Environmental concerns threaten Howard Terminal

Friday’s newswrap included a bit from @muppet151, who inquired about Howard Terminal’s costs associated with toxic cleanup at the site. As part of its use as a working port, numerous substances were capped by asphalt concrete and parts of the site were filled with concrete to prevent leaching into groundwater. Again, here’s a snippet of his letter to Oakland and Alameda County officials:

In 2002 the Department of Toxic Substances Control released an investigative study on the Howard Terminal site, a follow up to previous investigations that took place in 1998 and 2000. The study showed that having been a manufactured gas plant from 1902 to about 1960 an “area of aged hydrocarbon fuel, about three inches thick, was found in the groundwater in the southwestern corner of the Site.” This contamination does not pose an immediate risk because of an existing asphalt concrete cap. However the study concluded “that the construction activities that would breach the asphalt concrete cap would cause excessive exposure. Therefore all construction would need to be performed in accordance with a Health and Safety Plan.”

A Removal Action Work plan (RAW) was drawn up, and the RAW leads to several questions that have yet to be discussed publically by officials who have spoken in favor of an A’s stadium at the Howard Terminal site, more specifically the role City and County governments would play in regards to the RAW.

The RAW states that should these asphalt concrete caps break, the removal of contamination would cost “in excess of $100 million. It would also require the terminal to shut down for a long period of time.” If the caps were to be broken during the building of a stadium, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say cost over runs could be in the neighborhood of $200 million (contamination removal and stadium building costs), and could delay the opening of a Howard Terminal stadium by at least a year and possibly longer. The worst case scenario being the project being permanently shut down causing the A’s to leave the Bay Area altogether. Such an accident would undoubtedly find its way into a court room as well.

Late Sunday, responses started to come in. The first was from Oakland District 3 Councilperson Nancy Nadel, in whose district (West Oakland) Howard Terminal resides. If you’re not aware, Nadel has never been much of a pro sports supporter, especially when it comes to providing anything for new or improved facilities. Nadel’s response:

Dear Patrick,

Thank you for your message. I see your enthusiasm for the A’s.

You ask excellent questions to which I do not have the answers. I was unaware of such extensive contamination at the Howard Terminal site. Therefore I will have to ask the questions too.

However, since the demise of Redevelopment, there is no city money at all for a baseball only stadium in the Jack London area. I hesitate to go deep into the toxics issues unless there is some movement on the part of the owner of the A’s or MLB. I will make city staff aware of the toxics presence to be sure it’s on their radar screen, if they are doing any feasibility costing of that site, unbeknownst to me.

Our most financially sensible location for sports facilities is the Coliseum, at the expense of the teams and private parties.

Have a great evening,

Nancy Nadel

Maybe Nadel couldn’t recall the cleanup issues at Howard Terminal because they were addressed a decade ago. But she’s been in office since 1996 and Howard Terminal has aroused a good deal of attention at different points throughout her Council tenure. In any case, it’s a curious response.

That was followed up by a response from fellow Councilmember Desley Brooks (East Oakland):

Dear Patrick.

Thank you for your email and the issues you raise. I was not aware of the howard terminal issues that you raise.

I am forwarding your questions to the city administrator so she, or the appropriate staff, can respond.

Please let me know if you have not heard from her by Friday.

Best regards,


In December 2010, Oakland authorized up to $750,000 to study Victory Court and the surrounding area, including Howard Terminal. Much of that money has been spent on studies, even though the public hasn’t seen a single page produced from the work. While much of the information gathered from traffic and parking studies can be used for HT, environmental concerns about the site may require a new and larger expenditure which would be covered by a full EIR. Oakland could choose not to act on that until it hears something positive from MLB. However, if the basic principles regarding cap breach remain, site costs would double overnight, from under $100 million just for infrastructure to $200 million or more including cleanup, and that’s if the work goes smoothly (not a given). Howard Terminal’s supposed to be the cheap site, right?

Even with the cap in place, several types of buildings can’t be built on top of Howard Terminal, thanks to the Port’s 2003 Land Use Covenant.

  • Residential property of any kind
  • School
  • Day care center
  • Hospital
  • Park or open space created by excavating the cap

Where does a stadium fit into that? That’s for the state to decide. We discussed this issue in a previous comments thread, and Howard Terminal has some special similarities to AT&T Park: both are on liquefaction-prone land, and both sites were well contaminated and required cleanup before a stadium could be built. This isn’t like putting up a double-wide trailer on some blocks. It’s a cost that will need to be addressed if Howard Terminal is to be the site MLB chooses moving forward.


