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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Voters won’t weigh in on contentious Oakland A’s stadium proposal

The Oakland City Council said no public vote is needed on the Howard Terminal site, which the A's have handpicked for a new ballpark.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — All but two members of Oakland City Council have turned down a ballot measure that would have given residents a chance in November to decide whether the city should use public funds on a controversial ballpark proposal for the Oakland A's at a Port of Oakland site.

The Howard Terminal site was selected by the A’s in 2018 as the preferred location for a new ballpark rather than staying at East Oakland Coliseum, which led to years of negotiations with the city. The A’s propose a ballpark, 3,000 units of housing, a Bay trail and a 400-room hotel at the site.

Debate raged Tuesday night over whether public funding would indeed need to be used to move the ballpark project forward, and whether opponents of the stadium were misled about the project.

Councilmember Noel Gallo proposed the ballot measure after organizing at City Hall last week calling for people to demand putting the proposal to a vote. He claimed taxpayers could be on the hook for at least $300 million in infrastructure upgrades for the project. and that the city’s website is misleading because it says all costs will be reimbursed. He said a recent poll of voters by East Oakland Stadium Alliance showed 76% favor and 15% oppose a public vote on any agreement that requires public funds.

City officials and Mayor Libby Schaaf have refused multiple requests to clarify statements on the website and how much in public funds would be used from Oakland’s general fund if the project does not obtain state or federal grants. Jonathan Bair, special assistant to the mayor, said in email that "many of the projects related to the waterfront we would be pursuing with or without the ballpark.”

“City officials are also pursuing regional, state, and federal funds for infrastructure projects that are not part of the waterfront ballpark neighborhood,” Bair wrote. “While negotiations are ongoing, the stadium and development project will be 100% financed by the Oakland A’s. The City Council has provided direction to negotiators that the deal does not negatively impact the general fund or current Oakland taxpayers.”

Supporters of the ballpark have urged voters to speak out against the proposed ballot measure. A number of people demanded the council turn it down. 

Nick Danoff of the Howard Terminal Waterfront Coalition said by phone that the coalition thinks an advisory vote “is not about soliciting public opinion on the Howard Terminal project — it's meant to delay or kill it entirely.” He said the coalition wants the council to wait for a financial analysis in September and vote on a binding project agreement before the end of the year. 

But others urged the council to allow a public vote. 

Allene Warren said she is concerned that if the project uses public funds without a vote, she and other taxpayers “will not have any say so, if and when there are decisions to be made, that will affect the return on investment.”

She added: “Since City Council members represent their constituents, why would you not want to know how they feel?”

Millie Cleveland told councilmembers currently running for office that "the idea that you would deny people the right to vote will follow you all the way to your (next) post."

While other councilmembers also said they want to see more clarification about the A’s deal, Councilmember Carroll Fife — whose district is home to Howard Terminal — was the only other vote supporting Gallo’s measure. 

“We need to really, really be cautious about how we utilize our dollars,” Fife said. “They (voters) should have a voice, they should have a say in that.”

Five councilmembers voted no on the measure, and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan abstained.

Mayor Schaaf thanked the five councilmembers via Twitter on Tuesday night. "A nonbinding advisory measure would have jeopardized keeping the A’s in Oakland, cost taxpayers as much as a million dollars and done nothing but provide special interests with opportunities to spread misinformation," she tweeted. Her claim that the measure could cost about $1 million to get on the ballot was disputed by Fife in the meeting.

The project already faces a long, arduous process if a deal is reached, even without an advisory vote from residents. In June, the site was cleared for mixed-use applications by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, but the A’s would next need to apply to the commission for the project to be considered.

Additionally, the city is still negotiating a term sheet with the A’s and several lawsuits claiming flaws with the project’s environmental impact report will become before an Alameda County Superior Court judge in August. 

A’s president Dave Kaval has said the project could easily move to Las Vegas, where the team has reviewed multiple sites near the Strip. 

When asked during a video interview with News3 this past week whether the A's have stopped looking at Las Vegas, Kaval said, “Oh no, not at all. We remain on parallel paths in the two markets. We still have some really big challenges in Oakland, primarily that we don’t even have a vote scheduled by the City Council.” 

Kaval said if negotiations go for another couple of months with no vote, they “run out of time” because there will be a new City Council in action. He added that neither city has priority over the other, and “If things came together in Las Vegas, it could happen at any time.”

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