Category Archives: Oakland

Port of Oakland approves ENA

10 months. In the short term, that’s what we’re looking at with the approved exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) for a potential ballpark at Howard Terminal. 10 months to figure some things out. Not the really important things, such as the real hard/soft costs of building there. No, the $50,000 (half of Oakland Waterfront Ballpark’s deposit) available for any kind of environmental impact study won’t go much further than figuring out if the soil at HT is still contaminated. (Hint: It probably is.) Instead, 10 months will buy Oakland some time to figure out, well, what exactly are they figuring out? According to the East Bay Express:

The agreement may also shed details on the feasibility of the site for a ballpark and its costs to investors and the public.

That’s a good start, though again, $50k won’t go far. It won’t even cover the full cost of a feasibility study, which usually ranges in the $100-200k range. Now, you may think that’s pocket change to all the rich people who want this to happen, but consider that $100k is still hanging up the process with Coliseum City, almost 6 months after the timeline was put in place. Some time in the near future, the Port of Oakland and OWB will have to come to another agreement to fund a feasibility study, which will take at least 6 months to complete. Historical notes: the City Council approved $750k for Victory Court studies at the end of 2010, while a 2010 Raiders stadium study at the Coliseum cost at least $125k.

Timing is a curious thing, since 6 months from April at the very earliest puts the publishing of such a feasibility study past the date of the 2014 general election. That works out well for all of the various mayoral, city council, and port commissioner candidates, since they don’t have to be linked to anything written that details costs, and thus they can support Howard Terminal in a nicely vague, non-committal way. If Mayor Jean Quan loses, her successor can pick up the ball and modify the proposal or push it through.

The way the ENA is constructed, 10 months is the time for the Port, City, and OWB to work out the basic tenets of a ballpark deal. Presumably this would include the following:

  • A very rough estimate of site prep costs
  • Who ends up paying for site prep and infrastructure, or the identification of a funding gap (similar to Coliseum City)
  • Options that include various forms of on-site ancillary development, including a separate arena or other public facility
  • How does the Port make money from this?
  • What happens if MLB and A’s ownership go along with the plan
  • How the agreement changes if new team ownership takes over
  • A plan B if Howard Terminal is rejected by MLB

That last bullet point has led to speculation that the site could work for the Warriors, who are running into legal and regulatory difficulties with the Piers 30/32 arena project in San Francisco.

Naturally, any broad study won’t be able to get to the bottom of determining the full cost of site prep and infrastructure the way an EIR is designed to. Victory Court’s demise was forced by a number of factors, including rising land acquisition costs (not applicable with Howard Terminal), regulatory hurdles, and the death of redevelopment (very applicable). The W’s are running into the same problems now. Pursuing the W’s in this manner still looks awkward, as Let’s Go Oakland leader Doug Boxer is being paid by the W’s to work on the Piers 30/32 deal – in effect moving the W’s out of Oakland – while leading the effort to keep the A’s in town. And if W’s co-owner Joe Lacob is interested in buying the A’s, well, it’s not hard to connect the dots to figure out who’s giving Lacob advice.

Assuming that the ENA leads to a working agreement and a ballpark project, the parties can proceed to the environmental review phase, which the Port concedes could take 2-3 years. To keep this in perspective, that’s an EIR starting no earlier than 2015, and probably finishing sometime in 2017 if no legal challenges come along. We’ve already heard about neighbors looking for answers about infrastructure. That’s nothing compared to CEQA challenges, which in California are simply part of the process. Though, if the project skimps on providing infrastructure, those neighbors could easily be an early source of a CEQA challenge.

Signature Properties President and Brooklyn Basin (O29) developer Michael Ghielmetti noted the similarities between Howard Terminal and his project from a process standpoint.

Lot of the same issues, certainly not the same, but very similar regulatory frameworks and outreach process we would expect to occur. This is more complicated in many ways and less in others.

For those who care to remember, Brooklyn Basin was no slam dunk. It took 13 years to get to the recent point of groundbreaking. During that time it had an EIR certified, then thrown out, then recertified. Then-State Senate President Don Perata wrote a bill authorizing a land swap that exchanged waterfront Trust land for industrial land at the Oakland Army Base. A petition to force the project to be subject to a referendum appeared to have garnered enough signatures, then was declared invalid because of improper ballot language (like Sacramento but without the carpetbagging element). Multiple lawsuits were filed. By the time the dust settled, the recession was in full swing and the project laid dormant. The Bay Area’s economic upturn allowed Brooklyn Basin to rise like phoenix. As long as the tech sector continues to grow, it’s reasonable to expect a full buildout.