Many thanks to muppet151 for taking the initiative to ask elected officials the right questions. We hope to get responses soon.

34 thoughts on “Environmental concerns threaten Howard Terminal

  1. Lew Wolff is looking smarter with each passing day…(that’s all I’ll say about this topic)

  2. So if Howard Terminal costs an extra $200 million because of this environmental issue, does that simply get added to the tab for the generous owners?Are they supposed to pay $800 million to build there? Wolff said Howard Terminal has no ability to be implemented for a ballpark and he sure looks spot on.

  3. re: Our most financially sensible location for sports facilities is the Coliseum, at the expense of the teams and private parties

    …There you have it. Build the ballpark with your own money in a place that MLB has already rejected.

  4. So are we still going to label Wolff the villain when Howard Terminal is not even close to viable at this point? We have no idea if anything significant was ever done to fully study Victory Court because nothing’s been shown to us, and Oakland seems to think the Coliseum site is still the best.

    On top of that, how can people in Oakland’s own City Council not be aware of the toxicity of Howard Terminal?

    This is not to say Wolff and the A’s have always handled their relationship with the City of Oakland or A’s fans without fault, but from where I sit it just further shows me Oakland has no realistic plan to keep the A’s that involves a site anywhere other than the Coliseum, and even “Coliseum City” is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

  5. I’m done with the city of Oakland. Even though I was born there and we still own our house in north Oakland we just don’t have leadership that loves sports and realizes the benifits it has for the city and for the people in the community.

    After reading how ml and muppet asked Oaklabd leaders direct questions just to get blown off like O did when I called SOS Chris Dobbins….Oaklad as a city does not deserve sports teams.

    I apologize to Lew Wolff and I feel that Every Oakland supporter should apologize to Lew Wolff for the misunderstanding regarding this new ballpark… Oakland never wanted to work with Wolff they thought they were like Sf and sj that would get a FREE stadium???? Uuummm no.

  6. Honestly, I view this as great progress. We’re finally get some answers from city leaders. Hats off to muppet. This song is for you.

  7. That song is really, really bad.

  8. That song is awesome.

  9. Well if that doesn’t kill the idea of Howard Terminal being viable I don’t know what will. And extra 100-200 million on top of an already steep 500+ mil price tag for the stadium alone means Howard Terminal is even less viable than it was during HOK’s study back in 2000. Which leaves Coliseum City. Which remains, as before, a pie in the sky proposition that MLB had already rejected.

  10. Meanwhile, Larry Baer will continue to insist that there are plenty of places to build in the A’s current territory…

  11. Wonder how Colorox’s CEO feels about spending 1.2 billion now…

  12. re: Even though I was born there and we still own our house in north Oakland we just don’t have leadership that loves sports and realizes the benifits

    …It looks like Quan has nothing to offer but press conferences and pep rallies. None of that pays for a single shovel in the ground. Telling the Raiders and A’s to build their own stadiums in Oakland when they don’t want to is not getting anybody anywhere…

  13. @Dan

    I have NEVER had a problem with Coliseum City….it is a plan that can work but as long as the city of Oakland can help pay for contruction and clean up. Cant wait for this nightmare to be over so i can enjoy the San Jose A’s… i hope these young players we have will be able to stay on the team long enough to see it.

  14. I would assume you would have this issue anywhere around a port, given the amount of chemicals, materials that have gone in and out of that area for the past century, this was a major hub for shipping and war material in the past. There are bound to be chemicals. Secondly, you have to find a location with a good foundation that you can build on given the structural requirements of building something that is earthquake-proof. I wonder how much work had to be done to solidify the grounds around AT&T. Was there fill dirt brought in?

    Just sounds iffy for putting something at Howard Terminal, regardless of the ownership, even though it is a much much better location, attraction-wise then the Coliseum. Honestly, I don’t see why anyone would want to stay around the Coliseum area, there is no anchor around there except the Coliseum and Arena and as a city, the only reason they are sticking to it is that is thde only land they don’t have to pay a ton to prep. That has the negative affect of taking business away from downtown. The arena is also there and it is a good concert venue and you want to manage that but this is something that stadiums just have a hard time doing, making an area a destination. Cisco Field isn’t going to make or break downtown SJ, but it fits into a dense, transit oriented area with the Sharks Arena and business that could make their downtown a place to go. Oakland is just not in a position to be able to help, so its all dependent on owners. I know the Clorox CEO wants in downtown, but where would he get the money to build around HT? I don’t see it.

