Trade Groups Fight to Slow Down Planned Oakland Ballpark

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Trade associations representing the trucking and shipping industry are challenging a legislative effort to fast-track the environmental review process for a new Oakland A’s ballpark near the Port of Oakland.

The sprawling mixed-use project — a 34,000-seat stadium and event venue that includes 3,000 new residences, restaurants and a hotel on land currently used for maritime and trucking purposes — will disrupt port activities at the Howard Terminal along the Oakland-Alameda estuary, the trade groups claim. It will also heavily increase traffic and greenhouse gas emissions in the area, they add.

Container ships docked at the Port of Oakland in 2018. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

In September 2018, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 734 into law, which streamlined the ballpark’s environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act. The bill written by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, marks the ballpark as eligible to be fast-tracked under Assembly Bill 900, a law signed by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2011 that expedites large, job-creating projects.

The groups, which include the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, California Trucking Association and Schnitzer Steel Industries, are trying to decelerate that process by claiming Newsom missed the Dec. 31, 2019, deadline to certify it for “fast-track treatment.”

“Among other things, the Howard Terminal Project will cause massive and harmful environmental impacts in the City, the Port, and the region, including but not limited to significant new adverse traffic and transportation impacts, air quality impacts, and others, as well as business interference and disruption that will adversely affect operations and services at the Port of Oakland provided by petitioners and/or their members,” a petition filed by the groups in Alameda County Superior Court on Monday claims. 

Because of this, the groups want a full environmental review under the CEQA, rather than the truncated one authorized by Newsom and the Legislature. 

In a statement, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association vice president and general counsel Michael Jacobs said the A’s missed their opportunity to get the ballpark certified for streamlining, but hasn’t shown it meets the required threshold standard like being net carbon neutral and cutting vehicle traffic by 20%. The A’s are still submitting data to the state of California in the hopes that the ballpark will qualify for an expedited environmental review.

“Based on their actions to date, it’s clear the team is once again trying to cut corners in the environmental review process in order to align with their wildly unrealistic goal of completing construction in 2023,” Jacobs said. “Laws that exist for the public good cannot just be disregarded based on the desires of billionaire developers. The A’s should not be allowed to shortcut this process and need to be held to the same standards as other applicants.”

Speaking by phone on Tuesday, Jacobs said the trade groups do not oppose a new A’s stadium but want a thorough environmental review first.

“The environmental process everyone else has to go through, including our members, for projects on the waterfront is highly technical. It is rigorous and subject to the highest levels of scrutiny. To do a big project correctly it takes time. You want everyone potentially impacted to have the ability to participate,” he said.

“We all have really grave concerns with the proposal moving forward in a way which does not fully explore and mitigate all potential impacts to waterfront businesses. From what we’ve seen of the initial project description the A’s and city have not included measures that would make the port whole, and we have real concerns about these omissions.

He added, “We have not been very quiet about our concerns. But the way the process is moving right now, it’s moving too fast to thoroughly acknowledge and comprehensively address all of the issues on the horizon.”

The city of Oakland did not respond to an emailed request for comment late Monday. Assemblymember Bonta was in a legislative session related to California’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and was unavailable for comment, according to his spokesperson.

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