A land swap shouldn’t not be required, since a ballpark could simply be a privately-funded facility built on public, Port-owned land like AT&T Park. However there are already murmurs of legislation waiting in the wings. Bills could be limited to CEQA streamlining (so far good for the Kings, not so good for the Warriors) or extensive enough to authorize financing for the infrastructure piece.

This all promises to get good. Not immediately, but soon enough. This time the flood of information shouldn’t begin and end with an economic impact report. Fans want real info, as does the press. Don’t settle for less.

P.S. – While I was writing this I got some feedback on Twitter from Port Commissioner (and Mayor Quan’s campaign manager) Michael Colbruno. BTW, love his Twitter handle.

Coliseum City: It’s Complicated

At this week’s NFL owners’ meetings in Orlando, Mark Davis acknowledged the elephant in the middle of the Coliseum complex. From the Merc’s Tim Kawakami:

-Q: If Wolff’s saying he needs a 10-year lease…

-DAVIS: That would make it tough for us to build a new stadium on that site.

Last fall, Davis admitted that he’d rather build a new stadium on the Coliseum’s existing footprint, which would evict the A’s while changing the character of Coliseum City. In yesterday’s interview, Davis again expressed frustration at the pace of Coliseum City planning, throwing some shade Mayor Jean Quan’s way in the process.

It’s no secret that the Raiders and A’s would prefer that they not share facilities. By now it’s becoming clear that the two would rather not share the Coliseum complex, let alone a stadium. Financing issues and competing concepts aside, it’s simply less complicated. Davis would love for Oakland to commit to the Raiders, accelerate the development with BayIG, and figure out just how much money can be squeezed out of the plan. In the middle of an election season, Quan and her competitors won’t commit to anything, lest they appear to favor one team over another. So Quan keeps talking about signing the Raiders sometime in the near future, all the while deadlines continue to slip for the project.

Meanwhile, Lew Wolff has said that the best place in Oakland for something to be built is the Coliseum, though he hasn’t endorsed Coliseum City. Chances are that he’d be fine with the Davis taking the Raiders south, which would force Oakland and the JPA to deal with Wolff only to salvage one team at the complex.

Davis’s audience isn’t the media, Raiders fans, Oakland civic backers, or even taxpayers. His audience is his fellow owners and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The keys to the kingdom of LA are in Goodell’s hands, with the owners acting as his Greek chorus. Goodell can unlock access to banks and potential minority partners who have stadium futures to trade. All Davis has to do is show due diligence for at least one year.

So far he has. Davis has repeatedly dismissed the idea of tenancy at Levi’s Stadium, comparing it to the Jets playing in the Meadowlands. He has claimed that he wants the stadium in Oakland, while exploring other corners of the East Bay. Goodell may have nudged him to move to Santa Clara, but the whispers have fallen on deaf ears. It’s either Oakland or Los Angeles for the Raiders. If Coliseum City continues to move like molasses, or the Oakland pols are frozen out of electoral fear, Davis can go to Goodell and say, See, I tried, these people are incompetent.

The funny thing is that the urgency that Davis wants out of the various CC partners may not materialize unless he formally presents a stalking horse in the guise of LA. Talk all you want about not having political support from LA City Hall, or the legacy of attendance issues that plagued the Raiders. If the Raiders moving becomes a distinct possibility, multiple groups will coalesce in the Southland, all competing with each other for the rights to land the Raiders or Rams. The biggest obstacle in LA is the numerous egos all trying to get a piece of the action. Davis knows he’d be the belle at the ball when the time came to debut in LA. If LA becomes a legitimate threat, Oakland will be forced to (re)act. That’s the classic stadium playbook. We’re not far from that page.

The league has its own leverage play too. What Goodell doesn’t want is for the Raiders to have LA all to themselves. He’d rather have the Rams or Chargers there as well, sharing a stadium or not, providing competition for each other. He has a lot more control over franchise relocation than either of his predecessors (Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue) did because of the league’s control over a large stadium funding mechanism, the G-4 program.

