CYA or See Ya: A Love Story

The answer is 0 – which means fewer than 50% of the respondents got this question right

It’s strange being an A’s fan these days, isn’t it? Between the lockout, the unceremonious dumping of star players, a team whose only goal these days is to get the next #1 draft pick (not guaranteed because of a new draft lottery), and empty Coliseum crowds night after night, we’re in a bad, bad way. Comparisons to “Major League” have never been more apt. The only hope on the distant horizon is the promise of Howard Terminal bringing stability and relevance back to the A’s and the East Bay.

The slog of making Howard Terminal a reality became clearer on Thursday, as the SF BCDC (Bay Conservation and Development Commission) approved the de-designation of the 56-acre waterfront parcel near downtown Oakland from Port Priority Use, which allows the A’s to further pursue their $12 Billion ballpark mega-development there. There’s still a long way to go before ground can be broken, but removing PPU was a crucial step which isn’t easily done despite the seemingly overwhelming 23-2 vote. Development of the land is still conditional pending the A’s obtaining a permit, a process that will incur more rigorous review when the time comes. No date is scheduled for BCDC review yet, as the next steps are to be taken by the City of Oakland, other state agencies, and the courts.

The real deadline of July 7, 2022 was imposed by AB 1191, one of the CEQA streamlining bills meant to support the Howard Terminal ballpark project

From the BCDC’s standpoint, the approval allowed the “hot potato” that is Howard Terminal to be passed back to the City, which will vote CM Noel Gallo’s proposal to place the project on the November ballot as an advisory vote. Gallo argues that the citizens deserve to give their say publicly, while opponents say that such a measure is a waste of time, never mind that the City Council just approved about a dozen ballot measures for November. Among those measures is a controversial one that will allow non-citizen residents of Oakland vote on the OUSD board. Perhaps they could extend the non-citizen logic to all Alameda County residents voting on the ballpark? (Kidding.) The best way to go would be to let Oakland voters decide on a finished project whenever it’s ready, which is not going to be this November. That wouldn’t make the A’s braintrust happy, but it would at least allow the citizens to decide on a sports project, which has been documented ad nauseam, hadn’t been the case previously.

After the advisory vote question is resolved (or not), the City and the A’s just might be able to nail down the details of the development agreement. The deadline for to happen is either the November election or January, when Libby Schaaf’s successor and multiple new council members take office. Previously I predicted that Howard Terminal will have an impact on the election. It hasn’t yet, though election season is still young. The filing deadline for candidates is August 12, with three current Council members (Loren Taylor, Sheng Thao, Treva Reid) in the running plus a slew of others. As a midterm election with several public offices and measures in play, turn out should be brisk with or without an additional ballpark measure.

Would the A’s dare call their negotiations off if the ballot item, even an advisory one, were added in November? Over the last three years the A’s had no qualms turning up the heat when they had the choice, from playing hardball with with last summer’s term sheet to calling the BCDC vote key in their #HowardTerminalOrBust campaign. Every time, the City, Port, and State agencies managed to extend the game by deferring an important decision to the future or changing the terms enough to appear inscrutable. In baseball terms it’s akin to fouling off two-strike pitches.

But enough of the hacky sports analogies. The worst thing we can do in trying to communicate this extremely complex project is to try to boil it down to an at-bat, an inning/game/season. Those are all fairly linear affairs with simple to understand results that can be easily printed on a scoreboard or standings table. What Oakland is dealing with now is multi-faceted and subject to so many externalities that it can be hard to describe the players in terms of roles. Take MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred, for instance. In the game analogy, what is Manfred? The crew chief umpire? A dugout manager? Or a front office presence like Billy Beane? And what is the BCDC? One of the outfield umps they use for the postseason or the video review team in New York?

Anyway, it’s all kind of silly except for something I’ve noticed over the last 9-12 months. A pattern has emerged from how these deliberating bodies act. As much or as little as these individuals want to keep the last major pro team in Oakland, what they don’t want to do is be blamed for the last major pro team leaving. Some time ago, I heard an unsourced story emanating from within Oakland that indicated that the pols there are mostly interested in keeping conversations going to keep teams in town – and that was while the Raiders and Warriors were still at the Coliseum. As for the actual dealmaking part, they’re gun-shy because public funding is a third rail issue within city limits. Sure, there are claims and counterclaims about how much funding will be required, the “but for” nature of the funding, etc. The simple fact of the matter is that the off-site infrastructure (train fences and bridges, curb ramps and sidewalks, signage and lighting) will be funded by one or more bond issues. The danger is that, as is often the case with big public works projects, the revenue required to pay the back the bonds will be insufficient to start. You might say, that’s impossible, this will be a smash hit, and you may be correct. It isn’t guaranteed, not in the slightest. 

If the real estate market undergoes a correction like 2008, it will severely impact the ability to pay back those bonds. And the thing that has always concerned me about this project is that no one really has a handle on how much the off-site infrastructure will cost. I’ve heard $200 million, $380 million, $500 million, $700 million, and now EOSA’s FUD is talking a cool $1 Billion. That number will continue to climb rightly or wrongly because it’s not being discussed publicly. You might think it’s worth it, and that’s a valid opinion. I’m just saying it should be hashed out. Not in private, not in closed session. In public. If Oakland is going to do this right and not repeat the mistakes of the past, it can’t just leave it to the Council. Those saying voters can simply choose not to re-elect whoever made the bad decision apparently never heard of closing the barn door after the cows escaped. Did you watch the beginning of the BCDC meeting, where all of the commissioners disclosed who they had conversations with on Howard Terminal? They mentioned everyone, from the building trades to the longshoremen/EOSA and of course, the A’s. That should be the case for all discussions on a project worth $12 Billion. Is good governance not bigger than baseball? If not, it should be. It’s not enough to Git ‘Er Dun. They have to get it done right. And so far any promises to that effect have mostly been lip service.

Let The Chips Fall Where They May

The A’s and the City of Oakland led fans to the trough. It’s not a urinal trough. Those can only be found at the Coliseum.

