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Judge says Oakland’s report for Howard Terminal stadium mostly meets environmental law

A judge said three groups suing the city of Oakland's A's project mostly did not succeed in their claims that the project could violate environmental law.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday granting and denying parts of a petition in a consolidated lawsuit against the city of Oakland, for a $12 billion ballpark project proposed at California’s third largest port.

Lawsuits challenging the Oakland City Council’s certification of the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Howard Terminal stadium project were consolidated after being filed in April by Union Pacific Railroad and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority.

These lawsuits allege the project’s report was negligent under the California Environmental Quality Act. East Oakland Alliance and a coalition of port workers, truckers and cargo terminal operators also sued the city for approving “a flawed environmental impact report” which they said did not address how port operations would be impacted by development.

The city of Oakland released a final report in December 2021, approved by the City Council in March this year. The A’s and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf have promoted the controversial project as a major boon for Oakland revenue, offering 3,000 units of housing, a Bay trail and a 400-room hotel alongside a new ballpark. A’s manager Dave Kaval has criticized Oakland Coliseum conditions and proposed the site as the team’s one option to stay in Oakland — but the team has continued to explore many potential ballpark sites in Las Vegas.

A rendering of a proposed $12 billion mixed-use development that would include a new Oakland A's ballpark on the waterfront at Howard Terminal in Oakland, California. (Bjarke Ingels Group via Twitter)

The lawsuit's three groups of petitioners challenged the report's analysis of impacts from the project, such as air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality impacts and land use conflicts.

But Alameda County Judge Brad Seligman wrote Thursday that most of their arguments about the report not being adequate did not pan out as CEQA violations upon analysis. 

Seligman granted the request for using a document relating to issues with emergency backup generators, which is unopposed. But he denied the request for a writ of mandate on two other documents, rejecting the overarching claim that the EIR fails to address the severity of overall transportation hazards.

He said the plaintiffs’ arguments that the report failed to assess other impacts, such as noise from displacement of current operations at Howard Terminal, were properly assessed in the draft. He added the report did not violate CEQA by not including speculative analysis of more remote relocation options, and did not improperly defer mitigation measures for greenhouse gas emission impacts.

Petitioners argued the report's Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment (HHERA) is fundamentally deficient, because it fails to properly characterize exposure scenarios to estimate potential harm, like cumulative cancer and noncancer risks. Seligman disagreed, saying the assessment was sufficient.

On other points, Seligman found “The EIR’s analysis of the generator emissions and use of default parameters is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence. Petitioners fail to show any foreseeable health risk or impact.’’ He added that new material submitted by petitioners did not pose significant needs to alter or reissue the city’s report.

Seligman had issued a tentative ruling on Aug. 30  that the city’s environmental analysis for development at the Howard Terminal was overall done correctly, with one exception questioning how the project would disperse and mitigate wind at the port. He said the report showed the city cannot find what wind currents would be like without a final design, and there is no performance standard for such a project.

Mike Jacob, vice president and general counsel of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, said he thought the court showed agreement that the Howard Terminal report was “insufficient.”

“Unfortunately, because the EIR in our view did not properly address many significant and unmitigated impacts from the A’s project — including dangerous rail crossings, contaminated soils, traffic issues, port congestion, and air quality — we will be evaluating our options with respect to an appeal,” Jacob said in a statement. “We will also continue pushing to resolve our concerns from this short-sighted project regardless of the outcome of this case, as the project’s adverse impacts are harmful to the thousands of Oakland residents who live in the neighborhoods near the proposed development or to those whose jobs depend on the ability of the Port of Oakland to grow and thrive.”

“The judge’s final ruling marks a win for the climate and for the residents of Oakland,” Schaaf said in a statement on the city's side. “Today’s order proves that the waterfront project, which will bring 18 acres of new public parks to our beautiful shoreline for all residents to enjoy, will be built to California’s highest and most rigorous environmental standards. This decision is an important step forward for this transformative, once-in-a-generation project.”

The case will continue to be discussed in court on Sept. 20. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the potential updated costs of the Howard Terminal project this fall.

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