Oakland thinks it has leverage because the NFL has been loathe to acquiesce to Raiders ownership’s desires. That leverage could evaporate quickly with a simple nod from Goodell. And if Goodell agrees with Davis that Oakland isn’t moving fast enough, Goodell could turn up the heat on Oakland by making the LA stalking horse appear. That’s the playbook. Quan appears to be taking everything rather cavalierly, offering up a rather incomplete statement about what Oakland has to do for MLB to keep the A’s:

You saw that the (Port of Oakland) Port Commission, now that they have eliminated all the maritime uses from Howard Terminal, has begun to take up the proposal from the Ballpark Waterfront Group, which is made up of some of the top CEOs in the city, and they are asking for a one-year exclusive negotiating agreement, to develop a plan to build a ballpark at Howard Terminal, which, for most fans, is their priority. So that completes my promise to Major League Baseball, when I first became mayor, that we could provide two good sites that have site control, and when they finish negotiating their deal, I think Major League Baseball will have to make a decision.

MLB will have to make a decision? On what? Two sites that have uncertain funding scenarios and unknown cost outlays? MLB is used to taking cities for a ride. They’re not going to commit to anything until they see Oakland doing something truly significant. That may mean saying Adios! to the Raiders at the Coliseum, or pulling out the stops to get Howard Terminal ready for a ballpark. Presenting two sites that haven’t been studied? That’s as if Quan stepped to the starting line at the Oakland Running Festival over the weekend, and when the race started she declared herself victorious.

Consider that Sacramento didn’t truly get moving on its arena campaign until Seattle became a serious threat. Even late in the arena effort, the team was practically sold and delivered to the Emerald City. David Stern allowed that to happen. Mayor Kevin Johnson used a ton of political capital and connections to work out the arena deal, securing a quarter of a billion in public funds for the effort.

Why do teams and leagues use the playbook? Because it works. There’s nothing complicated about that.

The other boring Howard Terminal stuff

The Port of Oakland is expected to approve an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with Oakland Waterfront Ballpark, LLC (OWB) at the May 27 board meeting. The terms are simple: they allow both parties to explore a potential ballpark – a non-maritime use – at Howard Terminal, studying costs and effects. OWB will plunk down $100,000 for the privilege, half of which will be immediately usable and the rest held in reserve and potentially refundable to OWB should things not work out. The agenda item also noted that the ENA is not a CEQA matter, though that is meaningless since nothing is being built during the ENA period. When it becomes an actual project that could be constructed, CEQA will come into play.

In preparation for the vote, Port staff had a report written by Oakland engineering and consulting firm Moffat & Nichol, to determine what needed to be done to keep Howard Terminal a maritime asset, capable of shipping and receiving cargo. The report contained several cost estimates, which included various types of new or rebuilt infrastructure. For instance, the cost to make HT a proper container terminal was estimated at $40 million, including $14.2 million dedicated to additional dredging and wharf strengthening. Another $20 million was estimated for two new container cranes ($10 million each? Wow). Port expansion and consolidation in conjunction with the Army Base repurposing project gives Oakland far more container capacity than is needed, so a container terminal isn’t considered necessary. Nevertheless, such a use is considered the most lucrative and there is a business case for it.

Other uses, from bulk dry or wet goods to roll-on/roll-off of vehicles or heavy equipment were also explored. The various options cost $8.9 million to $61.1 million. Think about that. Up to $61 million just to bring Howard Terminal up to date? No wonder the Port is exploring the non-maritime use option, that’s a big infrastructure cost. Of course, we saw earlier today that concerns from other existing Port operators about the compatibility of non-maritime uses like a ballpark can potentially translate into huge costs down the road. Either way, the Port has to be diligent about the future of Howard Terminal.

