Category Archives: Politics

A’s lease extension comes up again

Update: Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has a response.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Matier and Ross are reporting that Lew Wolff has requested a lease extension at the Coliseum of up to 10 years.

That would be news, except that we heard it last week. And last month. And back in December.

There is literally nothing new to report here. More importantly, what’s not being reported is that this follows a pattern. The previous lease ended after the 2013 season, but Wolff asked for an extension as early as 2011, knowing that a new ballpark was not forthcoming. The JPA was in the tough spot of negotiating new leases for both the Raiders and A’s because both leases ended in 2013. The stalemate between the A’s and the JPA forced MLB to broker a new, two year deal that solved little. It merely kicked the can down the road. Meanwhile, the Raiders secured an even shorter one-year lease, with the idea that the Coliseum City project would at least be accelerated. While that process moves on its own, Wolff continues to call for the lease.

The difference between Wolff’s requests now and from 2011-12 are that they are being reported. Headlines show as A’s willing to stay in Oakland for 10 years look good at a glance, but as long as the JPA is reluctant to work out any deal that would jeopardize its future with the Raiders, that lease will go nowhere. Yet you should expect reports like this to surface on occasion throughout this year and next, since it looks good for the A’s from a PR standpoint.

Another thing that’s being ignored is the fact that Wolff has included an escape clause if the Raiders build a stadium at the Coliseum. I haven’t seen the language, so I can’t say if the clause would be triggered by the Raiders coming to a deal with the JPA or if groundbreaking would trigger it. Either way, Wolff has been consistent in that he’s only looking out for the franchise – he wants a place for the A’s to play locally, even if that means a temporary facility. While updated plans for Coliseum City show separate stadia for the A’s and Raiders being ready by 2018, we’re not nearly at the point of determining how that would happen. Numerous questions would have to be answered, such as:

  • As the two new stadium sites are prepped and stadia constructed, how does the JPA replace all of the lost parking?
  • Will the Warriors object to the lost parking?
  • What if the numbers pencil out only for the Raiders? Or only for the A’s? Or not at all?
  • What if neither team is interested in Coliseum City as it’s being presented?

Wolff and Mark Davis are going at this stadium business in different ways. Wolff wants a lease extension, while taking that time to figure out the future either in San Jose or in Oakland. Davis is taking an opposite tack, declaring last year that it was time to stop delaying and get the stadium deal in place before any new lease. That puts the JPA in a very delicate spot. They’re already working with the Davis, though he hasn’t been satisfied with the pace or the information he’s getting. Both owners, whether in league or not, are forcing Oakland to make a difficult decision between the two franchises. Both know that it’s incredibly hard to build one stadium, let alone two right next to each other. Public resources are increasingly scarce. Fred Blackwell’s leaving before he can get any blame for this. Smart move on his part.

On a related note, two public workshops will be held next week for Oakland citizens to discuss Coliseum City. Here’s part of the flyer:

Schedule for upcoming Coliseum City workshops

Schedule for upcoming Coliseum City workshops

At some point in the next 2-3 months, the Coliseum City Specific Plan (which will cover the Coliseum complex area or Area 1) and the draft environmental impact report will be released. Review and comments for both will dovetail nicely with the ongoing lease discussions and could shape the future of the Coliseum, and pro sports in Oakland.

Bruce spends 3+ hours talking Oakland, A’s stadium issues (Update: Quan backtracks)

Update 5:00 PM – Mayor Quan backtracks on the Crown Prince of Dubai claim. Oops.

Say what you will about Damon Bruce’s radio persona or his supposed allegiances. When he wants to drill down on a topic, he drills down. Other than the scheduled weekly segment with Warriors power forward David Lee, Bruce spent the entire time yesterday from 3:30 to 7 talking about the stadium situation in Oakland, specifically related to the A’s. Bruce said that he wanted to get past the blame game and cut through all of blah blah blah, as he described it. That he most certainly did, though the reveal mostly left more questions in its wake.

At 3:30 Bruce interviewed Andy Dolich, who maintained that the Coliseum is still the best place to build new venues for both the Raiders and A’s. Dolich spent the bulk of his extended segment throwing cold water on everything else: San Jose, Howard Terminal, A’s ownership. Dolich even took some credit for the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, which is bizarre considering that he was against the move at many points and not involved in its planning.

