‘A’s’ planned venue EIR pass muster


Oakland Athletics stadium update February 2022 Image: Oakland Athletics

The Major League Baseball (MLB) team Oakland ‘A’s’ plan to build a mixed-use development and ballpark at Howard Terminal in Oakland (US) crept closer to becoming a reality on February 17th. After a contentious eight-hour hearing, the Oakland City Council voted 6-2 to certify the project’s environmental impact report (EIR).

‘The Oaklandside’ stated that certification of the 3,500-page environment report helps pave the way for the massive waterfront project to move forward. But the approval process is far from over. Multiple other Government agencies must sign off on aspects of the plan before it returns to the Council.

The Oakland Athletics, often referred to as the ‘A’s’, are an American professional baseball team based in Oakland, California (US). The Athletics compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League West division. The team plays its home games at the Oakland Coliseum.

The 63,132-capacity Oakland Coliseum, branded as RingCentral Coliseum for naming rights reasons, is a multipurpose stadium in Oakland, California (US). It is located on 7000 Coliseum Way, adjacent to the Oakland Arena along InterState 880.

The ‘A’s’ new venue plans include creating mixed-use development with up to 3,000 residential units, up to 1.5 million square feet of offices and up to 270,000 square feet of retail uses. The proposed development at the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal includes plans for a $12 billion mixed-use project built around a $1 billion, 30,000-seat waterfront ballpark.

‘The Oaklandside’ further stated that Council Members Carroll Fife and Noel Gallo voted against certifying the environmental impact report. Nikki Fortunato Bas, Dan Kalb, Rebecca Kaplan, Treva Reid, Loren Taylor, and Sheng Thao voted ‘yes’, but no one was doing a victory lap. Even Council Members who voted in favor of the environmental impact report expressed concerns over how the $12 billion proposal could alter the landscape of West Oakland and Chinatown, the neighborhoods nearest to the site.

Mayor of Oakland City Libby Schaaf, an early and consistent supporter of a Howard Terminal baseball stadium, called the Council decision a “historic moment for Oakland’s future”.

Schaaf said in a statement following the vote, “Tonight’s (February 17th) action is more than a milestone – it’s a giant leap forward in our shared mission to create a regional destination that gives back our waterfront to the public, connects a new vibrant neighborhood to our downtown, and provides tens of thousands good union jobs for our residents – and it does it all while keeping our beloved ‘A’s’ rooted in Oakland.”

Fife, whose Council district includes Howard Terminal and West Oakland, called for her colleagues to pump the brakes on making a decision. Fife said members of the West Oakland and Chinatown communities “Are telling us they haven’t been heard. It feels like we are moving in a direction that is going to negotiate away any type of power these organizations will have. This timeline is basically created by the ‘A’s’.”

In a statement issued on February 18th, the East Oakland Stadium Alliance, a group representing several Port of Oakland labor unions, which opposes the Howard Terminal project, said, “While we commend Council Members Fife and Gallo for rejecting the severely insufficient final environmental impact report for the ‘A’s’ Howard Terminal project, we are disappointed that the majority voted to certify a report that puts our community and port at risk. As many community members, businesses, labor leaders, and Government agencies have expressed, the environmental impact report fails to address significant issues regarding health, safety, traffic, air quality, and toxic remediation. In allowing the project to advance without committing to meaningful mitigation measures, the City Council has failed in its obligation to put the community first.”

‘A’s’ President Dave Kaval said now that the environmental impact report has gotten this approval, the team and the City can focus more intently on a development agreement, a legally binding document between the ‘A’s’ and the City that would spell out the team’s commitments and include community benefits – “It’s critically important that we got through this step. We have a roadway to approach getting a final economic deal with the City.”

Las Vegas option open

At the same time, the ‘A’s’ are continuing to explore stadium options in the Las Vegas (US) area. Kaval said they are “down to a handful of sites” to either purchase or enter into a joint venture with a landowner.

Said Kaval, “There’s a lot of positive momentum in Nevada. That is going to continue until we have a real path and definite home for the ‘A’s’. We are desperately running out of time at the Coliseum.”

The ‘A’s’ lease at the East Oakland facility runs through 2024.

Certification of the environmental impact report could still be challenged. State law allows for opponents of a development project to challenge an environmental impact report in court, and many large projects face legal challenges that can drag on for years.

However, a State law authored in 2018 by former Assemblyman Rob Bonta streamlines the process for the ‘A’s’. Under AB 734, any lawsuits would have to be adjudicated within 270 days of certification.

Divided house

The City Council action follows the recommendation of the Planning Commission, which last month asked the Council to approve the environmental impact report, known as an EIR.

‘A’s’ owner John Fisher and Kaval say the organization wants to work with the City and county to fund and build a 35,000-seat ballpark, 3,000 units of housing, 1.5 million square feet of offices, 270,000 square feet of retail space, 400 hotel rooms, an entertainment venue, and 18 acres of parks and open areas along the Oakland Estuary.

More than 300 people attended the hearing on Zoom, which ended with a vote around 11:30 pm. Over the course of about two hours, dozens of speakers pleaded with the Council to delay a vote and allow more time to analyze how air, noise and light impacts, along with traffic and rail safety, would be addressed.

The issue has divided Oakland’s labor advocates. Several labor unions that would work to construct the Howard Terminal development – pipefitters, ironworkers and apprentices for the building trades – said they saw value in the jobs the project would create, which the City estimates to be more than 7,000. Others who have worked at the Coliseum’s concession stands said they have assurances from the ‘A’s’ that their jobs would move to the waterfront ballpark.

A concession worker told the Council, “Our families depend on the income.”

The longshore union and other port workers are vehemently opposed. They argue that taking Howard Terminal away from the port and turning it into a commercial property will damage operations at the port. Howard Terminal is located in the inner harbor, adjacent to a turning basin where ships the size of skyscrapers need to flip a U-turn after dropping off containers.

Aaron Wright, business agent for the ILWU Local 10 longshore workers union, said the ‘A’s’ have not kept promises about building a project compatible with that reality, and others.

Questioned Wright, “How can you deal with these people and their manipulation? The ‘A’s’ have been duplicitous in this process.”

Melvin Mackay, a longtime longshoreman, said, “You cannot keep pulling the wool over the residents’ eyes. You guys have to make a conscious decision about what you are going to do and stop being puppets because the voters of Oakland will see you again and it will be soon,” referring to the November Mayoral election.

Others see no reason why the ‘A’s’ can’t build a new ballpark at the Oakland Coliseum. Supporters of keeping the team in East Oakland say it’s an ideal location because of its proximity to BART, InterState 880 and the Oakland International Airport. The 120-acre site had an environmental impact report completed and approved in 2015, when the Coliseum City development, a plan to build a new stadium for the National Football League (NFL) team Las Vegas Raiders and ‘A’s’ and build housing, retail, a hotel, high-rise office buildings, was under consideration.

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