Summary of costs and returns from Moffat & Nichol report

Summary of costs and returns from Moffat & Nichol report

Interestingly, the report also tried to project ROI on these options. Using an IRR of 5% to break even, it was determined that a container terminal would take 16 years to get there, or 13 for a roll-on/roll-off terminal. Some options took longer than 30 years or didn’t break even at all. I’d like to see the Port do a similar assessment on a ballpark. The context of this kind of examination is important, as these costs and projections are about Howard Terminal being a self-sustaining entity. Most ballpark economic impact reports talk in terms of spillover effects and surrounding impact, but the Port doesn’t control most of the land surrounding Howard Terminal so it can’t claim such positives. The Port’s own financial statements treat the different terminals and other operations (airport, commercial leases) as separate line items, so the case for making a ballpark land deal provide a return to the Port should be a good one if it’s attempted. The case could rely largely on possessory interest tax, the substitute for property tax used for private interests who lease out public facilities. Assuming that the Port and OWB get down to deal terms, the Port may negotiate for a piece of tickets or other revenues to pay for new infrastructure, whatever that costs. In that sense, the Port is acting the same way a City would, in that the Port has its own bonding capacity and could levy fees to pay those bonds off.

Earlier today, the ballpark-following Twitterverse got into a tizzy as Howard Terminal ballpark proponents were on the defensive about the Schnitzer Steel/Union Pacific/California Trucking Association letter. They pointed out issues that, to resolve, will require all new and potentially costly infrastructure. HT proponents, in their usual reductionist manner, labeled such concerns as, “the Howard Terminal opponents say the ballpark is impossible/unviable.” That’s not the problem. Anything can be done if you throw enough money at it. The issues are whether or not the additional infrastructure can be paid for, and whether they can protect the interests of current tenants and Port operators. If that cost is manageable the ballpark could proceed, other procedural matters (CEQA/BCDC/SLC/FRA/CPUC) notwithstanding. If the costs prove prohibitively high, then we’ll be back at square one, with Oakland scrambling to find yet another site, retreating to Coliseum City (which has its own myriad complications), or starting yet another round of recriminations (“If only Wolff were a willing partner this could be done”). That’s why I’m glad all this is happening. Someone’s gonna get to say I told you so at the end. As childish as that may sound, it’s better than not knowing.

Howard Terminal neighbors throw down gauntlet at ballpark proponents

In Mark Purdy’s column yesterday explaining Lew Wolff’s desire for a 5-10 year extension, he alluded to a letter of concern sent to the Mayor’s office. The letter came from representatives of Schnitzer Steel, Union Pacific, and the California Trucking Association, all of whom have vested interest in making sure that the Port’s industrial and cargo transportation uses stay preserved. Several pointed questions are asked about the nature of the ballpark project, which is at best in an embryonic stage while Port land use matters are hammered out. I’ve asked many of the same questions about accessibility and infrastructure. Admittedly, I haven’t touched on land use compatibility, in that usually in California industrial lands aren’t next door to residential or high density commercial properties. That’s another wrinkle that has to be addressed. But enough of that. Here’s the letter.

February 25, 2014
Honorable Jean Quan
Mayor
City of Oakland
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, 3rd Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
Re: Howard Terminal Baseball Stadium Proposal

Dear Mayor Quan,

As signatories to this letter, we represent a diverse array of companies that have collectively invested millions of dollars into the industrial and transportation infrastructure on the Oakland waterfront. Our businesses have also trained and employed thousands of people from the Oakland area which has helped the Port area thrive as an economic engine in Oakland.
Given our investment in Oakland’s working waterfront, we write to you today with concerns and questions which have arisen given the recent proposal to build a baseball stadium at Howard Terminal, and the political support expressed both for that proposal and for changing the industrial zoning of the area.

The Howard Terminal is surrounded by an assortment of industrial and transportation uses, including an electrical substation, a metal recycling and exporting terminal, a power plant, two separate major trunk pipelines, a mainline portion of the country’s largest Class I railroad, as well as Amtrak and Capitol Corridor passenger trains. In addition, the surrounding road and street infrastructure are handling traffic for our country’s fifth largest container port.
While support for this location has already been expressed by you and others in the media, we are concerned that no one is asking or considering realistic answers to the following questions:

 One of the justifications for locating the stadium at Howard Terminal would be that it would create a new walkable and stadium-supporting community and businesses, yet the uses immediately surrounding the terminal are not compatible with these goals. What consideration has been given to the energy infrastructure uses surrounding the Howard Terminal location?

 Another justification given for this location is that it would create numerous new retail, shopping and dining experiences in the present industrially zoned area proximate to the site. Are the City or stadium proponents actually considering relocating any uses from their locations near or adjacent to this proposed stadium site? If so, how would that occur and with what funding and consideration for the regulatory structure which governs such infrastructure?

