At the time the city agreed to the lucrative package, negotiations were under way with the Oakland A's on their lease at the Coliseum. With an eye to the generous payments offered the Raiders, the World Champion A's began demanding more concessions and talked of deserting Oakland should the Raiders return and slice into the East Bay sports market. Among the terms won by the baseball team was a $500,000 additional annual payment from stadium concession revenues.
On March 12, Davis accepted Oakland's offer, and the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors met and approved it. A thousand people showed up at a downtown auditorium to address the council. About half of the 144 citizens who spoke at the hearing favored the deal, half opposed it. Two-thirds of the Oakland residents who spoke urged the council to reject it.
The timing of the agreement was not favorable to its supporters. It was unveiled against a backdrop of boarded-up downtown buildings damaged in the Oct. 17 earthquake. Among the losses in the quake were the historic, ornate City Hall, now closed indefinitely, and the city's major department store, which is not scheduled to reopen until August.
Oakland schools are in crisis, reeling from a corruption scandal and perennial budget deficits. In the last two decades, manufacturing plants that employed Oakland's sizable blue-collar labor force deserted the city for the suburbs, and many of the modern high-rise office buildings built downtown in the last decade have yet to be filled. Recent gains made in attracting a handful of major corporations, a huge federal government agency and the University of California's administrative offices to Oakland--definite bonanzas for the city--have yet to be fully realized in new employment and tax revenue.
Moreover, the Raider deal was made in a city election year, and the terms have become deeply embroiled in city politics. Opponents of Mayor Lionel Wilson, who supports the Raider package and is up for reelection in June, have charged him with giving away the store.
"This has been a firestorm, ever since the day we first voted on the package," said longtime Oakland City Councilwoman Mary Moore, who opposed it. "That whole week after the vote was a firestorm of phone calls, letters, telegrams--people just outraged. I've never seen anything like it. It was so clear-cut that people inside Oakland were furious about it and people outside Oakland were supporting it. . . . By the end of the week, I think we almost lost four secretaries. They had just been drowned in phone calls."
A petition drive asking the council either to repeal its vote or put the package on the ballot in November was launched Monday by an aide to one of the mayoral candidates, an Oakland business leader and an attorney who formerly chaired the Alameda County Democratic Party. Hundreds volunteered to solicit the 30,000 signatures that supporters believe they will need to ensure qualification by the April 11 deadline.
Although city officials insist that the package cannot be decided by referendum, many concede that a successful petition campaign could doom it. Mayor Wilson, for instance, said the petition campaign could force the issue to the courts and "without a doubt" kill the deal.
Even if the drive were to fail, the agreement could be unraveled by the failure of a state bond allocation committee to grant Oakland the right to sell tax-exempt state bonds upon which the deal now hinges. A decision on the bonds is expected April 19.
Such uncertainity has unnerved the still-significant number of East Bay Raider fans counting the days until they can buy tickets. These fans scoff at skeptics who believe tickets will go unsold. A Raiders-Houston Oilers exhibition game in Oakland last August sold out within 2 1/2 hours, and more than 20,000 Bay Area residents remain on waiting lists for season tickets to the 49ers.
Just as opponents of the plan worry that it could bankrupt city coffers, boosters contend it will mark Oakland's salvation and provide a morale lift to a community weary of being known for its crack problems, its murders and its poverty.
Contrary to its image, Oakland enjoys some of the most scenic parks in the East Bay, relative racial harmony and booming neighborhood commercial centers. Proponents of the Raider plan view it as a medicine for relieving the inferiority complex that has beset Oakland for years in its constant rivalry with San Francisco.
"This (controversy) is ripping this town apart," said Raider fan John Sharon, a lawyer who hopes the deal will return the team. "We don't need that right now. We really don't."
Although Councilwoman Moore believes the Raider package is a bad deal for the city, she is hopeful that good may come from the backlash it has ignited.
"If this thing serves one purpose, I hope it is to start a voter revolt around the country," she said. "Because as long as most cities are willing to spend outrageous sums of money to get teams, then every city is held hostage."