A’s sue California DTSC over Schnitzer Steel

Quick version:

Need more? Okay.

The A’s filed a lawsuit against the State of California, claiming that the State didn’t enforce 2018 environmental regulations meant to keep metal recycling facilities like Schnitzer Steel from accidentally starting fires. A website, SchnitzerWatch.org, was set up by the A’s, along with a change.org petition which has around 1,200 signees as of 8/5 @ 10 PM. The petition also has a number of donations, which is good for the A’s legal fees supporting this effort. Considering that they already list two law firms and may have more on retainer, they’ll be making withdrawals quite frequently.

Additionally on my tweet, is a reference the March lawsuit brought by coalition of Port companiesalso against the State, over Howard Terminal. That lawsuit was about the CEQA streamlining the A’s were seeking, and whether the A’s got certification by January 1, 2020 (they didn’t).

If you’re keeping score, both the A’s and Port interests are not suing each other, but rather the State of California (DTSC and SLC, respectively) over those agencies’ treatment of the offending parties (Schnitzer and A’s, respectively). So in both cases, the complainants are snitching. This doesn’t mean these lawsuits automatically cancel each other out. There may be a way to come to an agreement, but considering how both sides have had six years and nothing’s happened yet, I wouldn’t hold my breath. It’s much more likely that both will go to court in separate cases, whenever it’s safe to add those cases to the dockets and hear them. It’s also worth nothing that the A’s only role in the area is as a lessee of office space at Jack London Square. They don’t own any property yet, unlike Schnitzer.

On Sunday night, I wrote about the timeline slippage for Howard Terminal the A’s published over the weekend. Fast forward to Wednesday, the A’s file the lawsuit, and President Dave Kaval makes the media rounds.

Deeper in Kaval’s tweet thread is an interesting nugget:

Caught up in all the talk about helping West Oakland, Kaval says, “We’ll fight this fight regardless of what happens with the ballpark.”

And right there, the A’s created an escape hatch for themselves. If this fight becomes too difficult, they could abandon Howard Terminal, retreat back to the Coliseum (which they may entirely own in a few months), and pledge to clean up Schnitzer for the sake of West Oakland. Maybe those change.org donations will go towards an environmental fund, who knows?

On the other hand, let’s posit that the A’s take this all the way in court. What are the A’s asking for?

When Schnitzer accepts old cars or appliances to scrap, those hunks of metal are often contaminated. Those contaminants (oil, chemicals, rubber) aren’t easily cleaned away, and some may turn into lighter fluid for scrap metal fires. From skimming both the complaint summary and DTSC’s explainer of the metal shredding process, there aren’t many good alternatives. And if you look at the news, it’s a pretty widespread problem, one not yet solved with technology. A similar metal recycling facility in Chicago was closed in May after a series of fires, controversially reopening yesterday. For the benefit of West Oakland residents, it would be best to copy the operating model of another facility that functions without causing fires. A City of Chicago document outlines one method of storing the scrap indoors in a fireproof enclosure, which sounds like a good idea for Howard Terminal (Note 8/6 11:30 AM: At least one West Oakland activist agrees). Is anyone proposing that? Would that be enough? I’m as much an environmental expert as I am a lawyer, so I can’t speak with any more clarity on the efficacy of that method.

Schnitzer Steel can’t keep skating beyond well-expired deadlines. Neither can the A’s with theirs. In both cases, companies are going to have to make significant investments to prove their worthiness. If they don’t, they’re not doing West Oakland or the entire City of Oakland any good. All this posturing we’re hearing from both sides is just a way to delay making those investments.

Finally, there’s an unusual footnote to this whole affair. Today’s lawsuit by the A’s was brought by the law firm Keker Van Nest & Peters. March’s lawsuit filed by PMSA/Schnitzer was brought by Pillsbury. You may remember that both firms helped the Giants fight off the City of San Jose’s territorial rights challenge. Now they’re effectively on opposite sides: Pillsbury reps the Port interests while Keker is working for the A’s. Even in these pandemic times, life is good when you’re on a retainer.

Spiderman pointing meme

Added at sierraspartan’s suggestion

P.S. – Almost forgot, the Schnitzer Watch site has no A’s branding on it, even though the A’s filed the lawsuit. Why? Who knows?

Pushback causes Howard Terminal to get pushed back

Saturday morning is not normally I time to check sites for updates. However, it was August 1, so there was a small chance of seeing something new. If you checked the A’s We Are Rooted site for Howard Terminal over the past several months, you were greeted with this graphic:

Old timeline

By June, it was becoming embarrassingly obvious that this graphic would need to be updated. So I sent out a tweet asking Dave Kaval for it. Ask and ye shall receive, as they say:

New timeline (8/1)

The differences? First of all, there’s no groundbreaking date in 2021 or 2023 Opening Day. In fact, neither is promised at all. What we’re left with are dual Oakland City Council and Port of Oakland votes a year from now, which at this point looks and sounds like a rapidly deflating balloon.