 Short-sighted designs and plans which create chronically unsafe interactions between incompatible modes of transportation and conflicting uses unfortunately result in thousands of accidents every year. The odds of unsafe activity by pedestrians and passenger automobiles around heavy machinery, like trains and trucks, increases exponentially around crowds, congestion, and alcohol which we would expect to see at the proposed baseball stadium. This is especially disturbing given the proposal’s goal of creating a neighborhood, street scene activated in the vicinity. What specific considerations would ensure pedestrian, motorist, rail and truck safety?

 The cargo which is the lifeblood of the Port of Oakland relies on the successful operation of the rail and highway infrastructure, and the companies and people that operate the trains and trucks that use that infrastructure. With the lack of public transit serving Howard Terminal, its location vis-à-vis freeway access ramps, and the location of the rail line immediately adjacent to the terminal, what is being proposed to ensure that this proposal will not create major traffic conflicts or impediments to the efficient movement of containers to and from the Port?

 In artist’s renderings published in the media, the proposed baseball stadium is located immediately next to a significant recycling facility. These industrial operations are unique to that location and are located on the only privately-owned terminal with direct access to deep water in the Bay. What mitigation has been considered regarding this existing use to ensure its operations are not negatively impacted?

 The City’s industrial zoning supports the transportation and energy infrastructure uses next to the Howard Terminal – but comments in the media have expressed a desire to change the current zoning to support the stadium. What zoning changes are being considered and where would the city propose to relocate the industrial uses which exist in the current area surrounding Howard Terminal?

Investing in our massive and capital-intensive operations required us to make a long term commitment to the local community. In doing so, we believe that the partnership with our community and with the local governments governing land use at or surrounding our facilities is critical to our area’s success.

In the City of Oakland this means supporting the industrial and maritime operations at the Port of Oakland and preserving the industrial uses and zoning which facilitates the success of the City’s energy and transportation infrastructure.

It is our assumption that prior to taking any official or unofficial action that would promote the development of a baseball stadium at Howard Terminal, that stadium proponents, you and your office will have carefully considered and addressed the very serious questions included in this letter. Given that, we respectfully request that you provide us with preliminary answers to our questions above.

If these questions have not been raised or adequately considered, we sincerely request that they be addressed thoroughly and realistically before any further promotion of the Howard Terminal location occurs.

We would further note that Howard Terminal is the Port of Oakland property, subject to the Port’s development processes and priorities that exist independent of the City. The Port has responsibly gone out for an RFP for the Howard Terminal site and is evaluating proposals at present. This letter is not a comment on the RFP process or any individual proposal. However, we trust that all of the proposals will be compatible with the surrounding land uses and consistent with the state Tidelands Trust and the BCDC Seaport Plan.

Our collection of stakeholders respectfully requests a meeting with you and your staff to further discuss these questions and to establish a dialogue to address any other issues that may arise with respect to this stadium proposal. Please feel free to contact any one of the signatories or Jackie Ray, Schnitzer Steel at (510) 541-7654 to schedule this meeting.

All of our organizations are committed to Oakland and the success of the infrastructure investments that we have made in the city’s waterfront. We look forward to your responses to our questions and to meeting with you in the near future.

Sincerely,

Mr. Eric Sauer
Vice President of Policy and Government Relations
California Trucking Association

Ms. Jackie Lynn Ray
Government Affairs Manager
Schnitzer Steel Industries

Mr. Andy Perez
Director, Port Affairs, Corporate Relations
Union Pacific

cc: Chris Lytle, Executive Director, Port of Oakland

The important thing is that these parties are asking for preliminary answers ASAP. Howard Terminal proponents can be all handwavy towards a mere blogger like me. Can they do the same towards huge entrenched business interests? I doubt it.

Dickey and Wolff duke it out in the media

A week ago Glenn Dickey wrote this in the Examiner, among several assertions:

In late 1992, just before he stepped down as head of the group trying to buy the Giants from Lurie, Walter Shorenstein told me there would be two conditions in the new contract: 1) The Giants would have to get a new park within 10 years; 2) The Giants would then have territorial rights to all the counties down the Peninsula and into San Jose. They were looking at Silicon Valley, of course, and money from that area helped build the park.

