Following a staff recommendation made last week, the Port of Oakland’s Board tabled a motion to reject three proposals for maritime use at Howard Terminal. The motion will be considered at the next Board session in two weeks. Located just west of Jack London Square, Howard Terminal has been touted as the latest great ballpark site by many Oakland boosters and city officials because of its waterfront locale and proximity to downtown Oakland.
One bid from Bowie Resources involved the shipping of coal or other to the Port, which I noted in December. That bid was rejected due to the use not being green enough as the offloading and storage of coal would release pollutants in the air, hurting Oakland’s air quality. The bid also would have built storage domes up to 150 feet high. Coal storage domes are probably not the kind of visual icon Oakland wants along its waterfront. The CCIG bid faced a staff rejection because it was considered incomplete, whereas the bid from Schnitzer Steel was similarly not considered because it only used a small piece of HT land. Representatives from Bowie were on hand to press their case that staff had not thoroughly vetted their bid. This may be a case of delaying the inevitable, since the prospect of bringing coal to Oakland’s waterfront is likely to bring out the full force of the Sierra Club, not to mention enormous amounts of CEQA red tape.
The Port had no choice but to pursue maritime uses in the wake of SSA Terminals vacating Howard Terminal and consolidating operations at Berths 60-63 in Middle Harbor. That’s because the BCDC’s Seaport Plan considers HT as part of its “Port Priority Plan,” meaning that any designated maritime (shipping, cargo) use lands should be kept that way unless additional capacity can be found elsewhere to make up for it. With Howard Terminal, the idea is that SSA’s (and Matson’s) consolidation should be able to make up for any lost capacity from converting HT. From the report:
Using Howard Terminal for non-maritime uses conflicts with this designation, and de-designation of lands from Port Priority Use requires a Seaport Plan amendment, which is a fairly lengthy and involved process. To pursue an amendment, the Port would be required to provide evidence that sufficient capacity exists within the remaining Port seaport properties, or elsewhere within the Bay Area Port priority lands, to support the long term maritime growth demands for the region. BCDC would then independently analyze that information before proceeding with an amendment.
Such a move has a major precedent in San Francisco, where huge swaths of waterfront along The Embarcadero were converted to commercial use after Loma Prieta, along with the teardown of the Embarcadero Freeway. That conversion allowed Oakland and Richmond to take up much of SF’s cargo shipping capacity. Note that there’s no mention in the report or agenda item of HT being used for anything other than maritime uses in the report, even a ballpark. But that’s how ballpark boosters see the plan progressing, with the hope of the BCDC’s blessing. OWB, the group offering to negotiate a lease for a ballpark and additional development at HT, can’t negotiate anything with the Port until the maritime use question is resolved. Even then, other agencies could easily gum up the works, as the Warriors are seeing with their SF arena project.
Additionally, the State Lands Commission could get involved because much of the waterfront part of HT (including a wharf in the southeast corner) is Tidelands Trust land, which also requires discussion and perhaps even legislation.
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.
Sketches of a ballpark at HT show the stadium recessed from the water’s edge, perhaps enough to avoid SLC jurisdiction. Even then, it’s a gray area due to maritime use. It’s not as if Oakland needs another marina or ferry terminal, since such facilities are already adjacent to HT at Jack London Square.
The rejection was considered to be a fairly quick rubber stamp of ballpark boosters’ plans, which are supported by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Port Commissioner Bryan Parker voted to table the motion, a move that looks funny since he’s running for mayor against Quan yet supports a waterfront ballpark. That puts him in the odd position of needing to show due diligence, while trying not looking overtly political in the process. This may end up being a mere footnote in the history of a Howard Terminal ballpark (whether it happens or not), but it goes to show that when it comes to getting something built in the Bay Area, nothing is ever as easy as it seems.