Hi there. It’s me, the occasional blog proprietor. I haven’t gone anywhere as I’ve been mostly frustrated by MLB’s labor situation and baseball’s flagging status as America’s pastime. Through that lens I watched the Howard Terminal ballpark process take multiple steps forward and back, each moment of doubt cancelling out hard-earned legal and procedural victories.

Chief among those victories was the certification of the final environmental impact report, which occurred on February 18. I thought that opponents would file a lawsuit before the certification. Instead they took the legal window after the certification to file their lawsuit, though if you were curious you saw previews in the numerous critical comments by constituent groups prior to the certification.

Whether or not you were following this closely, you had to know that the filing of lawsuit challenging the certification was a foregone conclusion. Legislation backed by the A’s allows for such challenges to be wrapped up in 270 days instead of dragging out the process for years. What’s not a foregone conclusion is how this will all play out. The only other sports facility that benefited from the CEQA streamlining provision was the Clippers’ upcoming arena in Inglewood. That legal battle lasted four months, until Steve Ballmer literally bought the Forum, whose owner, MSG, filed the complaint. Ballmer’s purchase ended the legal challenge. When you’re talking about millions of dollars, sometimes it takes a billionaire to end the debate. Is Fisher capable of that?

That buyout scenario is impossible in Oakland. Beyond the limits of John Fisher’s legendary thriftiness, unlike Inglewood, the two warring parties aren’t both in the sports and entertainment business. Their industries are fundamentally different, making any kind of buyout incredibly complicated and, in all likelihood, not comprehensive enough for either party’s satisfaction. Moreover, the working Port interests (shipping and transportation) are affected by a rezoned Howard Terminal in different ways – some acute, others long-term. One aspect of the lawsuit that hasn’t been discussed yet is that it is missing Union Pacific, whose rail line runs right down the Embarcadero next to Howard Terminal, and whose general counsel argued vociferously against the project. A’s President A’s President Dave Kaval indicated that more lawsuits are forthcoming. UPRR is clearly the next candidate to file by the Monday deadline.

EOSA is looking for $12 Billion in this legal pursuit, a curious number because the economic impact of Howard Terminal is ALSO supposed to be $12 Billion. Obviously, the two don’t cancel each other out in the modern world of overinflated economic impact claims. The City and Port as governmental entities keep trying to mediate the situation and convince the industrial entities that there is room for both a working port and redevelopment along the waterfront. That may or may not be a losing battle, as the two sides prepare for entrenched warfare over the next nine months or more. 

On a YouTube post, Brodie Brazil attempted to discuss Port economics in an admittedly shallow fashion, to which I pointed out that the Port isn’t only measured by shipping containers. Perhaps it’s time for the City and Port to fully discuss the future of the Port. Is it in actuality a boutique version of an industrial port that only accepts containers? Is there room to deal with other types of cargo, which shipping interests want to expand but West Oakland community groups oppose due to environmental concerns? Already, coal exports from Utah were nixed. If sand and gravel don’t happen either, that starts to effectively limit the Port’s opportunities to containers and vehicles/equipment that don’t go to SoCal. The Port was bypassed during much of 2020 when it made more financial sense to queue offshore for San Pedro and Long Beach instead of going 300+ miles to an underutilized Oakland, so Danny Wan and his staff are fully aware of what could happen if they pigeonhole themselves. And it isn’t just about what the purpose of the Port of Oakland is. Hundreds of millions of dollars were invested over the past 20+ years to take over the decommissioned Army Base, repurpose much of the property for Port purposes, and provide support for many of the smaller companies that do business there. How much does that investment matter? Does the Port get scaled back even further over time? How do the agricultural customers that depend on Oakland adjust as their closest, best export facility faces transformation or increased competition? 

Too much Port talk? There will be plenty more in the coming months. If you want to read more about what the A’s and Oakland are facing, take a look at the correspondence at the project website. For now, let’s talk baseball and ballparks.

Here’s the thing that has always puzzled me about the Howard Terminal initiative. The A’s brass knew 20 years ago that this would be a long slog and they kept at it anyway when they started the HT gambit in earnest in 2018. They got a reprieve when their streamlining legislation held up in court, limiting the legal challenge to 270 days after EIR certification. The problem with that is that it condenses the negotiation period with multiple opponents (EOSA, UPRR, others to come) to that 270-day period. All of those parties are going to exact a price for the A’s project either in terms of money or time. Since time is money, these negotiations threaten to push out the groundbreaking and opening dates past 2027, possibly long past 2027. Now that much of the project’s decision-making is outside the City’s and Port’s purview, there’s less incentive to make the deal work by the BCDC and SLC. Think of it this way: If you live and work in Sacramento or San Diego, how much does Oakland’s civic pride and baseball team matter to you? It’s a big state. If the A’s leave California, the state will still have four MLB franchises and three iconic ballparks. The City and Port still have to work out the development agreement, but decisions by other agencies could gum up the works as the BCDC’s Seaport Advisory Committee did two weeks ago when they recommended against the project moving forward.

One question I’ve heard more frequently recently is: Did the A’s propose Howard Terminal specifically because they knew it would be difficult to get approval? Fisher is a Bay Area native, and much of the new money partners are based in the Bay, so despite my well-known misgivings over the project, I’ll give Fisher the benefit of the doubt regarding his initial intentions. I’m sure he and his people truly believe in the transformative nature of the project. Heck, I believe it too, though I don’t know if there’s been enough discussion over what “transformative” means besides providing a ballpark, some market-rate housing, and expanding Downtown Oakland. The EIR was certified as a project-level EIR, which limited its scope. It will get picked apart as the opponents claim it should be a program-level EIR, far more expansive that originally envisioned. A key issue that will come up in the negotiations or in court is how on February 3 the A’s submitted a letter in support of the EIR alternative that eventually approved, which included the six-lane vehicular bridge that will connect the development and designated ballpark parking to the rest of Downtown Oakland. For some reason, the A’s did not publicly support this alternative until two weeks before the certification. The reason why was not given, but I suspect it had to do with the A’s not choosing not to commit to the funding of that aspect, which will run into the nine figures and will be borne by the City, which is searching for federal and state grants to make it happen. If it’s built, the bridge will be one of the first things to go up, even before the ballpark. Again, this threatens to push out groundbreaking and opening of the ballpark while also pulling from whatever limited public resources are available for off-site infrastructure. 

