Oakland is changing. Rapidly. I suppose that places are always in some state of flux—people move in, raise their children, grow old, and then a new generation of people move in, and the process starts over again. The neighborhood I grew up in, for example, was once filled with kids. We ranged over the streets on our bikes and on foot, playing hide and seek in our neighbors’ yards and dodgeball against the metal door to the reservoir. As we grew up, this same place gave way to empty nesters, some of whom moved away, as my parents did, some stayed. As people left, others took their place. They made changes to the houses and had children of their own, transforming the look and feel of the neighborhood I once called home.
As an educator, I have supported school communities to grapple with even larger-scale changes. Neighborhoods that were primarily one ethnic group transitioning to being mostly another. Areas that were low income slowly becoming more affluent. As I’ve worked in these communities, I’ve felt the tension there. For folks who are seeing their neighborhoods transform before their eyes, there can be confusion, anger, and suspicion. For the new people, the feelings can actually be the same. Unaware that their presence represents a change to what “home” feels like to some of their neighbors, they nonetheless sense the uneasiness and either pull inwards or unapologetically stretch out and take over. In our schools, the result can be a painful clash of interests and needs that challenge even our most talented leaders to navigate.
What’s happening now, however, is unlike anything I have seen before. Oakland seems to be transforming overnight. Some of the changes have been gratifying. It has been wonderful to watch the desolate and blighted downtown area come to life again with art studios and restaurants. I love going to Friday nights at the Oakland Museum to eat dinner from food trucks and watch live music with a cross-section of people. And the Warriors! My Warriors! They’re on fire!
Warrior’s Ground has been in Oakland since the early 1970’s. They've always had a fiercely loyal and passionate fan base, even during the more than forty years when they never won a Championship or even came close. In recent years, our arena has been sponsored by the tech company Oracle. Warriors fans are so passionate that Oracle has been re-dubbed Roaracle—we get loud! We’re known throughout the league as being one of the most intimidating places for visiting teams to play.
I am one such loyal fan. The Warriors have been an integral part of my life since childhood. My dad and I watched the games together, usually from home and with constant interruptions from my sisters who wanted to watch nearly anything else. During a particularly painful period when I was in college, my dad splurged on a pair of floor seats for a game. While he didn’t know how to talk with me about the pain I was in, he knew we could share a special outing to watch Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, and Latrell Sprewell do their thing. He was right. During the game, I was transported from my troubles and was awed by the sheer size of those men (they are so big up close) and as well as by their style of play.
As a season ticket holder now, I still think about that night every time I go to a game. While my dad has since passed away, I have often imagined the thrill he would get at watching the Warriors of today. Not only because they’ve won three championships in four years, but also because of the character, integrity, and pure sportsmanship of the team we have now.
The Warrior’s resurgence as the premier team in the NBA has coincided with Oakland’s rebirth as a town. The more each has improved, they have drawn increasingly positive attention from outsiders, and new people are streaming in—both into the arena and into our neighborhoods. Everyone wants a piece of the action! The demand has led to changes seemingly everywhere. For example, many parts of Broadway Avenue that were once desolate and empty are being transformed into condos and apartment high rises. Abandoned warehouses are now luxury live-work lofts. And, the Warriors are leaving Oracle to move across the bay to San Francisco and a brand-new arena.
While all of this growth is not a bad thing in concept, the changes are pushing out the people that made Oakland and Roaracle great. Housing prices in Oakland and the Bay Area are staggering, and rents are going up at an alarming rate. So, while Oakland has more housing units than ever before, it also has a critical homeless problem. A recent visit to the Bay Area by the United Nations’ expert on housing identified San Francisco and Oakland as the only two United States cities that are a part of what she calls a ‘global scandal.’ She described our homeless encampments and their lack of access to bathrooms, fresh water, or sanitary conditions as cruel and inhumane.
Here's one of our most significant problems. As Oakland gentrifies, many of the people who have long called Oakland home can no longer afford to live here, but they have lives and jobs firmly attached to this town. For example, I have colleagues in my school district whose livelihoods are tied to a seniority-based salary scale and retirement plan. If they move somewhere else, they’d have to start over and work for lower wages and lose their accrued years towards retirement. This means that while they cannot afford to leave, they also cannot afford to stay. With nowhere else to go, they’ve moved onto the street.
Even for those of us fortunate to still have homes, the changes all around us can at best feel disorienting, at worst, distressing. The movie “Blindspotting” captures the complex range of emotions that many locals feel—Kwikway suddenly serving only vegan food, an Oakland native sharing an Oakland-based tattoo with a millennial newcomer, and so on. The movie artfully demonstrates the issues of race, class, and access to opportunity that polarize our community.
And, my Warriors. Last year, the priority waiting list for season tickets was over 40,000 long. It’s a hot ticket. With the Warrior’s move to San Francisco, ticket prices will be increasing. Season ticket holders must also pay a seat licensing fee that comes with a 30-year commitment. This seat license amounts to an interest-free loan on the part of season ticket holders to the millionaire owners of the Warriors and the arena. The lowest-price license is $4,000 per seat and it goes up much higher from there.
As with other parts of the rapid transformation of the Bay Area, the Warrior's move pushes out people like me whose season tickets are their one luxury that they sacrifice and save for. I get that I am privileged to be able to make such a sacrifice, as is everyone else who has tickets. Nonetheless, the licensing fee and increases in ticket prices will significantly change the look and feel of the fans coming to the new arena. Those of us on the fringe of this luxury will have to bow out while more affluent fans will step in. I don’t begrudge the Warriors getting a new arena, they deserve it! I just wish that it could have been done in a way that allowed for the rich diversity of fans that currently fill the seats to continue. I cannot help but believe that games will feel significantly different next year.
Oakland’s allure is a direct reflection of its history, diversity, and people. As the have’s continue to pour in and squeeze out the have-lesses and have-not’s, Oakland, like the Warrior’s fans, will change. Ironically, these changes will impact the very culture and feel that drew everyone here in the first place. While change is already underway, I have to believe that there is still time to slow down and ensure that everyone can come along for the ride. For example, we can still put in place fair housing and mixed-income housing policies that would allow people of all economic backgrounds to stay. The Warriors can have a scholarship of sorts for long-time season ticket holders who cannot afford the seats but whose devotion to the team has earned them a place in the new arena. The Town can afford it. The owners can afford it. While Oakland and the Warriors can go on without pausing to bring everyone with them, I believe that they will lose a core part of what makes them unique if they do. In a time where our national economy and policies are advantaging the wealthiest among us, it's time for the Bay Area to embrace it's independent and community-centered roots and retain what makes it special--the people.