Well, I guess we can rest assured that the late Walter Shorenstein took that to his grave. If that’s true, why did Shorenstein split from the Giants ownership because he didn’t feel that a privately financed ballpark concept would work out? Did Shorenstein get cold feet?

In any case, A’s ownership would’ve been best served not responding to Dickey, since who reads Dickey or the Examiner anyway? Yet they did. Maybe Lew Wolff felt the need to respond. Maybe PR man Bob Rose was spoiling for a fight. Here’s today’s full press release refuting Dickey:

Setting the record straight: our position

OAKLAND, CA-On March 11, San Francisco Examiner sports columnist Glenn Dickey wrote an article about Oakland A’s Owner and Managing Partner Lew Wolff entitled “A’s Owner Wolff standing in the Way of a New Stadium.” The column featured numerous and un-resourced inaccuracies that need to be clarified.For the record:

  • The Oakland A’s have paid rent to play their games at O.co Coliseum and will continue to pay rent under the current new two-year agreement with the Joint Powers Authority. The A’s are also the only team playing at the O.co Coliseum that directly pays for day of game police protection.
  • The team continues to negotiate with the JPA about a 10-year extension to continue to play at the Coliseum.   Under such an arrangement, the A’s would continue to pay rent and has offered to pay for over $10 million in major improvements to the venue including two HD video scoreboards and LED ribbon boards.
  • It is not “urban legend” that Walter Haas granted territorial rights to Giants owner Bob Lurie so he could explore possibilities in the South Bay.   It is fact and Major League Baseball or the A’s would have confirmed that if either would have been asked.
  • Mr. Wolff did not create “artificial attendance reduction” by tarping off seats in the upper deck of the Coliseum. As a point of reference, the average attendance at the Coliseum in the 10 seasons before the tarps were installed was 21,872-capacity with the tarps installed is 35,067. Attendance in 2013 averaged 22,337. On several occasions, Mr. Wolff has said the team will remove the tarps if there is consistent ticket demand that justifies it. In fact, the team did remove the tarps during the 2013 postseason once ticket sales indicated the need for a larger capacity. However, the smaller capacity with tarps has clearly created a more intimate and exciting atmosphere at the Coliseum, as noted by many of our players, media and fans.

Not sure why Dickey calls the T-rights deal an urban legend. Selig acknowledged it. As I wrote two years ago, when everyone got confused over the history of the Bay Area’s T-rights:

If Bob Lurie had not gone after the South Bay, he wouldn’t have been granted the rights by Wally Haas. After Lurie struck out in SF for the last time and threatened to move to Tampa Bay, Magowan/Shorenstein swooped in to save the Giants. Would Magowan have asked for rights to the South Bay in 1993-96 in order to finance AT&T Park, knowing that he wasn’t actually going to build there but rather in downtown SF?

Remember that in the mid-90′s, the Internet as we know it today did not exist.

As for the stadium negotiations, Wolff is willing to sign a pretty long deal, as long as the A’s aren’t locked in if the Raiders take over the Coliseum complex. That’s only fair, since Wolff needs to have some control over where the team plays. Besides, history shows that Oakland/Alameda County/JPA have bent over for the Raiders, screwing the A’s in the process. The JPA is in the position to do it to the A’s all over again.

Interestingly, there are rumors emanating from the Coliseum that Coliseum City may be too expensive to pull off for the Raiders alone, forget the multi-team/multi-venue dream project. Hmmm

Still, best to avoid Dickey and his rants.

At Howard Terminal, now the fun begins

The Port of Oakland recommended entering negotiations with ballpark proponents OWB, setting the stage for a feasibility study and EIR on the Howard Terminal site. The last few weeks have had the Port’s Board focused on entertaining maritime bids at Howard Terminal, in order to determine that there still could be potential shipping or cargo tenants. With subsequent bids rejected, the Port is entertaining the idea of a non-maritime use, a ballpark.

According to EBX’s Robert Gammon, OWB would pay $100,000 for a one-year exclusive negotiating term (option). Presumably, that $100,000 would pay for the feasibility study, with other money coming for the EIR once the Port considers the ballpark a project to be studied under CEQA law.

