The Adult Conversation: Oakland Planning Commission 4/21 Edition

I have thoughts.

So did Ron Leuty of the SF Business Times.

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.

Howard Terminal Draft EIR Comment Deadline: 4/27/2021 at 4 PM

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:

  1. Rail safety, specifically grade separation
  2. Affordable housing
  3. Need to recirculate EIR or extend comment period
  4. Support of the project as long as the issues can be worked out
  5. Distrust of the DTSC and property owners/developers
  6. 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.

5 thoughts on “The Adult Conversation: Oakland Planning Commission 4/21 Edition

  1. 1. Vast majority of Jack London Square retail is vacant. If the ballpark isn’t built, will the retail space be replaced with shipping and smoke stack factories?
    2. Assuming that housing and related retail will continue to gravitate towards the waterfront, cars and pedestrians will need to cross the Embarcadero railroad tracks. Even without the ballpark, traffic across the railroad is an issue that needs to be addressed.
    3. Howard Terminal is currently a parking lot for commercial trucking. There are no plans to expand the Port of Oakland to unload shipping containers at Howard Terminal. The ballpark seems to be more productive than a parking lot.
    4. Little chance there will be major expansion of shipping to Oakland. Shippers prefer to unload at Long Beach and Puget Sound. (Both harbors have deeper shipping channels and are in closer proximity to ports in Asia.)
    5. Jack London Square has been building residential side by side with industrial (loft workspace) for decades.
    6. Even without the ballpark Schnitzer Steel is going to need to clean up operations. West Oakland residents have been exposed to these pollutants for much too long.

    • 1. Of course not, JLS is zoned commercial. So you want to expand the commercial space further even though its track record is spotty? Cool.
      2. That’s new infrastructure that someone will have to pay for. Who’s doing that again?
      3. Port got a report that anticipates various growth scenarios. So if you’re saying they’ll have to do more with less, that’s effectively telling operators to take their business elsewhere. Because eventually it will become more economical to send business to Seattle or LA. Is that what you want?
      4. There are numerous vessels idling in the Bay right now because the Port is packed.
      5. Probably the only good point you’re made so far, I agree.
      6. Schnitzer already had a settlement with DTSC before the lawsuit was decided. They might have to pay more. Doesn’t mean they’re leaving.

      • Thanks for your insight. Your website has always been well done, informative, and thought provoking.

        1. The Howard Terminal ballpark/entertainment complex would help jumpstart development in Jack London Square in much the same way the Giants’ ballpark was a factor in jumpstarting development around the Mission Bay neighborhood.
        2. The new infrastructure could be paid by developer’s fees, funds from the gas tax we are currently paying, and the Biden infrastructure stimulus proposal.
        3. Shipping companies have made the determination that it is more cost effective to ship to Los Angeles (17th largest port), Long Beach (20th largest port), and Seattle/Tacoma (41st largest port) than Oakland (79th largest port). The advantage Oakland does have is that it can fill the returning ships with farm products harvested in the central valley. Oakland is a significant port even if it pales in volume to the other major west coast ports.
        4. Are the ships idling off shore the result of the post pandemic buying boom and the post pandemic delay in resumption of staffing? If the shipping volume continues to trend upwards, would it be more cost effective to increase capacity at LA, Long Beach, Puget Sound, or Oakland?
        5. Mixing residential, commercial, and industrial can be problematic. Even without a ballpark the mixed use nature of Jack London Square has to be addressed.
        Hopefully, the ballpark EIR process will identify creative solutions.
        6. Schnitzer was recently fined $4.1 million to mitigate the damage done. For the sake of West Oakland, I hope Schnitzer will identify technology that will result in a healthier environment for the citizens.

  2. Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done, and between the city and the A’s they are going to not only have to beef up their responses, but also be a lot more specific.

    That being said, I can’t recall an A’s effect to build a new ballpark anywhere in the Bay Area that has actually gotten this far.

    So, progress is slow but more real then it’s ever been.

  3. Thank you for pulling all this information together, ML. This had to take a lot of time and I really appreciate you doing it. I never would get this level of insight if I had to do it myself.

    Some thoughts (and a question) on the top points you highlighted:

    1. Rail safety – This will be a tough one. I’ll repost my question from the previous topic: Seattle and San Diego — two parks considered success stories AFAIK — have trains running outside the stadium. Why does it work in those locations, but at Howard Terminal it’s some kind of deal breaker? What is different about our location from those? Is it the speed of the trains in each location? Do they have better track-crossing infrastructure? Appreciate your thoughts on this.
    2. Affordable housing – A’s should be able to address this.
    3. Recirculate EIR – I disagree that this is needed, but OK.
    4. Support if issues are worked out – me too!
    5. Distrust – some people distrust all developers and fight every proposal. I don’t know if they can ever overcome this.
    6. Port pulling out – I think this is a little over the top. I don’t think shippers are going to pull out because an unused piece at the very edge gets redeveloped.

    Not in your list, but if the Port has an issue with the size of the turning basin, the A’s will have to sit down and negotiate that. Should be doable if both parties come to the table in an honest effort to negotiate. At this point, I choose to believe the Port is being straightforward in their concern. But I also have to wonder if that is so critical to Port operations, why didn’t they build it out when they had control of that land? Perhaps it’s a long term planning issue, which is fair. I just hope it isn’t a red herring to fight housing creeping closer to the port (which could invite future limitations on their operations).

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