Dolich ended up being the warmup act for what followed. At 5, Bruce interviewed Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who was clearly not prepared for the grilling that Bruce gave her. He asked about the lack of progress on the two stadium plans and asked the mayor to make a choice between the two. Throughout it all Quan dodged and hemmed, and finally got rather defensive about her record on the subject. Then, when discussing Coliseum City, name dropped the crown prince of Dubai as an investor in the plan, which for Bruce was as exciting as a little girl hearing the word “pony” or a dog seeing a squirrel. There’s plenty of money represented here, from Colony Capital and its inherent ties to Qatar to Rashid Al Malik and his Dubai ties. That’s a distraction though, since Qatar and Dubai would provide the silent money. The true face of the money is Colony’s Tom Barrack, who really wants a piece of a team, and a controlling piece if possible. Barrack drove the attempt to buy AEG last year, before Phil Anschutz decided that the various competing bids weren’t high enough and took the company off the market. Colony is also involved in the Chargers’ stadium plans, which are quite similar in scope to what the JPA is trying to do with Coliseum City. In all three cases, Barrack wanted controlling interest in a team (40%) in exchange for the stadium being built. That has me thinking, What if Barrack gets a stadium deal done in San Diego? Does that mean his goal of getting a team and stadium built is completed, making Coliseum City and the Raiders unnecessary? The reverse could easily be asked as well. Fortunately for Raiders fans, San Diego is the one major city in California with an even more dysfunctional government and leadership than Oakland, so no immediate worries there. Still, it’s worth wondering if these opportunities are finite, at least from Colony’s perspective.

After Quan’s interview, Oakland Council Member Larry Reid called into the show to clarify some things the mayor said about Coliseum City. Reid, who also acts as the Vice Chair of the Coliseum Authority (JPA), suggested to Bruce that he speak to JPA Chair (and Alameda County Supervisor) Nate Miley for the real scoop on the project. Reid also dropped a bit of a bombshell:

REID: (The JPA’s) conversation (with MLB) has been much different from what the mayor has said on the radio. Look, the mayor knows that MLB has clearly said that they do not like the Howard Street Terminal (sic). Lew Wolff has said he does not like the Howard Street Terminal. His preference…it would be in the Coliseum. Our focus with the A’s is trying to figure out a way, how to do that deal.

BRUCE: Why do you think the mayor came on as an advocate for the Howard Street Terminal if she already knows that it’s dead in the water?

REID: Well, that’s a question that you have to raise with her. She knows what MLB has said to us, has said to me, and has said to Supervisor Miley in a meeting we had most recently less than two weeks ago. MLB’s preference as well as Mr. Wolff’s preference is the Coliseum area.

Clearly, additional context is needed here. First of all, has MLB’s preference been the Coliseum only recently, or has it been this way for some time? For nearly a year proponents of Howard Terminal have claimed that MLB prefers their waterfront locale. Reid represents the JPA, so he has a vested interest in the choice the same way Oakland Waterfront Ballpark and Doug Boxer would. So who’s right? What was the process in getting to this point?

The mayor’s hands-off approach has created the appearance of two competing factions. On one hand there’s the JPA and the now-departed Fred Blackwell running Coliseum City. On the other hand there’s OWB, Let’s Go Oakland, and the Port having their own discussions. Usually the city manager/administrator would moderate both discussions by being involved, but Blackwell’s focus was much greater on Coliseum City than Howard Terminal. And with both “tenured” city managers gone in Blackwell and Deanna Santana, that would leave the Mayor to make decisions. Except that she hasn’t made decisions. It’s not her vision, and she’s been to content to get to this point with the understanding that MLB would make the decisions for her or force the A’s to make a decision between the two sites.

Well, now the A’s are making a choice, though it’s not exactly how Oakland and the JPA wants it. Wolff and Fisher seem to want the Coliseum without the City, so that they can mold the project in their own way. It’s only possible if Oakland lets go of the Raiders, or if the Raiders give up on Oakland. Oakland’s trying to keep both teams in place, so they’re offering these solutions that neither league nor franchise fully endorses. Truth be told, neither team wants to share a complex – let alone a stadium – as long as precious land is in play to help fund new stadia. The NFL is waiting for the A’s to leave the Coliseum, and MLB is waiting for the Raiders to do the same.

