Thursday, October 2, 2008

Raiders vs City of Oakland Gets Ugly - a look back at 1995

He saw disaster looming, but could only watch
By Tom FitzGerald San Francisco Chronicle

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A half dozen death threats were left on his answering machine. When he went to public hearings to inveigh against the Raiders deal, he wore a team jacket -- for camouflage.

In 1995 public officials were blasting Joe Debro. They said he was spiteful that he hadn't gotten more jobs for his construction business. One accused him of a "shakedown." Another called him "damaged goods." Actually, he was just a concerned citizen with an eye for the fine print and a contractor who was used to battling the big boys.

Ten years later, Debro says he takes no solace from the fact that he was right and so many people were wrong about the potential costs of the deal that brought the Raiders back to Oakland.

Sitting in his cramped office in his East Oakland home, Debro, 77, said there's no badge of honor for him in the costly public embarrassment the Raiders deal became. "No, that doesn't do anything for me or the people who were wrong."

From the beginning, he thought the deal smelled bad. "What I wanted more than anything else was for the citizens to vote on it,'' he said. "I looked at the documents and they were misleading."

Others thought so, too, he said. "I was the only visible person. Nobody else was prepared to be visible, because it was not pleasant. ... I was vilified.''

He felt projections of the stadium expansion cost of $85 million were "insane. It ended up costing $150 million." The contract was awarded to a company headed by builder Ronald Tutor, a friend of Raiders owner Al Davis. "It was a no-bid contract," Debro said, "and that was against state rules."

Raiders attorney Jeff Birren and Dina McClain, attorney for the Oakland- Alameda County Coliseum Authority, both dispute that contention. "When the deal was structured, the Raiders owned the stadium capital improvements," Birren said. "As a private entity, they weren't subject to those provisions."

McClain said the contract was legal but that cost overruns on the expansion forced the authority to use much more of the personal seat license revenue than was anticipated.

In 1995 Debro also took aim at what public officials were calling a $63.9 million "loan" to the Raiders. "There was no collateral, there was no repayment schedule, there were no provisions for default,'' he said. "It was simply not a loan. What I called it was a payoff."

Birren and McClain insist it was a loan. "The Raiders pay $525,000 a year (on it), plus half the parking and concessions, which amounted to $1.2 million last year," McClain said.

The NFL felt it was a fee rather than a loan and therefore had to be shared with other teams. The league won a lawsuit over the Raiders on that issue. Debro had no luck in his own court battles against the deal, the final case being thrown out in 2001 because, a judge ruled, it was filed after the statute of limitations to challenge the deal had expired.

He had projected that the deal would cost the taxpayers $400 million. "It looks like it's going to cost $600 million in subsidies by the time the bonds are paid off," he said. "At the end of the 16th year (2010), there are no provisions for any kind of payments (to the city and county). So the subsidies are going to have to go up. That's just atrocious. We have schools that are falling down, a school district that's in default."

He claims city/county officials were duped into the deal by people who had a lot to gain from it. And now?

"I don't think there's any way out of this," he said. "They've antagonized Davis, and they don't have any leverage."

At the same time, Debro has nothing but admiration for Davis. "I just wish we had somebody on the public side who fought as hard for what they believed as he does."

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