This much is certain: Fisher, like most of his other stadium endeavors, has a hard limit of what he’s willing to spend. If you read the reports out of Vegas, the A’s have a set budget for what they want to spend on land there, apparently $150 million or so. They plan the use the same recipe they’re using in Oakland, with proceeds from entitlements funding a ballpark. What’s unclear is how much better the Vegas deal has to be to make the A’s leave. It sounds incredibly crass due to how it disregards the rich history of A’s baseball in Oakland, but if you take into account how Fisher is willing to burn down both the team and the fanbase to get what he wants, it’s a natural progression. “Howard Terminal or Bust” is more than a slogan. With the Coliseum declared not viable, it’s the only hope for A’s baseball in Oakland. It didn’t have to be that way.

The Raiders declared their move to Vegas before Opening Day 2017. The City of Oakland, in its infinite wisdom, took the Raiders and the NFL to court again. And they lost, again. They’re taking the current challenge all the way to the Supreme Court, hoping that the conservatively-tilted court will rule in their favor. Don’t worry though, the lawsuit was taken on contingency so it isn’t costing the City anything. Imagine that instead of tilting at windmills, the City decided to support the one team staying in Oakland and gave the A’s all the benefits provided by the Coliseum City project’s EIR. By the time the Raiders left after the 2019 season, the A’s could have started building a ballpark next to the Coliseum without worrying about the SLC, BCDC, EOSA, or UPRR. There would’ve been a groundswell of support and, if they got something designed and approved in the requisite lead time for such projects, a ballpark could’ve opened in 2023. That’s right, next year. Instead, we’re talking about whether they can break ground in 2024. That’s where we are, well past the debate of the perfect as the enemy of the good. If Oakland’s fate is to lose all of its major sports franchises, it’s because it couldn’t see the opportunities for what they were: matters of timing and luck. If that happens, I will be immeasurably sad. Not as sad as people who reside in the East Bay, but sad nonetheless. Because Oakland had something good in its grasp and is choosing to throw it away. 

New timeline (8/1)
Maybe the vote will happen this year, maybe not

Howard Terminal Recommendation Passes 6-0

Howard Terminal Maritime Reservation Scenario

You may be wondering where I went since the EIR came out. Well, I buried myself in reading it for 2 weeks. I became increasingly disappointed in how so many of the mitigations and measures were being put off until later dates, to be instituted by other agencies. Then I woke up on New Year’s Day and realized that whatever I say about it, my words would not convince people unwilling to read them. So I stayed quiet and watched football instead. It’s very American.

Remember how in October, I wrote that we were reaching the end of non-binding season regarding Howard Terminal? I hate to inform you that end was delayed. Tonight, Oakland’s Planning Commission voted 6-0 to recommend certification of the Howard Terminal Final EIR. Chair Clark Manus reminded everyone early on that the vote wasn’t to certify the document as that could only be done by the City Council. That vote could happen as early as a month from now. Beyond the mealy-mouthed statements about how there are still many questions remaining and the hopeful speculation by the Commission and the clearly outnumbered project supporters during the hearing, what did we really get? I’ll tell you.

It was practice.

Throughout the four-hour session, the commission was peppered with commenters pleading to table the recommendation until further study could be done. The commission’s counter-argument was that the Draft EIR and Final EIR were done and complete, which should be enough for the limited CEQA scope of the commission. Of course, there were plenty of arguments from the assembled commenters that the EIRs were, in fact, not complete. The decision was made around 7 PM rather swiftly, which made me think it was a fait accompli. There was a little aside at the end, however:

Again, the commission approved a recommendation. The details – deals, covenants, agreements, litigation – are all off in the future. Perhaps they won’t actually happen until the EIR is certified and then the power of AB 734 kicks in. Once that happens, all of the aggrieved parties can file their lawsuits and get their pound of flesh from the project. You think CEQA is ugly, wait until various public and private entities line up to get whatever limited funds John Fisher decides is worth the cost of Howard Terminal. For years I hoped that the A’s would truly try to get ahead of the coming storm and work out mutually beneficial deals for the various ethnic and community groups, let alone the small and large commercial entities that work at the Port. I was so naive.

But I don’t think it’ll get that far. You see, I don’t expect these unresolved issues to magically resolve themselves in the next month. Or two-three months, or even nine months as the law limits negotiations. Instead, what will probably happen is what always happens in California when a government has a problem that is too massive and difficult to solve: they’ll put it to a referendum. The pressure from the lobbying groups and citizens will ratchet up, and the Council will do it to relieve some of that pressure.

Do you honestly expect anything different?

P.S. – For all the complaints about CEQA, it’s funny to hear the refrain from the commission members that they were bound by CEQA. CEQA allowed this project to be so tightly restricted in scope that in a way it’s above reproach. Complain about that!

Final EIR Eve

Preferred vehicular overpass on Brush Street over tracks to Embarcadero West

Christmas is coming early for yours truly. For me it started with this comment I made after watching Zennie Abraham’s recent discussion with Mike Jacob of PMSA.

Sure enough, this afternoon the City of Oakland announced that the Final EIR will be released tomorrow, December 17. As Jacob noted, it’s customary for municipalities to release such docs on Fridays, and since two of the next three come right before holidays, it had to be tomorrow or 2022. So we’ll get 3,500 pages, which will include the accrued comments from the Draft EIR cycle. Apparently it was decided that despite numerous protestations, the City would not recirculate the Draft EIR to elicit additional comments. 

Now we are approaching the point where the rubber meets the road. It all comes down to what it will take to get this EIR certified. The A’s were able to get CEQA streamlining approved in August after a favorable court ruling. After all parties – businesses, community, other public agencies – review the Final EIR, they’ll get to comment for another brief period. Then come the agency approvals, followed by the certification and the development agreement between the City/Port and the A’s. That last part is the deal to be struck between the parties: how will it be phased, which items are prioritized first, who pays for what, etc.