Ballpark proponents believe the EIR and land prep can be done quickly. My stance from the beginning has been that it will be significantly more difficult than claimed, due to the history of land use at the site, previous site contamination, and required input from the State Land Commission.

The SLC provided a hint of what’s to come, when they came out in support of a plan to revamp the now-shuttered Barnes and Noble space at Jack London Square. The building is set to become an entertainment center called Plank, which will contain a bowling alley, outdoor bocce court, arcade, and restaurant/bar. Though the scale and scope of the revamp of an existing is miles away from a brand new ballpark, it’s easy to see from the document how the SLC might react to different types of uses.

The SLC and Port of Oakland have for decades designated JLS as a mixed-use site with maritime and commercial uses. It makes sense that there is a public square, a limited amount of commercial development, ferry terminal, marina, and other water-oriented uses.

The Public Trust lands include all lands that were tide and submerged lands and beds of navigable waters at the time of California’s admission to the Union, even if these lands have since been filled. These lands are held for the benefit of all the people of the State and, therefore, must be used for statewide as opposed to purely local public purposes. And what is most pertinent to this discussion, Public Trust lands must be used for Public Trust purposes, which are generally maritime-related, including commerce, navigation, fishing, as well as water-oriented recreation, visitor-serving uses and environmental protection.

In prior analyses of trust consistency, Commission staff has given great weight to whether a proposed use enhances or facilitates the general public’s enjoyment of Public Trust lands. Likewise, Commission staff has carefully analyzed the proposed uses of the Pavilion 1 site in the context of the specific location and public’s trust needs. Although each individual component of the project can be considered as part of a project, each with varying degrees of Public Trust consistency, the primary use or purpose of a project must be in furtherance of the Public Trust. For example, a mixed-use development may be considered incompatible with the Public Trust not because it contains some non-trust elements, but because it promotes a “commercial enterprise unaffected by a public use” rather than promoting, fostering, accommodating or enhancing a Public Trust use. On the other hand, a project whose primary purpose is consistent with the Public Trust can still be considered consistent with the Public Trust despite some ancillary or incidental components that, standing alone, would otherwise be inconsistent with the Public Trust. At the same time, ancillary or incidental project components that are consistent with the Public Trust will not make a trust-inconsistent primary use permissible.

Although Howard Terminal is adjacent to Jack London Square, it has its own use covenant that is separate than the one written for JLS. To allow for Howard Terminal to be available for non-maritime use, both the SLC and the BCDC will have to get involved, as I mentioned last fall (my emphasis in bold):

Tidelands Trust Compliance

Howard Terminal is currently encumbered by the Tidelands Trust. Uses of the property are therefore generally limited to water oriented commerce, navigation, fisheries, and regional or state-wide recreational uses. Approval from the State Lands Commission would be required for any uses of the property that are not Tidelands Trust compliant. Many non-maritime activities are not considered Trust compliant uses and thus may require lengthy negotiations with the State Lands Commission, and potential legislation, before the Port could proceed with such non-Trust uses for the property.

That language came from a Port staff report on Howard Terminal. So did this:

Other Entitlement, Environmental & Regulatory Issues

Howard Terminal is subject to a complex set of regulatory permits and deed restrictions related to the hazardous materials in the soil and groundwater underlying the property. Development of new structures that penetrate the ground surface or changes in land use will require notices to regulatory agencies, and compliance with existing health, safety and soil management plans. Non-maritime uses will likely require extensive and expensive clean-up or other protective environmental measures, precluding expeditious turn-over of the property to a new rent-paying tenant. Further, non-maritime uses will likely require numerous land use entitlements including local land use permits, an amendment to the Oakland General Plan, and CEQA review. These activities could take several years to complete. 

None of this impossible to navigate. However, as we’re seeing with the Warriors’ plans in San Francisco, projects on the water have an annoying tendency to get extremely expensive and bogged down in red tape. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and many backers of Howard Terminal believe that Howard Terminal can be done without incurring significant costs or excruciatingly lengthy review periods. How long can all of this take? Brooklyn Basin, which broke ground yesterday, took 10 years to get to yesterday’s ceremony. While some of that delay was due to the recession, much more had to do with process, lawsuits, legislation, land swaps, and negotiation. Can a ballpark at Howard Terminal defy history? Perhaps. Then again, Mayor Quan may not be around to support it a year from now.