OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A $12 billion ballpark project proposed at California’s third largest port in Oakland took heat from many speakers at a contentious public hearing this week, as the deadline for a crucial approval step approaches.
While an environmental impact report (EIR) on the Oakland A’s proposed ballpark complex has Oakland City Council’s approval, three lawsuits are underway signifying concern many industry workers have over losing the Port's Howard Terminal to a major development.
The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) received 825 comments before a hearing Thursday about whether to remove Howard Terminal’s priority port use designation. BCDC holds the power to kill the project — the A’s need the designation removed to proceed. The Seaport Planning Advisory Committee, which advises BCDC on planning, voted to recommend preserving the waterfront site for maritime use.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Port of Oakland staff and A’s president Dave Kaval presented their support of the project to the Commission. BCDC staff reported their finding that removing Howard Terminal would not detract from returns and capacity to handle cargo.
Out of more than 100 speakers, the majority disagreed with that assessment.
Many local workers, including union longshoremen, spoke against the project and said the A’s project will push out residents and industry workers. More than 15 companies wrote a joint statement to the Commission to say “BCDC should be looking at ways to increase port land to support maritime operations — not remove it.”
Susan Ransom, a manager for Stevedoring Services of America International, said “The fact that we are thinking of giving up maritime land during a global supply chain crisis is amazing to me."
Union worker Aaron Wright said that “Howard Terminal is needed for maritime use. As the supply chain continues to be impacted by the pandemic crunch, we are busier than we’ve ever been.”
The Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay chapter wrote that the Commission “should defer consideration of this amendment until a full environmental review has been conducted regarding toxic contaminants that could affect groundwater and San Francisco Bay.”
Some A’s fans attended to support the project, like Sean Cochrane, who said "For too long, citizens of the East Bay have been denied access to the Oakland waterfront." Referring to cities like San Francisco and Vancouver, he asked "If they can do it, why not us?"
The Commission won’t vote on whether to remove Howard Terminal’s priority use designation under the port until June 30, and a two-thirds majority out of 18 commissioners would be required.
The A’s and Schaaf have promoted the 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. Kaval has criticized Oakland Coliseum conditions and proposed the site as the team’s one option to stay in Oakland.
Asked to comment, city staff provided an updated FAQ website with statements about the project.
The city promises the A’s would be on the hook to reimburse the city for ballpark events while funding infrastructure maintenance, and said grants and project-generated revenues would fund infrastructure, parks and affordable housing. An enhanced financing district (EIFD) — a strategy to fund construction by using money the project generates from property tax revenue — would be used to prevent using general funds. City staff claim that property tax revenue will fund about 1,000 units of affordable housing and generate around $3.8 million annually.
The Board of Port Commissioners voted unanimously in 2019 to support terms with the A’s proposal. The Bay Area Regional Building Trades Councils and other unions have voiced support for the project’s promise to add thousands of union construction jobs. Some Oakland residents spoke in previous City Council meetings arguing that the project will make West Oakland a “destination” in the Bay.