Here’s a cheat: Friday’s drop is not the Cliffs Notes version of the Final EIR as it’s 3,500 pages combined. However, if you go through the comments at the project website and combine them with the Draft EIR, you’ve got about two-thirds of the Final EIR. Not interested? Well then, you’re probably not interested in the Final EIR’s 3,500 pages either. I understand the desire to have everything distilled into simple passages, that’s part of why blogs like this exist. This time, I’m not going to let you off easy. I will give you two items that are certain to be at the top of the punch list for Howard Terminal.

The least sexy part of this project is the building of bridges over the railroad tracks, bridges that are a required mitigation. I tweeted about this in November.

The bridge pictured is L-shaped and runs south from Brush Street, over the tracks, and turns west onto Embarcadero West to the parking lots and garages to be constructed near the ballpark. Federal regulations require that there is at least 30 feet of vertical clearance above the active tracks, which makes the bridges have fairly steep approaches from either end. It’s steep enough that the bridges don’t conform to pedestrian standards, so they’re not likely to have sidewalks. Instead, the one designated safe pedestrian crossing will be at Jefferson, where a ADA compliant bridge with proper ramps will take fans from the ballpark to the transit hub and other points north to downtown. It’s possible that fans could cross the tracks at grade, but Union Pacific and other rail companies are fighting to have all of Embarcadero West fenced off to prevent people from chancing it. They’re even arguing that the scope of the project EIR should extend past the lot boundaries due to spillover impacts, which could introduce additional mitigation measures.

The irony of the whole situation is that the 4-lane vehicular bridge is not considered enough to handle gameday car traffic, so an at-grade crossing (probably at Market Street) would still be necessary. If you want to get a feel for what that bridge would be like, the Hegenberger overpass over the tracks near the Coliseum carries six lanes of traffic and prohibits pedestrians on part of it. As for the capacity of the planned pedestrian bridge, BART has thoughts:

BART is particularly concerned about pedestrian access and safety on Embarcadero West at the Project’s frontage where at-grade passenger and freight rail operate. The proposed 20-foot wide pedestrian and bicycle overcrossing of Embarcadero West at one intersection will be inadequate to provide a safe and convenient crossing, particularly during post-event surges. We foresee that crowding, convenience, and poor judgment will lead to conflicts, operational delays, injuries, and possibly death. The proposed fencing along the railroad tracks still leave gaps at four or five intersections where conflicts will occur. Due to the frequent passenger and freight rail activity along Embarcadero West, mitigations should look to separate rail activity from Project-related trips.

– from BART comment on Howard Terminal project

When I explained previously that two-thirds of the Final EIR was already in the Draft version and the comments, I left out the missing part: the responses to the comments. Now that I’ve spent several weeks digesting the comments, I’m ready for the responses. I advise you to wear long pants, because we’re about to head into the weeds.

The End of Non-Binding Season

All I wanna do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom

Best moment of last night’s Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting came shortly after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf presented her Howard Terminal pitch over Zoom. In the discussion that followed nearly 2 hours into the item and 5 hours into the meeting, questions came up about what the Supervisors wanted to do with the resolution at hand that night. Eventually it became a matter of semantics with a debate over whether the Supes were putting together a “declaration of intent” or a “declaration of willingness.” I started to chuckle at the absurdity of that display as the County Counsel tried to verify whether the language of the resolution properly referred to it being “non-binding” (it did). Here’s the relevant language:

Section 2. The Board hereby declares the non-binding intent of the County to contribute the County’s share of the incremental property taxes, inclusive of property taxes in lieu of vehicle license fees, that will be generated from development of the Waterfront Ballpark District at Howard Terminal into an EIFD to be formed over the project site for the purpose of financing affordable housing, parks, and other infrastructure of community-wide significance, for a period of 45 years and that the County’s commitment to contribute would not guarantee a specific amount, would solely be limited to contributing such taxes actually received.

And to put a finer point on it:

Section 3. The Board hereby finds that this declaration of non-binding intent to is not subject to CEQA because this action is non-binding, does not result in any discretionary approval or grant vested development rights, and does not commit the County to any definite course of action; accordingly, this action does not constitute a “project” under CEQA Guidelines.

Supervisor Wilma Chan declared support for the motion with a hedge, saying that the Board could easily go back on the non-binding vote. That stands in stark contrast to Board President and Supervisor Keith Carson, who said that he didn’t want to vote in that manner. In fact, he said that a non-binding vote once cast, is hard to walk away from. Debate aside, the question of a non-binding vote’s political power will be rendered moot soon as far as Howard Terminal is concerned. That’s because with Alameda County voting 4-1 to pledge its share of property taxes from the development, they’re now a party to this as long as the project continues to move forward. Let’s be clear on this point, however: last night was for all intents and purposes the last “non-binding” vote for Howard Terminal. Just about everything from here on it, whether it’s a decision taken by the City of Oakland, Port of Oakland, Alameda County, BCDC, or SLC, is very much a binding decision.

The takeaway is that it’s hard to play Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” after all of this. The fact of the matter is that these were supposed to be the easy votes, the rubber stamps. They weren’t. There’s little reason to take a single item marked by its legal impotence and turn it into a 7.5-hour marathon session.  The votes from this point forward only become more difficult, whether we’re talking about the EIR certification or the actual business deal to develop the land. Those will be make or break votes, the ones where truly tough decisions will have to be made. But first, the EIR.

I assembled a full thread of observations from the day’s proceedings.

Under the radar, Chan mentioned that the A’s, who are providing the loans for the infrastructure at Howard Terminal, will charge interest to the City and County for those loans. This should be interpreted a couple of ways. First, as the A’s are a private entity, they aren’t expected to be eligible for tax-free loans even if it’s for public infrastructure, which is mostly funded by municipal bonds. Here’s where I will have to defer to an expert on public finance, as it’s unclear where the private part ends and the public part begins. I also have no idea what would happen if, in the next 2-3 years, interest rates go up. Would that cause the A’s to back out of some part of the private financing pledge because it doesn’t pencil out compared to traditional municipal bonds. It’s worth considering the implications. Note that the current discussions have City and County pulling together to create a PFA (public financing authority) for infrastructure bonds.

