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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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With no deal in sight, Oakland takes heat on A’s ballpark proposal

No deal, no go — unless the A’s can agree to terms with Oakland on a billion dollar stadium at the third largest port in California within one week.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Oakland’s negotiations with the Oakland A’s around a $12 billion baseball stadium have hit another snag: there’s no deal on the table and no financial analysis of the project, which is required for the proposal to move forward.

Oakland residents and the City Council expected a full financial review of the controversial proposed Howard Terminal ballpark for West Oakland at a Tuesday meeting. But the city’s staff admitted in a Sept. 16 update that the Tuesday discussion was being reduced to an oral report on the project’s status.

That means the city and the team are running out of time to reach any kind of agreement, and some think a deal is unlikely to happen at all, given years of delays.

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.

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which protects use of the San Francisco Bay, recently cleared the way to receive future proposals for a future ballpark permit proposal at the Port of Oakland terminal.

However, negotiations and the project details have continue to hit obstacles.

All but two members of Oakland City Council turned down a ballot measure that would have given residents a chance in November to decide whether the city should use public funds on the site proposed by the Oakland A’s. City staff have been negotiating a term sheet with the A’s for over a year amid ongoing criticisms of the proposal.

Critics cite potential impacts on West Oakland and port and waterfront capacity as well as the project’s high cost. Several lawsuits alleging the project’s environmental impact report is flawed and violates state environmental laws are being reviewed in Alameda County Superior Court. And the A’s president Dave Kaval admitted the team has not stopped exploring other options near the Las Vegas strip.

Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, where the Oakland Athletics baseball team plans to build its new 34,000-seat stadium complex. (By Johan Jönsson/Wikimedia Commons)

Before giving a report to the City Council on Tuesday, Oakland staff promised last week to provide an updated memorandum to the public ahead of time — but it was not uploaded until 2 p.m. Tuesday, after the council meeting began.

Assistant City Administrator Elizabeth Lake wrote that an independent analysis of the fiscal impacts of the proposed project will only be presented to the council and the public once a final deal has been reached. 

The city has secured about $321.5 million, or more than 90% of the original cost quote the A’s proposed in 2021, for offsite infrastructure to develop the project. Because these costs have significantly increased within the past year, the city is exploring new funding sources such as applying for a grant from the federal Department of Transportation and securing funds from developer 500 Kirkham.

“Obviously, the city’s receipt of these funds and the time at which the funds might be received remains highly speculative,” Lake said. She also said there is still a risk that the city could be required to fund any cost overruns. 

A major question has been whether the housing proposed at Howard Terminal will fit criteria to be “affordable” housing. The city wants 15% of all new units on the site offered with affordable rent or ownership to households with extremely low, low or moderate income — earning up to a maximum of 110% of Oakland’s median income, which is about $80,000 per household. One-third must be units affordable to very low-income households, earning up to a maximum of 50% of that median income. The A’s have not promised this caveat.

Many residents spoke out Tuesday demanding the city provide a transparent report on the negotiations. Scott Taylor criticized the city’s history of missteps with its other sports teams, the Raiders and the Golden State Warriors.

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)

“As we all know, residential and industry just don’t mix,” Taylor said. “At a time when every port in the US is trying to add space, Oakland is the only port willing to give up space. When are we going to say enough is enough?”

Another speaker, William Dow, agreed.

“Don’t endanger the maritime industry because of a billionaire real estate project,” Dow said. “The city of Oakland can put that money for that infrastructure into a lot more than to support a billionaire.”

To the council, City Administrator Ed Reiskin said, “We’re not going to bring you a deal that repeats the mistakes of the Raiders [deal]. That’s why it’s taken some time to make sure the city is protected.”

He said some grant applications could take another year to know whether they win any fund awards. And any deal with the A’s would have to be made in one week in order to have a financial analysis provided to the council during November — at the earliest.

“The big picture is the developer is on the hook to pay for the ballpark, all of the buildings on the site and the onsite infrastructure,” he said.

Among those supporting a deal with the A’s was Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who reminded the public the city wants a fair deal with a full financial report, promising, “We are in no way backing down from our commitment to doing that.” 

But Councilmember Dan Kalb said using future tax revenue for offsite infrastructure is concerning because that revenue could always fall short, or costs for infrastructure could go up. 

“This all should have been done by now,” he said. “To the people, I say, go lobby the A’s. They’re the ones that need to be lobbied.”

Councilmember Carroll Fife, who represents the district where the ballpark could be built, asked why the new report came to the council during the meeting, without time to review it. She said increasing costs and a lack of transparency leave her very concerned about a possible deal.

“We just had a shooting in front of City Hall today. I find it really difficult to move forward with this type of expenditure, with so many needs that are being faced by the city of Oakland right now,” Fife said.

The A’s president Dave Kaval did not attend the meeting, and his spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

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