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Bay Area commission vote clears another obstacle for Oakland A’s ballpark proposal

San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which protects use of the San Francisco Bay, voted that Howard Terminal can be used for other development, like a billion-dollar ballpark complex.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A California Bay Area commission signaled support of new use at Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, where the Oakland Athletics have proposed a $12 billion ballpark and housing complex. 

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which protects use of the San Francisco Bay, OK’d removing Howard Terminal’s priority port designation Thursday with a 23-2 vote. This allows the A’s to submit a permit proposal — offering 3,000 units of housing, a Bay trail and a 400-room hotel along with a new ballpark to replace the East Oakland Coliseum. 

The Port of Oakland argued the terminal is not economically viable as a port and not essential to future port operation and storage. BCDC staff said they determined the terminal is not needed as a priority port.

However, city staff have been negotiating a term sheet with the A’s for more than a year. There have been ongoing criticisms of the project’s proposal, including potential impacts on West Oakland and port and waterfront capacity, and its high costs at a time when Oakland faces many different crises. Several lawsuits, all alleging the project’s environmental impact report are flawed and violate state environmental law, are pending Alameda County Superior Court’s review in August. And the A’s president Dave Kaval admitted they have not stopped exploring other options near the Las Vegas strip.

On Wednesday, Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo organized a rally at City Hall urging the City Council to approve a ballot measure so voters decide whether to use public funds for the A’s Howard Terminal proposal.

Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo speaks at a rally urging the city to allow a ballot measure so voters can decide whether to use public funds on a new Oakland A's stadium. (Natalie Hanson/Courthouse News)

Gallo’s press release said more than 5,000 Oakland residents have signed a petition in support of the measure. A poll of voters showed 76% favor and 15% oppose a public vote on any agreement that requires public funds to support the A’s project and 85% of voters demanded an independent economic analysis before any project moves forward. 

Gallo said the city would be on the hook for more than $350 million in offsite infrastructure costs and nearly $700 million for onsite infrastructure. He also claimed the city’s website is misleading because it claims that all costs will be reimbursed and does not quote how much public taxpayer money would be needed if the project does not earn state and federal grants. He said the infrastructure improvements are needed due to changes to shipping lines and roads for the project.

“The bottom line is, who’s going to pay for all this infrastructure? They’re not being truthful,” he said. “I said, give me a financial analysis … and they haven’t done that.” 

James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union, attacked Mayor Libby Schaaf pushing to decide the issue with one city council vote, saying “This is the people’s money, the people get to decide.”

Tenants rights activist James Vann criticizes Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for pushing through a project for the Oakland A's that could use millions in public funds, arguing the city's residents should get to vote on the project in November. (Natalie Hanson / Courthouse News)

“West Oakland has many unfunded capital projects planned,” he said. “All need attention, and yet we got those projects on a waiting list while the mayor wants to put a billion dollars to put in the A’s in the port.”

Attorney and activist Walter Riley called the A’s owner Fisher “a corporate raider” and said he does not invest in the A’s, but chooses to “extort money from the city of Oakland.”

“If the ink is signed for this project, they will then have an instrument they can immediately sell,” Riley said.

Melvin Mackay, a waterfront worker for 30 years, said “The mayor wants to leave office saying, look what I’ve done.” He said Schaaf appointed the Port Commissioners and “has their loyalty” and that she and Port Director Danny Wan are wrong to say Howard Terminal is “a parking lot and unused.” 

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Melvin Mackay, a waterfront worker for 30 years, says he supports Oakland City Council asking residents to vote on whether to use public funds on the Howard Terminal Oakland A's project. (Natalie Hanson/Courthouse News)

“It’s been used to assist people that live in West Oakland,” he said. “When they say it’s been dormant, it’s because they didn’t do their due diligence to look for a tenant.”

Asked about Gallo’s accusations about misleading information on the city website, Oakland officials directed to that website and did not answer questions about what amount of public funding must be committed to the project if state and federal grants are not secured to pay for necessary infrastructure improvements.

Councilmember Carroll Fife, who represents the district where the Howard Terminal development could be built, was not available to comment.

The next day, the project got BCDC's sign for moving forward. More than 1,500 people commented in the last month, starting with a public hearing on the issue June 2.

Public comments received between June 3 to June 24 showed an almost even mix of support and pushback against the project. Some were from residents of other cities like Emeryville and Berkeley. Others from Oakland encouraged the city to move forward to create housing and job opportunities, from construction to retail, hospitality and food service positions.

The Bay Planning Commission executive officer John Coleman wrote that “rising seas will impact the viability of Howard Terminal for any use by 2050 and continue to limit the access of socially vulnerable communities to the shoreline.”

Carla Collins of Howard Terminal Coalition, associated with Town Business, said she helped keep the Kings in Sacramento 10 years ago. 

“There are a lot of similarities between what's going on in this region, and what happened in Sacramento. There can be a new vision for the Oakland waterfront.”

But others spoke in fierce opposition. The Oakland Chinatown Coalition, members of the Howard Terminal Community Benefits Steering Committee, scrutinized the A’s promises of community benefits. 

“While the A’s initially promised $450 million in community benefits, they subsequently made it clear during meetings in the spring of 2021 that they will not commit to funding these community benefits themselves and would instead leave it to the City and Port to cobble together a public financing package to underwrite their community benefit commitments,” the Coalition wrote.

Isaiah Toney of EBASE Campaigns wrote that although the Oakland City Council required the A's to build at least 15% affordable housing on-site and 20% off-site, “the president of the A's, Dave Kaval, recently said he would not commit to any affordable housing unless the city publicly financed the project to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.” He reminded the board that Schaaf rejected this proposal, saying the proposed use of public tax dollars to fund certain pieces of the project was not acceptable. 

East Oakland Stadium Alliance wrote against the project again, alleging it will result in “unavoidable environmental impacts” and negative air quality impacts from the Howard Terminal development “will result in a 62% increase in total particulate matter emissions compared to all existing Port of Oakland emissions sources.”

BCDC staff told the Commission on Thursday they still recommended removing Howard Terminal as a priority port, saying there will be enough capacity at the Port without it based on a growth forecast for 2050. 

Wan said there will be no shortage of land by relocating users of Howard Terminal, which he called “a temporary pop up yard” for containers which may sit at the Port for weeks. He said Howard Terminal is "not functional as a port terminal" and even if he had extra money for improvements "that would go to the outer harbor.”

“If it was viable, we wouldn’t be here today,” Port staffer Kristi McKenney said. She said Howard Terminal has streets, condos and retail at its front door, and is "not operationally viable nor financially feasible" to function as a port.

Next Tuesday, Oakland City Council will discuss approving a November ballot measure allowing voters to decide whether to use public dollars for the Howard Terminal project.

Chair Zack Wasserman said their job is not to decide if the A’s should be at Howard Terminal.

“It is what’s within our jurisdiction and our mission and that is whether Howard Terminal is needed for maritime uses or not.” 

Commissioner Barry Nelson said while he thinks "There's no tremendous rush for the commission to make this decision," while the city “does not have an enforceable agreement or clear timeline from the A's,” the commission had to meet the legal deadline with a vote.

Commissioner Rebecca Eisen indicated she was not comfortable with making a decision based on a 28-year forecast.

“We don't have a definition of cargo growth projections ... but have to decide based on information, not speculation,” Eisen said. “We can't just guess. The further out we go, the more uncertain it becomes.” However, she voted yes on the proposal.

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