Former City of Alameda Mayor and current Councilperson Trish Herrera Spencer spoke during the public comments period about a letter drawn up by the City of Alameda in support of the Howard Terminal project. It was nixed apparently because resoundingly negative feedback (43 comments against, 2 for).

Not to be forgotten is how the state of Washington put up hundreds of millions in infrastructure including the surface roads and ramps connecting the freeways to the Port. And we can’t forget the the big public subsidies in both stadiums. A better, more current example of this conflict is the SoDo arena proposal, planned for the same area to the south of the stadiums. It was harshly opposed by the Port of Seattle and died during the process, which allowed the existing arena (Key Arena/Seattle Center Coliseum) to be rebuilt as a NHL venue which opened this year, Climate Pledge Arena.

Alameda County also asked for the A’s to pay for a further Howard Terminal study whose scope is uncertain. A’s President Dave Kaval responded positively to that request. I think there’s already supposed to be a thorough economic impact study encompassing the regional impact. I’m not sure if Alameda County wants to help define or expand that.

There was also some confusion about who initiated the City’s request of the County to enter the EIFD. Kaval confirmed that the A’s did not make such a request, which apparently was a rumor dating back from earlier in the spring. The A’s also didn’t want the City to scrap the second IFD proposed at Jack London Square either. For better or worse, the City of Oakland has the reins now. The ball is fully in the City’s court.

The off-site cost estimate is currently $351.9 million and is the sole responsibility of the City, which is hoping a state windfall will help. Federal funds are looking less likely with each passing day. Memorize that number for future reference.

Responses to the public comments are coming. If the Final EIR drops before the December break, it will kick off a new comment period which will probably be extended like the Draft comment period was. After that, we’ll get proper breakdowns for mitigation cost estimates and alternative steps, if not wholesale changes in the plan. If everything goes well, there’s a chance it could all be approved by Opening Day. Given how this project’s only constant is its inability to stick to its timeline, I wouldn’t bet on it.

What to look for in Tuesday’s Alameda County Board of Supervisors Meeting

Another week, another reckoning. This time it’s Alameda County’s turn to hold the fate of the Oakland A’s in its hands, if that can be believed. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors *might* take a vote to approve taking part in the Howard Terminal EIFD. An approval would allow the County to be a party to the bonds/loans that have to be raised for the infrastructure on the $12 Billion project. In case you need a refresher, here are some links that pertain to Tuesday’s meeting agenda to the June meeting:

There are a handful of things you should know before you attempt to watch the meeting or follow any further coverage. First, let’s remember that the Board of Supervisors *may* choose to *decide* whether or not to make a *non-binding* resolution in support of the project. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen anything that non-committal since 90’s-era Julia Roberts movies.

During the June meeting, Supervisor Richard Valle (D2-Hayward/Union City) thought the item could be raised in September, after the County came back from summer recess. Obviously that didn’t happen and the item was mysteriously pushed back further and further until Valle and fellow Supervisors David Haubert (D1-Fremont/Pleasanton) sent a letter to their colleague Keith Carson (D5-Oakland/Berkeley). The reasoning was supposedly that the County needed to wait until it received the results of a study on the direct economic impacts of Howard Terminal. That study came at the end of October. It said that the County will receive over $5 million per year after paying off the EIFD bonds.

The Project is anticipated to generate significant revenues to the County in the form of both one-time revenues as well as recurring annual revenues. Property taxes and property taxes in lieu of VLF are eligible sources to be contributed to an EIFD, estimated at $4.7 million (net of RDA contribution) and $3.2 million per year, respectively. If the County elects to contribute these revenues to an EIFD, the County’s net recurring revenue would be reduced by an amount equal to the amount of the County’s EIFD contribution for a period of up to 45 years.

Century Urban report summary

Discussion of a ballpark-cum-ancillary development’s short and long-term economic impacts are one thing. At some point, if this is to move forward with Alameda County signing on, this will also become a real negotiation between Alameda County, the City of Oakland, and the A’s. It’s not enough for the City to make claims about how much money the County will get out of it. The fact is that the City can’t do this on its own. They need the County to partner up in order to make the revenue flows work. And so far, the City has seen fit to dismiss the second IFD that the A’s wanted in the their own proposal. City says they can cover the $350 million cost, though their are few specifics and the sources appear to be mostly state and federal funds. The County will probably counter with its own demands, which are sure to raise some eyebrows. The project is currently structured so that all of the major transportation improvements other than the new streets inside the project area have to be built and funded off-site. The transit hub is one. The gondola would be another, especially if it is extended across the Estuary. A pedestrian/bike bridge across the Estuary is a very good potential ask or sticking point. Same goes for additional transit improvements from elsewhere in the East Bay. Already the A’s are debating the merits of bus shuttles from the West Oakland and Lake Merritt BART stations.

Beyond the project needs, the discussion is a good opportunity for Carson (and perhaps Nate Miley) to get on his soapbox and rail again about how Oakland is asking Alameda County to get involved. I don’t think he’ll vote no; frankly, no public figure wants to be the crucial vote that evicts the last major pro sports franchise from Oakland – if that narrative is to be believed. But Carson can and should complain that Oakland has put Alameda County in this position when they weren’t involved at all not even a year ago. And so I expect Carson to go off like Frank Costanza at Festivus dinner with a proper airing of grievances. Supervisor Wilma Chan (D3-Alameda), whose district might get the some of the most severe traffic impacts, is effectively the swing vote. If the Board gets to the point of taking a vote, it should be yes. Yet again, it will be another overly dramatized debate to move the discussion a tiny bit. It’s the equivalent of getting a leadoff walk when you know that guy’s not going to be driven in without a home run. Based on how the 2021 season transpired, A’s and Giants fans are all too familiar with that.

Assuming this goes through, what and when is the next manufactured crisis?