While the A’s and Raiders come into this with somewhat similar goals, their prospects away without the existing Coliseum are much different. The Raiders a have much better short-term future because of Santa Clara. However, their long-term prospects are shaky because the financing aspect of a new Raiders stadium is so difficult and daunting. The A’s have poor short-term prospects because they have no temporary home other than the Giants’ offer of AT&T Park for a short time. Long-term is much better, mostly because the cost of a ballpark is more manageable and they could have other sites in Howard Terminal and San Jose. Alternate sites for the Raiders, such as Concord or Dublin, are so far off that they’re not worth considering.

I’ve been saying for sometime that anyone who claims to know how this is going to play out is clearly trying to sell something. Better to let the process continue, and let the chips fall where they may.

Kawakami: San Jose is dead for now

If you haven’t already read Tim Kawakami’s latest blog piece, I must insist that you do so. Then come back here.

Kawakami’s premise is that after checking with various league sources, San Jose is not happening soon, and doesn’t have the votes thanks to the Lodge’s reaction to last summer’s lawsuit filed against MLB.

I’ve heard differently, that for some months now everything is simply a big negotiation and the ongoing items in progress (lawsuits by/against San Jose, Oakland’s own activities) are there to make points towards the final figure. As we’ve seen time and time again, MLB is thoroughly inscrutable. They can choose to punish A’s ownership for nodding with San Jose’s antitrust lawsuit while turning a blind eye to the Giants’ interference with San Jose. It’s their Lodge, they make the rules. People have jokingly noted that the fifth anniversary of the “Blue Ribbon Commission” just happened. Well, so has the ninth anniversary of this blog! And we’re still not closer to a new ballpark!

Regardless of MLB’s (in)actions, the fact is that Kawakami’s right that the A’s aren’t going anywhere soon. Maybe that changes if Joe Cotchett can get the heat turned up via the Ninth Circuit. Even then it seems likely that in a loss MLB would appeal to the Supreme Court, which is really what Cotchett wants. If MLB can be made to heel, then it would force a solution the same way Tampa Bay got an expansion franchise. That is at best a long shot and shouldn’t be expected.

And maybe that’s Selig’s point. Selig and the rest of the owners prefer to work everything out within the confines of the Lodge. They could be holding the decision over Lew Wolff’s and John Fisher’s heads as long as the lawsuit moves forward. If the lawsuit were suddenly dropped, the process could be back on, but not while the lawsuit continues. The response brief from MLB is due this week.

While Kawakami’s basic point about inertia stands, it doesn’t speak to a real endgame. There remains the game of musical chairs at the Coliseum, as well as the pace of progress and the numerous unknowns of the Howard Terminal project. If both of those options fall apart it works in Wolff’s favor. If at least one works out it helps MLB and the Giants since they wouldn’t have to touch territorial rights. The endgame scenarios are unpredictable, involving plenty of independent moving parts. The situation within the Lodge could take years to settle, or could be done before Selig leaves office next year (if that happens).

The parting shot that Kawakami takes in which Wolff & Fisher haven’t endeared themselves to the other owners because they “make profits” from revenue sharing – that sounds like a talking point. That’s the system, set up and approved unanimously by the owners per the CBA. If the owners hate the A’s getting revenue sharing so much, adjust the formula to limit their take. Or how about this – allow them to have a solution to get them off revenue sharing. The 2012 CBA specified that the A’s would be off the dole once they moved into a new ballpark within the Bay Area market, perhaps as late as the end of the CBA in 2016. We now know that the next CBA will come with no new (permanent) venue for the A’s at that time. If the owners are that upset, get punitive. That said, I think that criticism is a load of B.S.

Even the outcome that has the A’s staying in Oakland in a new park is problematic. If the A’s (Wolff/Fisher or a new ownership group) privately finance a $500 million stadium, they’ll be on the hook for $30 million in debt service every year for 30 years, with no revenue sharing to backfill any revenue shortfalls (if the A’s have down years or the honeymoon period ends). Plus they won’t have nearly the kind of corporate revenue to cover a large percentage of the loans the same way a ballpark in San Jose or San Francisco would. Is the Lodge ready to approve such a deal? Or would they rather extend revenue sharing to provide a cushion for the A’s? If they do, the M.O. would belie those previous criticisms. Yet it would be the easy way out. Just treat the A’s like a small market team forever, and let the sleeping dog entrenched interests lie. Yep, that sounds a lot like MLB, especially under Bud Selig.

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.

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.

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.