You may not be aware that the year-long ENA (Exclusive Negotiating Agreement) started by the A’s and the Port of Oakland expired last week with little notice or fanfare. The pressure was on to get something out to the public, and so the Port did in the form of a preliminary term sheet for the A’s to occupy the dormant Howard Terminal. The Port’s Board is expected to vote on the term sheet on May 13.
We’ll get into business details in the coming week. For now, I’d like to focus on a single drawing of the revised site plan. In the plan, some additional areas are defined. It basically looks like someone took a bite out of the site.
According to the term sheet, the bite (southwest corner defined by the purple lines) amounts to six acres. That’s what’s being offered by the A’s and the Port in order to foster cooperation from the ILWU and shipping interests. Once the A’s give up the acreage, the Estuary’s turning basin inside the Inner Harbor could be expanded to help attract container mega-ships.
Matier and Ross pointed out the A’s offer today. The idea could in theory bring the shipping interests and associated labor on board. Their stance is that they’re threatened by encroaching development. The argument against them is that Howard Terminal itself remains dormant, outdated, and not equipped to handle the new generation of container ships, which the Port badly wants. At the same time, the shippers that would be best positioned to handle the enormous mega-ships the Port covets are situated along the inner harbor, west of Howard Terminal.
If the Port anticipates this new wave of container ships, it might behoove them to facilitate a deal to expand the turning basin outside of Howard Terminal to accommodate those new ships. That could be a vital piece to getting the Matson and SSA on board. However, that’s only part of the story. This kind of change would effectively consolidate the seaport operations along the waterfront, which might make it seem like the Port loses valuable waterfront while it gains greater efficiency for the existing shippers in the process.
Questions remain about how the Port and City would handle the traffic for both vehicles and trains coming through the area. The EIR should answer much of that. Yet one other party to all of this Estuary action has been silent through all the hubbub last week. Schnitzer Steel has the one privately owned parcel, right next to Howard Terminal. And if you look at how it’s laid out, it stands to reason that it too would have to be reduced or reconfigured to allow for the wider turning basin.
Schnitzer actually wanted part of Howard Terminal when the terminal parcel became available. The Port wasn’t interested in parting out Howard Terminal, so that bid went nowhere. Schnitzer has a dock with a conveyor arm extending out separately from the shore. What if Schnitzer doesn’t want to reconfigure their facility, especially if a bunch of housing is going to be built a few hundred feet away? The solution would appear to be some sort of land swap, in which Schnitzer sells its property to the Port and gets relocated somewhere else on Port property that also has waterfront access.
It just so happens there is such a property along the outer harbor, Berths 33 & 34, where such a swap could conceivably take place. Berths 33 & 34 are available for lease. Whether such a swap is practical or feasible is something for the EIR process to figure out, though Schnitzer holds the cards and they could charge a great deal for the hassle. The track record of the A’s paying top dollar to help neighbors vacate is not great to say the least. If all these things line up – changing the Port designation, legislation for the land swap, moving costs for Schnitzer, and the infrastructure changes needed to make it all work – then the A’s have a shot. Rest assured that next week’s vote isn’t the first step. That step was taken years ago.