    • @Nicosan – While historically there have been plenty of issues with cleanup at ports, Howard Terminal is unique in that most of the contamination comes from an old manufacturing plant. That makes the site extra sensitive and should be treated with extreme caution.

  15. Citizens who expect more from their elected officials instead of just venting and cheerleading? Who would have ever thought!? :X Props to you muppet151!

  16. Another clear sign of Oakland and MLB praying for a miracle in their own ways.

    Howard Terminal from the naked eye looks good but when you dig the problems keep piling up. The response from the City Council people are not a shocker.

    They are sitting around thinking MLB will force Wolff to sell to other owners who are willing to pay for everything.

    In the end the ineptitude has at least been consistent over the years from Oakland when it comes to the A’s.

  17. @All
    My best friend is a sub teacher for Oakland School District. The other week , was at Oakland Technical High.. and talking with my friend (who has been following the stadium issues in Oakland) he talked to his class on how they feel about the potential of all the Oakland teams leaving??? he said that some of the class didnt even know about it, but for those that did, he was shocked to hear that some either didnt care or that they will be SF Giant/Warrior fans, the only team they hoped wouldnt move would be the Raiders…… damn.. does the East bay not really care about sports anymore.. this is coming from todays youth. when u see sf giants shirts in oakland , thats when i pause.

  18. what if the caps don’t break? don’t break out the eulogies, without more information.

    • @David – You have no choice but to bust through the cap if you’re going to build a foundation for something as heavy and large as a ballpark. Unless you’re using some heretofore unannounced levitating stadium technology.

  19. @ML – Careful, you mention levitating a stadium, you never know who might make an appearance here.

  20. Re: busting a cap
    Certainly not an expert, but I’d expect there would be different costs associated with accidental busting of the caps and controlled busting. That being said, I’d imagine even controlled busting would be cost prohibitive unless leakage could be somehow kept to a minimum.

    • @gojohn10 – There are ways of controlling and monitoring during construction to make it safer. They could drill piers similar to the way supports for the new Bay Bridge East Span were done. It’s very expensive, and then there’s the question of how you place a field on top of it. Build a platform? Sounds like 980 Park.

  21. Gigantic railroad crossings, sealed contamination that would have to be unsealed; potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in site remediations…. Anybody really think MLB is going to approve a ballpark at this site? Especially one built with no public contribution to construction? That could leave the owners with close to $1 billion in debt to service (not counting what a new owner would have to spend to buy the franchise)? Which banks are going to issue mortgages for such a project? Do 35,000 fans a night want to go to games at a site where residences, schools and hospitals are forbidden because of contamination?

  22. @ML–Thank you for including reference of 980 Park. No toxics. Cost for relocation of ramps, is $20-30M, which can easily be paid for by land rent. In my opinion the only viable ballpark solution. When and if the Raiders announce they will move, Coliseum City will be dead as a football stadium is its only viable tenant.

  23. Has any work be done on Snow Park? Looks like a bit smaller than area where AT&T is located, very close to Bart, Uptown, and water front. . .

  24. @Bryan. Give it up. It’s NEVER going to happen. ML wasn’t referencing 980 as a legitimate thing, he was referencing it as the farce it is.

    • @dmoas – I wasn’t expressing an opinion about 980 Park at all. I was merely saying that building a platform at Howard Terminal would be similar to 980 Park.

      @jrb – Snow Park hasn’t been mentioned as a ballpark site, probably because it’s too small at 4+ acres.

  25. How many youth in San Jose are wearing A’s shirts?

  26. Love that, eb, thanks for posting the link. The Coliseum was rocking last night. Look forward to more today! Go A’s!

  27. @ethan,
    While not shirts, I am seeing a lot of A’s caps and jackets/sweaters on youth and adults alike down here. Hats off to the young boy in my daughters class sporting his A’s cap this morning. Yes, A’s fandom is alive and well in the South Bay…GO A’S!

  28. that cane picture is pretty wicked. Go A’s, indeed!

  29. @jeffrey – ooh, zombie AT-AT!

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