P.S.  – Have you noticed all of the letters of support from East Bay cities that aren’t Oakland? Have you noticed a pattern? Howard Terminal has the support of the mayor, who as we’ve noted before, is a lame duck and has an undeserved legacy of losing franchises. The two local pols who otherwise directly represent the Howard Terminal area, Supervisor Carson and Oakland Councilperson Carroll Fife (Oakland District 3), are not exactly out with pom-poms. No doubt some of that tepid support comes from Port interest pressure. Ironic, then, how the greatest support comes from the furthest away? It’s probably more like the A’s ticket base than we’re comfortable admitting.

2022 Travel Grid Now Available

Well, the A’s season may be slipping away with three weeks left in the season – after Sunday’s game their elimination number is 14 – so it’s near time to look forward to next spring even as that itself is quite daunting. During these recent dog days I started playing around with next year’s Travel Grid. If you were paying attention, you’ll know that the 2021 edition was delayed. Mostly it was due to my unease with traveling during the pandemic. Hope springs eternal for 2022 though, right? Right?

Anyway, here it is. I recognized that when I usually do this every August/September, I re-engineer how I work with the data, making it a slightly custom effort every time. This time I have taken steps to automate data gathering and assembly so it can be repeated more readily on an annual basis. Plus there will be additional things to look for as the data is supplemented (game times, metadata) and I decide to add features.

Supplemented data? Features? Look for that in the coming months. For now I’ll put out the grid. And maybe, just maybe, things will feel normal enough next year for fans to feel comfortable making trips. Here are the links.

Google Sheets versions:

Excel

PDF

View or download one of the formats from the links above for the full schedule

Now for a few notes on the data.

At the end of April there’s a two-day stretch in which the Giants and A’s both play on the same day. After the A’s invade SF on April 26-27, on April 29-30 the Giants host the Nationals while the A’s entertain the newly-renamed Cleveland Guardians. The best candidate for a DH day is Saturday, April 30, with times TBD. I’m not sure how many people took advantage of a day-night doubleheader on both sides of the bay, but it is pure bliss regardless of how the games turn out. There are opportunities for such day-trips in New York and DC-Baltimore, none in Chicago or LA.

The schedule is not as neatly set up for long regional trips as it was in previous years. (You could see this in the grid by the seeing “waves” of available games in each region. The early A’s-Phillies series in April could be a decent jumping off point for trips. The annual trip to see the Yankees is good too (June 27-29), as the Mets host the Astros at the same time while the Philles host the Braves. The Nats are also at home during that stretch. Separate A’s roadies in July, August, and September bring on the Texas two-step with the A’s visiting the Rangers and the Astros in the same week. The 2021 schedule allowed for only one such trip, which was probably a big headache for A’s traveling secretary Mickey Morabito. Early August has the A’s in Anaheim, with the Padres hosting the Rockies followed by the Dodgers hosting the Giants.

Detroit has a scheduled doubleheader on July 23 vs. Minnesota. The 2022 Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, IA, will feature the Cubs and Reds. The Little League Classic will have a game on August 21 (Red Sox-Orioles) in Williamsport, PA.

As usual, if you have any formatting requests or want to see other data, let me know in the comments. Happy planning!

Oakland Design Review Committee 9/9 Hearing

As usual, I took notes of what I felt was important. Read the 19-tweet thread to start, then read the rest of this post.

Like the Planning Commission hearing from April, the Design Review Committee hearing was chaired by Clark Manus. Unlike April, Howard Terminal in its current form is further along than a mere “napkin sketch.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t a host of issues to work out. Manus and the other commissioners on hand, Jonathan Fearn and Tom Limon, expressed hope and positivity over the project. Manus in particular is close to considering the Maritime Reservation Scenario, in a which a chunk of Howard Terminal has to be lopped off for a wider turning basin for container ships, a nearly foregone conclusion. All three pointed to very high building heights along the bay as cause for concern. One or two of the residential towers in particular would be the highest on the Bayfront, higher than anything similarly along the SF waterfront (or anywhere else in the Bay for that matter). These concerns nearly tripped up the Brooklyn Basin project until that was also approved with with mostly mid-rise structures.

For now, the big takeaways are the concerns from the DRC that building such a large, tall project along Oakland’s waterfront would effectively create a second downtown, competing with the existing downtown instead of complementing it. The other is the the shipping industry continuing to press for details on the expanded turning basin, which apparently needs a sizable buffer to protect ship traffic. Will that buffer be 500 feet as requested by industry, or 300 or less as requested by the applicant? We may not find out until the Final EIR is released.

The last thing that got serious attention was the still unresolved grade separation issue. City Planner Peterson Vollmann confirmed that the project still only has a pedestrian bridge in the plan with a vehicular bridge as an alternative. The trucking and rail interests are adamant that the vehicular bridge has to be included, even demanding it get built before anything else. Take a look at the map below, which shows the percentage of fans who will arrive on gameday based on intersection and mode (car, foot, bike). That’s SIX intersections crossing the existing tracks, only one of which is a promised grade-separated pedestrian bridge.

3% of fans coming by ferry is optimistic

The project is being set up to have a bunch of details decided when the Final EIR is released and approved, which the City is projected towards the end of October. Since the A’s on the field are slipping out of the pennant race, some good news in October would be nice. Yet you should expect another series of fights. And hopefully next time there will be fewer arbitrary deadlines like the 7/20 City Council vote that was supposed to change everything.

Revised centerfield approach from Jack London Square is supposed to have a sliding door to provide views from inside/outside the ballpark and to supplement the batter’s eye during play
Harbor View provides scale for residential towers behind the ballpark, one of which could be 600 feet tall
Maritime Reservation Scenario allows expanded turning basin to take up some of the office/residential blocks and a lot of the open space; Safety Buffer line is 150-200 feet from the shoreline, shipping interests want 500 feet

Assuming the Maritime Reservation Scenario is built, the A’s will simply cram all of their planned development into the smaller footprint, about 37 acres. You know what that means: Taller buildings. Not under any significant discussion today was the ballpark itself, which is much lower than the ancillary development to the west.

San Diego: How To Deal With Trains In An Urban Ballpark Setting

Petco Park and SDMTS figured out how to make it work, can Oakland?

