandoned his Fremont plans in February after some members of the community spoke out strongly against both of his preferred sites.

It's not clear, however, when the task force will complete its work. Some believe it may happen before baseball's ownership meeting in early 2010. But Selig spokesman Mike Teevan said there was "no timetable" for when the task force would be done. The task force includes Corey Busch, a former Giants executive, and Irwin Raij, a lawyer who was closely involved with the Washington and Miami ballpark proposals.

Teevan said Selig likely would not make the report public when it's completed, although he added that the commissioner may reveal some of its findings. Teevan also said that the task force has not disclosed to the commissioner what it has discovered so far.

At first, it looked as if the task force was embarking on a whitewash because it reportedly was going to review only ballpark sites that Wolff and the A's had previously examined. That looked to be especially true when Selig asked the task force to also analyze Wolff's favored spot in San Jose. But then the mayor's office and Oakland boosters changed the game by stepping in and presenting the task force with the two new sites.

A ballpark at either site could provide a huge boost to Oakland. Both would provide significant economic synergies with the planned dining and entertainment district in Jack London Square by adding two to three million new visitors a year to the area. In addition, both sites are in close proximity to mass transit. The Oak and Third site is not far from the Lake Merritt BART station, while the west of Broadway site is within walking distance of both the Oakland City Center and West Oakland BART stations. Both are also close to I-880 and I-980, although parking in both areas could be a challenge.

Both sites also could provide views of the hills and San Francisco Bay, along with the estuary. One drawback is that parts of both are in private ownership, so the city's help may be required to purchase the property. If that were to happen, the city could use redevelopment money, so its debt-ridden general fund would not be affected. Mayor Dellums declined to comment for this story through his spokesman, Paul Rose. However, the mayor may hold a press conference on the topic as early as this Thursday.

It's widely believed that Wolff had been counting on the task force's report as a validation for his plans to move to San Jose. If both the task force and the team could convince the rest of baseball's ownership that there were no other viable spots in Northern California, that could persuade owners to abrogate the Giant's territorial rights to the South Bay. However, the new Jack London Square sites could change that equation.

In addition, recent news out of the South Bay raises questions as to whether San Jose residents really want the team. As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, a recent poll revealed that San Jose residents are evenly split on the team moving to their city — 45 percent in favor versus 44 percent opposed.

Finally, it should be noted that a story last month in the Chronicle misidentified one of the two new sites and placed a third one in the wrong part of town, according to the sources. The story identified one of the new sites as being in East Oakland on Howard Street, across the Nimitz Freeway from the Coliseum. However, the sources said the actual site is in Jack London Square, west of Broadway, between the railroad tracks and I-880. (Full disclosure: That site would apparently force this newspaper to move out of its brand new home.) The Chronicle also mistakenly placed the Howard Terminal in East Oakland, across from I-880. In actuality, it is west of Broadway on the estuary in Jack London Square.

Mayor's Tax Problems Could Be Solved

If Dellums is instrumental in stopping the A's from moving to San Jose, while finally turning Jack London Square into a true regional destination, it would be a major accomplishment, unmatched by those of any of his recent predecessors. The mayor also may be on the cusp of more welcome news — a solution to his federal tax problems. As first reported last week on the Express' web site, Dellums may be able to resolve his IRS debt when he and his sister sell their deceased mother's home.

The mayor and his sister, Theresa Simmons, put the four-bedroom house on the market just after the Express broke the story about the mayor's IRS debt. The IRS says Dellums and his wife, Cynthia Dellums, owe at least $239,000 in back taxes.

According to the probate records of Dellums' mother, Willa Dellums, the mayor and his sister believe the home is worth $880,000. Dellums and his sister are listed as the beneficiaries. Willa Dellums died on August 17, 2008 at the age of 89.

Dellums spokesman Paul Rose said the mayor had no comment on what he planned to do with the proceeds from the sale of the home. But last month, Dellums said in a statement that his tax problems would be solved in "short order."

According to public records, Willa Dellums' home was built in 1912, measures about 2,000 square feet, and sits on a 4,400-square-foot lot. Zillow.com valued it last week at $720,000, but property records show a nearby home sold recently for more than $800,000.

Instant-Runoff Voting Approved

Dellums also hasn't said whether he plans to run for reelection next year. And now it looks as if he'll have several more months to make up his mind. That's because California Secretary of State Debra Bowen officially certified Alameda County's new voting system on Friday, thereby allowing Oakland to hold only one election next year — in November. Bowen's decision was first reported on the Express' web site on Friday.

If approved by the Oakland City Council, as expected, the November election will feature instant-runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank their top choices and thus eliminate the need for a costly primary. A supermajority of Oakland voters approved instant-runoff voting in 2006 with 69 percent of the vote. San Francisco has been using the system for several years.

Alameda County Registrar Dave MacDonald said the certification means the county "is ready to go now" and fully able to conduct instant-runoff elections on behalf of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro next year. The Oakland City Council plans to take up the issue in January, but it should be no more than a formality because city law requires the city to use instant-runoff voting once MacDonald declares that he's ready.

Mayoral candidate Don Perata had been lobbying behind the scenes to delay the new system, claiming that it's complicated and that seniors and non-English speakers would be confused by it (see "Manipulating the Vote," 10/28/09). The former state senator would greatly benefit from having two elections because he is a prodigious fund-raiser and has strong name recognition.

Bowen's office had been expected to certify the system for Alameda County earlier this fall. But her office, Alameda County, San Francisco, and voting-software vendor Sequoia Voting Systems had to iron out a few glitches first. The problems, if left unfixed, would have affected disabled Chinese-language-speaking voters and the hearing impaired. The glitches didn't affect the accuracy of the vote counts but limited voters' ability to review ballots before casting them. Bowen's office said Friday that they had solved the problems to her satisfaction.

However, her office also said that Alameda County must conduct a thorough educational outreach campaign, and she has issued benchmarks for the county and city to meet. Some Oakland councilmembers have raised concerns about whether the city can finance such a campaign. But that won't be an issue as long as the council decides not to go ahead with a June mayoral primary, which could cost about $800,000. The money saved from not having the election would easily finance an extensive outreach campaign.

Diallo Loses Two More Properties

The City of Oakland, however, may be out $50,000 that it granted earlier this year to the self-styled "Mayor of West Oakland," Marcel Diallo Jack. The city council awarded the grant to Diallo's Black New World social club for seismic retrofitting. As Full Disclosure pointed out last month, the grant appeared somewhat questionable because the club is a rusty corrugated metal shack with at least one large hole in the side (see "You Don't Know Jack," 11/18/09). But now the grant appears to have been even more misguided because Diallo lost the club to foreclosure on the same day the Express' story came out.

Property records show that Diallo also lost a significant portion of his Village Bottom Farms to foreclosure last month for repeated failure to pay his mortgage. It was at least the fifth West Oakland property that Diallo forfeited in the past two years. He had applied for a $152,000 grant from the city for the urban farm, but was turned down by a West Oakland city advisory panel. As this newspaper previously reported, Diallo allegedly became angry after the panel's decision and threatened one its members, Max Allstadt. Twelve days later, a fake e-mail that libeled Allstadt was sent from an account registered and maintained by Diallo.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that Willa Dellums died on August 17 of this year at the age of 90.

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