A judge’s decision on Monday in Nevada could give A’s fans new hope of the team remaining in Oakland.
On one side is a Nevada teachers’ union challenging the state’s plan to provide $120 million in public money to build a $1.5 billion ballpark on the Las Vegas strip. The group is seeking a November 2024 referendum on state Senate Bill 1, the ballpark spending deal signed in June by Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo.
“Nevada voters should decide whether their tax dollars are used to subsidize a billionaire’s stadium,” said Alexander Marks, a spokesperson for the Nevada State Education Association. “We’re confident Nevada citizens are going to choose schools over stadiums next November.”
The teachers union is opposed by a coalition of lobbyists and construction union leaders assembled by A’s ownership. They accuse the teachers’ union of submitting an “inaccurate, misleading and argumentative” petition that improperly targets only portions of the Nevada legislation, instead of all of it.
The case is scheduled to be heard Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the First Judicial District Court in Carson City.
The courtroom drama is playing out a week before MLB owners are expected to vote on the A’s move to Las Vegas. A’s owner John Fisher needs relocation approval from 75% of the MLB owners. They are expected to approve the deal and waive the relocation fee.
The complaint against the teachers union was filed by Danny Thompson and Thomas Morley, who have strong, if indirect, ties to the A’s organization. Morley was for 27 years the president of Laborers Local 872, a union that has come out in strong support of the A’s ballpark development, and which he now represents as a lobbyist. He previously helped organize the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas, according to a webpage for his consulting firm.
State records show that Morley is registered as a lobbyist for other Nevada construction unions, as well as for the Las Vegas-Review Journal, one of the area’s largest news publications.
Reached Friday, Morley declined to comment on this story.
Bradley Schrager, an attorney for the complainants, said the legal challenge is meant to ensure that the teachers union follows Nevada law in their efforts to bring the $380 million package before voters.
Marks, the spokesperson for the teachers, sees the litigation as more of a stall tactic. He doesn’t expect Monday’s hearing to be much of a holdup to the teachers’ agenda.
“There’s not a scenario in which the A’s come out of this going, ‘Ha, we beat the teachers, take that!’” Marks said. “That’s probably what they’d like to hear. But we think the court will say, ‘you’re clear, go out and gather signatures.’”
According to the office of the Nevada Secretary of State, a petition to create a ballot referendum must contain at least 10% of the ballots cast in the last general election. That means the teachers would need 102,586 signatures, and 25% of them would need to come from each of the state’s four congressional districts.
If the signatures are collected by June 26, 2024, and verified by each district, the issue could make it to the ballot next November.
“The teams and team owners will always prefer that this doesn’t go to the voters,” said Nola Agha, a University of San Francisco sports economist who wrote critically about the A’s previous development plan at Oakland’s Howard Terminal.
There were 14 petitions submitted in Nevada last year, but only one succeeded in getting its targeted legislation placed on the ballot. Many of them died because they didn’t have enough verifiable signatures.
“It’s doable,” Marks said of the teachers union’s chances. “We’re not concerned about it.”
The teachers union points out that an estimated $120 million of the stadium funding package will be handed over via county-issued bonds. And according to sections 29 and 30 of the spending bill, the Nevada Legislature can later repeal its approval of that money.
That’s what the teachers are hoping to get on the ballot next November. And if the voters decide they don’t want to give $120 million in county-issued bonds to the A’s, it could kill the entire deal.
“(Fisher) would have to figure out where that other money is coming from,” Marks said. “I don’t think he has that ability to get that money because he said specifically they need $380 million.”
During the World Series, which concluded this week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about the teacher’s union’s efforts to get a referendum on the ballot.
“If there was an adverse development with respect to that referendum, that would be a significant development,” Manfred told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s all I can say about that.”
Back in Oakland, city leaders are focused on trying to convince the MLB’s owners not to side with Fisher’s relocation efforts.
Mayor Sheng Thao plans to host a news conference flanked by A’s supporters to convince the team to stay. A resolution on the City Council’s table next week would affirm “that the Oakland A’s belong in Oakland.”