The A’s played a short set at Petco this week. I couldn’t make it, though I really should’ve planned better because I could’ve had the unique doubleheader of an A’s road game and celebrating the birth of a nephew as my brother and his family live in San Diego. I mean, how often does anyone get to experience that?

(Update: Nephew was due Tuesday, not delivered yet which makes him technically a squatter)

While I’m not nervously waiting in San Diego this week, I was able to visit over the recent holiday weekend. While there I made my first visit Petco Park in seven years. The Padres were out of town, so no game. I had already taken the tour previously, so no tour either this time. Instead I walked around the Gaslamp District and contemplated it.

Much has been written about the Gaslamp, the mostly commercial area between the docks and Downtown. Redevelopment there started in earnest in the 1970’s with preservation efforts. The district had its share of urban blight which allowed city leaders to decide which building merited keeping or a bulldozer. As that was decided, the Gaslamp got swept up into the urban renewal craze. That led to redevelopment misses like the Horton Plaza mall and hits like Petco Park.

I started my trip on a SDMTS bus from my hotel in North San Diego to Downtown. The trip ended at Broadway and 10th Avenue, a half-mile walk from Petco Park. As I crossed the street I was greeted with the familiar scent of urine. Ah, maybe the East Village isn’t fully gentrified yet, I thought. The walk was otherwise pleasant with a slight downslope all the way to the ballpark. I got a snack and beverage nearby and planted myself in the Park at the Park, which based on my previous experiences changed for the worse. The park remains publicly accessible yet feels far more restricted due to many of the spaces within it being claimed for different types of private uses. When it first opened the Park also had a number of transients in it whenever I went, so I imagine that renting it out was just as much to keep out that element as anything revenue-related. Should Howard Terminal come to fruition, the A’s will have to figure out how to manage that element in what will be a much larger and more complex space, from the roof deck to the waterfront spaces beyond the playing field.

Park at the Park in 2014

Petco Park arrived as the Gaslamp’s redevelopment went full blast. Some of that was boosted by a huge land giveaway to then-owner of the Padres, John Moores, and his development wing JMI Realty. Petco Park was completed in 2004 after securing $300 million in public funding. Moores also got a development rights to 24 blocks around Petco, which led to nearly 3,000 housing units, millions of square feet of retail and commercial space, and a separate 7.1-acre Ballpark Village to the east of the ballpark (note incorrect graphic in link). Getting to opening day was a bumpy road, as the project was rife with political scandal over illegal gift-giving and lawsuits.

The delays allowed SDMTS to catch up in terms of building infrastructure. The Blue and Orange Trolley lines were already in place a block east of the ballpark, but another plan was coming into place. To get more fans from the I-8 corridor all the way out to SDSU and beyond, MTS planned to extend the Green Line from the Old Town station East of I-5 and into Downtown. Eventually the line would terminate at the 12th Street/Imperial station, the same transfer hub for the Blue and Orange lines. Until then, Green Line users would have to transfer at Old Town to Blue/Orange Trolleys. The finished system downtown effectively creates a loop around all of Downtown San Diego, including the Convention Center and tourist attractions along Harbor Drive. In addition, a new Silver line historic trolley now runs that loop.

View from pedestrian bridge spanning Harbor Drive and the BNSF/Trolley tracks with good buffer space

Infrastructure is a long game, though. While the Blue and Orange lines were already in place prior to the Padres’ 2004 Opening Day, the Green Line wouldn’t start operation until 2005. Its extension to downtown didn’t start service until fall 2012. The Green Line’s Gaslamp Quarter station is a mere Fernando Tatis, Jr. blast away from the third base gate, while the 12th/Imperial station is 800 feet away from the home plate gate. At least that’s better than nearly a mile, which is the distance to the Santa Fe Depot for Amtrak/Coaster trains (or Howard Terminal’s distance from BART for that matter).

The other aspect to the infrastructure long game was the BNSF’s active rail line west of the ballpark. Sandwiched between Petco and Harbor Drive, BNSF also had to make room for the Green Line expansion. To make it all work, vehicular access across Harbor Drive near the ballpark was limited to two intersections, 1st Ave and 5th Ave. Fencing was built all along Harbor to dissuade pedestrians from playing chicken with trains, though occasionally a train would stop in front of the ballpark, allowing for some interesting interactions. The idea is that mitigation measures should reduce those interactions as much as possible. A pedestrian bridge was built over Harbor, connecting the San Diego Convention Center and the Hilton Bayfront to Petco and the 12th/Imperial station. Besides the convention center and hotel access, the two facilities also housed more than 3,000 parking spaces. 

The Trolley tracks act as a buffer between the ballpark and the active BNSF rail line

The way Petco is situated, most fans won’t cross the tracks along Harbor Drive. They disembark at one of the Trolley stations nearby and walk safely to the ballpark. Or they take a bus or ride share to within the vicinity of Petco. Or they’ll park at one of the nearby lots in the East Village. There’s even a designated Tailgate lot, which seems inconceivable in a downtown area in 2021. Regardless of the method of travel, the average fan is unlikely to interact with a freight train due to how everything was planned. At Petco, the Trolley serves as a buffer surrounding the ballpark. Again, it’s well conceived and serves the City and County well. If you’re coming from SDSU, Santee, San Ysidro, or Mission Valley, you’re covered. The Trolley is in the midst of an expansion program, which will finally bring service all the way to La Jolla and UCSD. They’re also building express lanes on I-5 to benefit people who are less likely to take transit.

The EIR describes the mandatory grade separation for pedestrians, which is planned along Jefferson Street. The vehicular grade separation is practically a given at Market Street, especially if Union Pacific and the Federal Rail Administration demand it upfront as a condition of their project acceptance. Now that the City is taking responsibility for the off-site infrastructure, the grade separations are now the City’s problem. They will try to get money from the new federal infrastructure bill, of which a Senate version passed today with bipartisan support. Should Congresswoman Nancy Skinner succeed in competing for and securing the funds, the City will be part of the way there. To do it right they’ll also have to expand the fencing along Embarcadero. Remember how I pointed out that there are only two at-grade crossings near Petco? When you take away Jefferson and Market, Howard Terminal has *six* crossings to worry about. If this is to be done right, that fencing has to expand big time.

