Quan touts regulatory-sidestepping Howard Terminal vision
UPDATE 12/16 12:00 AM – Matier and Ross finally have their column on Howard Terminal. The retention of the shipping cranes is a nice touch, even though they would be largely ornamental. Judging from the rendering, the right field fence would be 150-200 feet from the waterfront.
What’s missing? Any explanation about how the City/Port could get around the BCDC and CEQA.
There are some days when you feel your work is validated. This is one of those days.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan appeared at Save Oakland Sports’ year-end event last night, talking up a plan that, according to East Bay Citizen, “allows it to skip some regulatory hurdles.” Quan repeated something we heard from the summer, that Howard Terminal was zoned for a convention center. The only citations I can find from the City’s archives mention a possibility of a convention center from the 50′s, well before CEQA and modern land use initiatives. Currently Howard Terminal is zoned for industrial and maritime uses. While a zoning change is normally a simple City Council resolution item, the fact is that the Port itself identified numerous obstacles to making that change, namely the issue of maintaining maritime use at the site.
To that end, the Port of Oakland received three proposals for ongoing Port use at Howard Terminal. Two involve local concerns: Phil Tagami’s plan to use the site temporarily for either bulk or break bulk cargo, and Schnitzer Steel’s expansion plan, which is not explicitly a maritime use. The third plan comes from Kentucky coal mining company Bowie Resources Partners, in partnership with Dutch oil shipper Trafigura. Bowie’s an interesting proposition, as they export a great deal of their coal from the Port of Stockton. According to this press release, Bowie was in talks with the Port of Richmond to create a secondary shipping facility. Howard Terminal could work in a similar manner, though the precautions associated with shipping coal are enough to give one pause. Nevertheless the Port has to consider these options, since they need to figure out a way to offset the $10 million per year the Port will lose by idling Howard Terminal. A decision on how Howard Terminal will operate in the future is expected in the spring.
Ballpark proponents seem to be willing to play the long game here, with site readiness not coming for perhaps several years. Any continued use of the site for shipping purposes would potentially delay that readiness, unless a plan was put into place that allowed a ballpark to be built on a shut-down part of the site. At 50 acres in total size, there should be ways to make this happen. Developing the entire 50 acres would be another story.
Quan said that the to-be-released plan would be able to sidestep various environmental requirements, including some from the BCDC. However, that contradicts the Port’s own language from its Howard Terminal RFP:
11. Land Use and Permitting
In addition to any environmental regulatory oversight resulting from contamination, the Site is subject to the Tidelands Trust, consistent with the grants affecting the property with oversight from the California State Lands Commission. The San Francisco Bay Area Seaport Plan of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (“BCDC”) designates the Site for Port Priority Use. The Site is located within the City of Oakland, and is designated as General Industrial/Transportation Uses in the City of Oakland General Plan. Any proposed change of use or any proposed construction, maintenance or new development at the Site will be subject to environmental review pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).
The BCDC’s role has become more well known, as the fate of the Warriors’ Piers 30/32 arena plan is in the BCDC’s hands. However, note that the loudest clamoring over environmental impacts is not coming from the BCDC itself. Instead the noise is coming from opponents of the arena, who are using rules set by the BCDC and CEQA to invite greater scrutiny over the arena. While Howard Terminal lacks the picturesque quality of SF’s Embarcadero, it is still subject to BCDC regulations and should invite scrutiny on its own. The southeast corner of Howard Terminal is built on piers over water, just like Piers 30/32. Exactly what measures the City could use to get around CEQA and the BCDC are a complete mystery. I, for one, am looking forward to hearing it out.
The City had another waterfront site at one time in Victory Court. It was sold as a transit-friendly, partly publicly-owned, easy-to-acquire site that should cost less than $22 million to acquire. In keeping with that estimate, Oakland and East Bay business interests were willing to pledge up to $100 million to acquire and prep the site. At the time Mayor Quan touted Victory Court more vociferously than she is Howard Terminal now. Exploding costs ($240 million final site cost estimate) and the demise of redevelopment (downplayed as a factor as it was happening) effectively mothballed Victory Court, with no real public statement made by the City about what happened.
Whether you want to read this site as objective, slanted, or both, it’s important to get tough questions raised. That’s why I feel good about what Quan said yesterday. It’s proof that we’re doing our job well, that we’re asking the right questions, questions that need legitimate answers. Without this blog asking the tough questions, who will? East Bay media appears to be fine playing cheerleader. The City has been working behind the scenes to get site control, while not getting an EIR or even a feasibility study for Howard Terminal going.
So in the spirit of disclosure, let’s see the plan, Madam Mayor. Given her track record, the real situation is not expected to be as rosy as she often paints it. Matier and Ross supposedly got an exclusive on the plan, so we may see some real information as early as tomorrow.