This is the first of a series of articles on the Coliseum City EIR. I’m using this post to set up the framework for discussions to follow. The topic for this post is project scope – an explanation of the project as envisioned, alternatives, pros and cons.
To understand the scope of Coliseum City, it’s important to first get a grasp on the size of the project. We’ve heard two figures bandied about frequently. 120 acres covers the Coliseum complex and surrounding land that the City and County control. 800 acres stands for the Coliseum lands (Area A) plus a huge swath on the other side of 880, most of which is privately owned. When you go to an A’s game, it certainly feels like a large piece of land, but because you can see all of it from the stadium it feels accessible and approachable. Nevertheless, that sense of scale can easily be lost.
Consider for a moment that the 120 acres we’re discussing is roughly the size of the Jack London Square area from Jefferson to Oak, or the same size as half of Downtown/Uptown if you take all the land bound by Broadway and 980, 10th St and Grand Ave. Coliseum City, even when only using that 120 acres (15%), is pretty large. At 800 acres, it’s the size of Downtown, Uptown, Old Oakland, Chinatown, and Jack London Square put together.
If the designated Coliseum district east of the Nimitz is the core, the rest of the Specific Plan area is what feeds the core. While the new stadia, a transit hub and 5,750 residential units would sit in the core, the remaining sub-areas B through E are where the the bulk of Coliseum City’s permanent jobs will come from, along with the tax revenues needed to fund the stadia. Should the project reach full buildout, it would not only accomplish the goal of retaining all three current sports tenants (Oakland A’s, Oakland Raiders, Golden State Warriors), it would attract 10,000 new residents and more than 21,000 jobs.
If 10,000 sounds familiar, remember back to Jerry Brown’s 8-year run in Oakland. The key tenet of Brown’s tenure was the 10K plan, which sought to bring in 10,000 residents to Oakland. While he didn’t quite reach the goal he established for himself (10k residents by 2001, only midway through his first term), he loosened red tape and cozied up to developers to great effect, creating a building boom that Oakland hadn’t seen in decades and hasn’t seen since. Current mayor Jean Quan even resurrected the 10K moniker during her term, relying on big projects like Brooklyn Basin (O29) and now Coliseum City to reach that lofty figure.
As far as growth is concerned, Coliseum City fits many planning goals for Oakland and Alameda County. It has an intermodal transit hub (BART, Amtrak, AC Transit). It’s an infill development, meaning that it redevelops and repurposes previously developed land. Feedback from EBMUD so far indicates that the utility district will be able to handle the increased water demand the project would create. Local housing advocates want 25% of the residential units built at Coliseum City to be affordable for low-income residents. Rail operator Union Pacific doesn’t want residential built anywhere near its tracks, two of which are at the back of the Coliseum and behind the BART station. Caltrans wants some of the infrastructure money that could be raised for Coliseum City to go towards improvements along the Nimitz (on/off-ramps) to help traffic flow the area better. (See EIR Appendices for letters from these parties and public agencies)
The EIR, which totals more than 3,300 pages including Appendices, covers numerous development scenarios. They could include the so-called maximum buildout scenario, in which three new venues are built and all three teams are retained. Then there are scenarios in which one or two new stadia are built while the existing arena stays intact. They are a reflection of the market reality involving the teams. The Warriors have bought land in San Francisco on which they expect to build a new arena, while the Raiders are entertaining multiple cities outside Oakland and the A’s, while showing a renewed interest in Oakland, continue to keep San Jose in their back pocket. With lease terms the only thing binding the teams to Oakland, the City needs to show flexibility in case they can’t retain the franchises.
All told there are 10 versions of the Project under consideration:
- Project (see Executive Summary for description)
- Alternative 1: No Project Alternative (all teams leave when leases end, Arena stays, Coliseum is torn down, minimal development comes afterward)
- Alternative 2A: New stadia, existing arena stays intact
- Alternative 2B: 1 new stadium or ballpark + new arena
- Alternative 2C: 1 new stadium or ballpark + existing arena
- Alternative 2D: New arena only
- Alternative 2E: Existing arena only, no new venues built
- Alternative 2F: Similar to Project, but with smaller football stadium (per NFL/Raiders specs)
- Alternative 3: Reduced Buildout – similar to Project, but with about two-thirds of the residential units and other development
- Alternative 4: Maximum Buildout – similar to Project, but 20% more residential units and total square footage
That’s a lot to consider, some of these alternatives may end up being infeasible because they don’t represent enough return to fund the project. Other possibilities were also considered but not studied further because they were considered infeasible from the get-go:
- A single stadium/ballpark configured north-south near BART station
- An alternate single stadium configuration
- A two stadium scenario with at-grade circulation (no elevated pedestrian concourse)
- A two stadium scenario with the elevated concourse
- Alternative site
- Retain Coliseum and Arena as is, no additional development
- A single stadium with no additional development
- A fully mitigated alternative (all impacts could be mitigated)
The first 4 options are more-or-less covered within the alternatives under consideration. #5 is interesting in that it notes:
“…CEQA Guidelines state that an alternative site location should be considered when feasible alternative locations are available…”
“To the extent that the sports franchises may consider off-site alternatives for their home field venues, those off-site facilities would need to be considered on their own merit and evaluated pursuant to CEQA is (sic) separate environmental reviews.”
Not that it need explanation, but Howard Terminal needs its own EIR as it would be a completely separate project. That’s actually different than the San Jose Ballpark EIR, which included multiple sites but was much smaller in scope than Coliseum City, so from a process standpoint it could work. #6 pretty much spells doom for the Complex should the tenants leave, whereas #7 answers the question of whether a stadium could be built on its own. #8 is practically impossible.
I’m a little disappointed that the Appendices don’t include revised or updated infrastructure cost estimates. In April I looked at the $344-425 million price tag, which didn’t include demolition of the Coliseum. Normally costs aren’t included in an EIR, but since they are so germane to the project it would be good to have them.
Finally, just to show how complicated the process, not only will various City departments and boards have to look at the project, some 15 additional public agencies may end up providing input or be required to give approval for various aspects of the development:
- Port of Oakland
- Alameda County
- CA SWRCB
- US Army Corps of Engineers
- CA Fish & Wildlife
- US Fish & Wildlife
- NOAA Marine Fisheries
- SF Regional Water Quality Control Board
Plus there will be comments from Union Pacific, neighbors of the Coliseum and other private interests. By the time we’re done, the EIR could reach 10,000 pages.