I have thoughts.
After the A’s played a doubleheader on Tuesday, some of us had our own doubleheader on Wednesday with the getaway day game leading into Oakland’s Planning Commission hearing, in which Howard Terminal was the key agenda item.
The comment period was initially supposed to last 45 days after the release on the Draft EIR in February, but community groups lobbied for deadline to be extended twice. The deadline is now Tuesday, April 27, at 4 PM. Get your comments in now while you can.
I watched the hearing on Zoom as the ballgame extended into extra innings.
Mostly, I wanted to get the temperature of the public as commenters chimed in. Naturally, hearings like this tend to have a certain bias towards people with grievances, that’s the nature of the game. However, I was surprised at how few supporters for the project were present. To be fair, supporters are at a distinct disadvantage in forums like this. They aren’t armed with all of the plans the developers and city are working on. Because of that, a lot of what they can offer is hope and platitudes. As an A’s fan you know how well hope works as a strategy. Then again, sometimes it does.
I tweeted out some observations from the open comment period. I did not get all of the commenters’ names. Otherwise, enjoy.
(I may have transcribed that wrong, “bike shop” may have been “bus stop”)
On the last point, I’m not clear on whether the Draft EIR can be recirculated. Perhaps it’s possible if the City feels enough pressure. Apparently the comment deadline won’t be extended further. Will there be yet another legal challenge?
The grade separation problem won’t be solved by placing a single pedestrian bridge at Clay Street and fences along The Embarcadero. The whole area is geared towards dispersing fans from numerous exits onto different streets heading north and east. Vehicular traffic remains an unresolved issue.
All told, there were five comments in support of the project, dozens more against. After a while I stopped logging them until I heard something unique in the arguments. The comments ran the gamut, touching on transportation worries, affordable housing concerns, even general planning. If the A’s want to garner better public support in forums like this, they have to do better than to merely trot out the usual suspects with the regular #BiggerThanBaseball talking points. The opponents have their talking points as well. For the supporters it’s akin to taking a knife to a gunfight.
I’ll do a quick ranking of topics based on what I heard in terms of perceived importance:
- Rail safety, specifically grade separation
- Affordable housing
- Need to recirculate EIR or extend comment period
- Support of the project as long as the issues can be worked out
- Distrust of the DTSC and property owners/developers
- Port businesses pulling out of Oakland entirely if a ballpark is built at HT
After the open comment period ended, the individual commissioners spoke. Clark Manus, who is Vice-Chair and an architect, ended the proceeding with a telling note:
As I mentioned in March, Transportation is the most important chapter. If they can’t crack that nut, there’s no deal. It’s that simple. As there’s an active rail line right outside Howard Terminal, it’s not realistic to expect major changes to the rails itself, whether you’re talking about running them in a cut (submerged) or on a viaduct (elevated). If the trains run in the street, the area becomes ripe for dangerous pedestrian/train interactions.
Howard Terminal supporters, if you want this thing to happen you’re gonna have to do more than be dismissive of the critics or attack them for being plants or astroturfers. They’re coming strong with their arguments. You need to have a response. The project is in search of real practical solutions. That’s the hard truth.