Update 7/5 5:00 PM – The Trib’s Matthew Artz confirmed what we were all thinking:
Get on that, Oakland. Chop chop!
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan continued to make the case for Howard Terminal on Bucher & Towny’s show today, talking up site control at both the waterfront site and at Coliseum City, which she more-or-less admitted MLB has little interest in based on their inquiries. She even got a dig in at Lew Wolff, saying that “to say there are no sites in Oakland you have to have blinders on.”
Streetscape of The Embarcadero adjacent to Howard Terminal
Quan also revealed that the A’s Coliseum lease extension is very close, that the JPA has been negotiating all spring, and one item remains to negotiate – the scoreboard replacement. A capital improvements fund that was set to cover replacement scoreboards was raided to cover costs associated with the Coliseum City study, and that chicken has come home to roost. There’s no reason to think that the scoreboard would be a showstopper for the two parties moving forward, but this is the JPA we’re talking about. Who knows what can happen in the coming weeks.
Chris Townsend alluded to a July 11 announcement that Howard Terminal could be fully available. In all likelihood that’s dependent on the Port approving settlement terms with SSA, which are now under fire by the longshoremen’s union.
Townsend also tried to get an explanation for what needs to be done with railroad tracks at Howard Terminal, which brought on the following exchange:
Townsend: Someone has told me that one of the problems with Howard Terminal – I wonder if you can speak to this – is that the railroad tracks that run through there… can you talk about that one main concern?
Quan: Well, the ones that go to the Amtrak are outside the (area) so I don’t see that as a problem at all. The other tracks were going straight to the ships. If that’s no longer a terminal they’ll just be lifted up or out, or maybe we’ll make it part of a new light rail system into the ballpark. I don’t know. All of the developers I’ve had look at it have never raised that as an issue.
A couple things to point out here. First, the main tracks that run down The Embarcadero are owned and operated by Union Pacific, who also has a huge yard just northwest of Howard Terminal. The rail line is a vital part of port operations, and that won’t be moved. There’s no chance of that. The issue, as we identified last year, is that a bunch of infrastructure has to be built in conjunction with Howard Terminal’s conversion to a ballpark site in order to support cars, bikes, and pedestrians that would all converge there for games. Plus there would have to be streetscape improvements and safety equipment installed to prevent people and drivers from playing chicken with heavy diesel trains. Add in the presence of a gas pipeline and you have a situation where the Public Utilities Commission will have to come in and approve everything that gets done along The Embarcadero.
Second, the tracks on the site are little more than an afterthought at this point. They were preserved as part of the capping process. If, as Quan says, the tracks can be lifted up or out, the cap would be breached. I always figured that the cap would have to be breached to prep the site, so no big deal there, right? But if a ballpark is supposed to be built without disturbing the cap, how is digging up and removing the tracks supposed to be compatible with that? Moreover, the thought that the tracks could otherwise be folded into a light rail or streetcar project shows how little Quan understands about the situation there. There are strict federal rules about separating freight and other heavy rail trains from light rail trains, to the point that grade separations are frequently required to ensure safety along both lines. The tracks as they sit feed directly into the big railyard, so they couldn’t be used for light rail or a similar purpose unless someone built another bridge to lift trolleys above the heavy rail tracks. The cost to do that would be astronomical on top of the other bridges that would be required there.
Look, I don’t expect Quan to be on top of all of the little details. She seems content to delegate much of the work to her teams and committees, and that can work in many instances. On the other hand, this puzzling response about the rail safety issues clearly shows that her background info on Howard Terminal is very limited. Maybe there’s a reason for that, and that reason is that there is no environmental impact report. Townsend suggested that there’s an EIR for Howard Terminal is coming, but Quan backtracked from that, saying that the Coliseum City EIR is around the corner while not providing a timeframe for Howard Terminal. She said that she believed the Port Commission has ordered the review work. There’s no record of any initial or ongoing environmental review happening at Howard Terminal, so color me confused. Quan took some time out to talk about the importance of CEQA, so she’s fully aware of how mindbogglingly thorough CEQA can be. CEQA is so thorough that new construction has to at least have an initial determination of whether or not a project requires the rest of the CEQA process. So far, there’s no record of that step or any beyond that happening. Now, the Port could be doing some background work to help supplement an EIR if it gets formalized. If that has occurred it hasn’t been publicized. That’s far different from the running clock on an EIR. Oakland won’t be able to cut the EIR clock in half by doing prep work. There are hearings and public comment periods that are required.
Quan fielded election-related questions at the end, with the knowledge that no one of note is running against her in 2014. She’s full of bravado if not outright swagger, propelled by the green lights at the OAB Port project and Brooklyn Basin. She even articulated Oakland’s general stance about the stadium effort in a very succinct way, “You have to prove that we can’t do it.” Well, it’s been proven that Victory Court was a loser. Will Howard Terminal and Coliseum City be strikes two and three?