P.S. – The bus yard next to the Tailgate lot was once considered for a Chargers stadium.

2016 rendering of a Chargers retractable roof stadium and convention center venue

P.P.S. – For more info on the history of the SDMTS Trolley system, check out this fine video.

Oakland approves its own term sheet, tells world, “It’ll be fine, we’re good for it”

We’ve seen a wide range of reaction pieces in the wake of the Tuesday’s City Council meeting in which the Council voted on their own proposal, not the A’s own plans. The A’s and MLB responded in the negative, which was to be expected. Since then, Howard Terminal supporters took the A’s choice to let their legal team review the City’s proposal and not dismiss it outright as a hopeful sign. Which was, well, also to be expected. The supporters are ready, bent over, crying to the A’s, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

You have to wonder if Oakland likes being bent over

News links:

Ray Ratto on Defector

Scott Ostler in the Chronicle

Mercury News

KQED

NY Times

If Oakland wants to feed that appetite, it should be allowed to do so. It shouldn’t involve Alameda County in any part of it. I liken it to a recent college graduate who didn’t get the dream job right after graduation. Six months into the search, he has an opportunity to get a decent job, one that could give him a good income, pay back his loans, and move out of his parents’ house. All that’s required is a lengthy commute. He has a 2011 Honda Accord as his steed, but trusty as it is, it has 100,000 miles on it. He has designs on a Tesla Model 3. He tried to buy one earlier but found that without an income and a good credit score he’ll need his parents to co-sign the loan. Clearly he doesn’t need the Model 3, but it would make him feel good!

Alameda County, as the parents in this labored metaphor, want to empty the nest, downsize, and travel during retirement. That’s why they sold their half of the Coliseum. The City is holding onto their half despite historically having greater difficulty servicing their share of the Mount Davis debt. Alameda County knew when to call it a night. Oakland can’t do it. After the Tuesday Howard Terminal session, Council entered negotiations sell their half to one of two Black-led developer groups, with an upfront promise of a WNBA team at the vacant Oakland Arena and the future promise of a NFL stadium (AASEG) or a MLB ballpark (Dave Stewart/Lonnie Murray). 

The City will give itself six months to evaluate either bid, then decide on one to enter one of those vaunted Exclusive Negotiating Agreements. The A’s surrendered their position when they shifted completely to Howard Terminal, but thanks to their agreement to buy the County’s half of the Coliseum, they will have their own say in the Coliseum’s future. Six months is fine as I wasn’t planning to cover that deal until the offseason begins.

With that pending distraction on the back burner, let’s take a look at what the City approved during the Howard Terminal session. Out of all the mostly nothingburger was one really important bit of news.

I don’t know what the City and the A’s spent much of the weekend negotiating, but for the City to say they’ll handle the responsibilities of the offsite IFD is a mind boggling bit of capitulation on their part. Let’s take a step back and consider what this really means for the project. First of all, the A’s are essentially not responsible for any of the needed transportation improvements outside Howard Terminal. They’ll handle the cleanup and grading of the 55-acres, sure. The grade separations and other rail safety measures? City’s problem. The transit hub? City. The ongoing cost of whatever shuttles have to be run between the BART stations and the development? Also the City. In a previous post I lamented how the Howard Terminal vision didn’t include the transportation infrastructure onsite. Now that chicken is coming home to roost. You can try to argue how much this tax or that assessment will help fund it, the fact is that it’s the City’s responsibility.

In that capitulation, Oakland still has the temerity to request Alameda County’s participation in the Howard Terminal IFD. Supporters are actually saying the County just has to turn on the faucet and let the tax increment come out. No big deal, right? But they’re forgetting that once the County opts in, they have to create their own Public Financing Authority to run the tax increment collection and governance of Howard Terminal. That’s on top of the existing jurisdiction of the Port. So City is asking County to help create its own Coliseum Jr. on the waterfront. Sounds like a great proposal for a party that wants to get out of the pro sports game, no?

Hello, Coliseum Jr!

Naturally, those infrastructure imperatives will compete with community benefits, which are still being negotiated at the moment, and because they are being tacked on are likely to be the last items in line to be funded if any funding is left over. Maybe in 20 years when the vision is developed and mature, and the collected tax increment catches up. The A’s proposal sets forth $450 million, which all parties will end up competing for like Oakland’s running its own civic funding reality show.

But there’s state and federal funding to be had, right? A Politico report points to $280 million made available by Governor Newsom that could be leveraged for the Port. The report focused on this phrase:

“improvements that facilitate enhanced freight and passenger access and to promote the efficient and safe movement of goods and people.”

What does that mean in the context of Howard Terminal? Expanded ferry service? Maybe, though that doesn’t help the existing fanbase much if at all as most of them aren’t on the water or have access to a ferry terminal. The proposal doesn’t include a new Amtrak station at Howard Terminal. Freight? By repurposing Howard Terminal for commercial and residential use, the A’s and City are taking freight out of the equation except for the possibility of providing funds for the grade separation. Which is great in theory, but doesn’t actually make the Port’s shipping operations more efficient or productive than the status quo.

As for federal funds? Republicans filibustered the first vote on the current infrastructure bill yesterday. It looks like the Democrats will take a shot next week, pairing the bill with a social safety net bill as they try to get it through the Senate. Will it provide the kind of funding this project needs? Tune in next week to see what comes out of the sausage grinder. Note that Congress has its own recess in a week, just like their counterparts in City/County/State government.

As Howard Terminal supporters look far afield for dropped coins to fund this boondoggle, I’m reminded of the lengths Oakland and Alameda County had to go to get the Coliseum complex funded initially. Some things don’t change. It also reminds me of former Mayor Jean Quan’s desperate attempts to get Coliseum City funded by the use of a controversial visa program and also by name checking the “Prince of Dubai.” It isn’t enough to do things on a manageable scale in Oakland. The thirst to become a big city never dies. It evolves into something more wretched, more complex. Who’s willing to co-sign this one?