Second, the Draft EIR period is being undersold, as usual. That’s the period when opponents normally launch lawsuits against projects. The problem now is two-fold. While the A’s spent a lot of time and lobbying money trying to line up bills to streamline Howard Terminal through the CEQA process, the project is currently stuck in legal limbo while the state tries to figure out if the A’s successfully applied by the end-of-2019 deadline. It’s bad enough that there’s a protracted battle over the streamlining issue, where the A’s consultants keep submitting addenda to support the project while opponents file letters claiming that the project isn’t eligible.

Excerpt

Excerpt from Port companies letter against project (highlight mine)

Here’s the thing. I didn’t even want to write this post. When the sh*t hit the fan in March, I felt it would be best to let the dust settle and resume coverage when the EIR is released. Reasonable plan, right? Well, you know what they say about best-laid plans. Kaval says the EIR should be published by September. Which sounds okay, except that’s already a year delay from what was promised previously. At this point, we don’t really know when the document will be released. If past is prologue, I have to put the likelihood that we’ll see the draft version at 50/50.

Sadly, that’s all too typical of A’s ballpark projects since I started this blog 15 years ago. The EIR process, which for most people sounds like a tediously boring bureaucratic step, became a crucial gating mechanism for the viability of big projects. Last week, I tried to recall all of the sites beyond the Coliseum that the A’s have studied so far.

  1. Coliseum North (2006, no draft or final EIR)
  2. Pacific Commons (2008, no draft or final EIR)
  3. Warm Springs (2009, no draft or final EIR)
  4. San Jose (2010, EIR certified by City – who also was applicant)
  5. Laney/Peralta (2017, no draft or final EIR)
  6. Howard Terminal (2018, waiting for draft)

It doesn’t end with the draft, though. Publishing the draft kicks off the review and comment process, which opponents are already throwing a wrench into with their pre-emptive lawsuit. The 45-day comment period is a minimum guideline and tends to get drawn out as comments pile up and staff has to write responses or even make major or wholesale changes to the project.

This is why I cautioned so many readers and A’s fans against jumping on the HT bandwagon too eagerly. It, like most of the other past initiatives, is rife with conflict and litigious opponents. For now, I’ll continue to stay the course, hoping that the draft EIR is released and we’ll have something cool to talk about. Perhaps I’m asking too much. I’ll end with my favorite John Wooden quote:

Never mistake activity for achievement.

P.S. – When I first referred to the changed timelines yesterday, I got the usual blowback from HT fans who for some reason cannot comprehend why I’m not on the bandwagon. If those people can’t understand why from reading the post above, I can’t help them. Sorry, folks. Hope is not a strategy.

Fairweather Owner

You’ve probably seen John Fisher’s letter to fans from a couple days ago. In case you haven’t, here it is:

To our friends, family, and colleagues,

I hope each of you and your families are safe and sound during this challenging period.

I am writing to you personally today because you are our fans, employees, and members of our A’s family. This has been a tremendously difficult day and I wanted to share some important updates with you. While I normally stay behind the scenes, mostly because I believe in the leaders who run the team day-to-day, I felt that you should hear this news directly from me given the extraordinary nature of these times.

I am very saddened to let you know that we have implemented a significant temporary furlough of staff positions, and reduced compensation for staff members who are not furloughed. We are also suspending compensation for the A’s minor league players.

Our first priority is to those who are being impacted by these decisions, and we will do everything possible to support them during this time. Many of those affected by these decisions have been loyal to the A’s for years – some even decades. I want to apologize to every person impacted.

Baseball is more than a job – it is a way of life. People who work for our team are our family – our very foundation — and they work tirelessly to help the A’s compete in this most precious game. COVID-19 has brought a tragic loss of life and sickness to so many in our community, and it has impacted us all in ways we could have never imagined. Our organization, like so many others across the country, has had to make tough and painful decisions. We all miss baseball, and we want it back as soon as possible. We want the season to get underway soon, and we believe that the healing power of the game will help bring our community here at home – and across the nation — together again.

I know that many of you will wonder why the A’s are cutting costs now. Nobody knows how this pandemic will evolve over the long term. What is clear is that our revenues will be dramatically reduced this year. None of this diminishes the pain of today’s actions, but it is an honest acknowledgement of the circumstances of the moment.

I became involved with the A’s because I love the game of baseball. I love the drama that can unfold in a few innings, or even a single pitch. I love rooting for our team. I want our employees and fans to know that we remain deeply committed to the long-term future of the Oakland A’s, including our new ballpark, which we know can be a positive force for the City of Oakland and the East Bay. With this said, above all else, my concerns today are with every single person in our organization who is being personally affected. Through no fault of any of our staff, today’s actions are hard.

We look forward to welcoming employees and fans back to the game as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

John Fisher
Oakland A’s Managing General Partner

Fisher’s communiqué, his first as the true face of A’s ownership, is a sharp contrast from what we’ve seen from Lew Wolff and Dave Kaval, who were both brought in as frontmen to interface with fans and the business community in order to rally support for new ballpark initiatives. Since Wolff was moved from the control person role to an emeritus one, Fisher has taken a more prominent role, at least during baseball’s owner’s meetings, possibly at baseball’s behest. Though Fisher has behind practically all of the tough decisions made by the front office since 2005, this is the first time he truly had to put himself in the position to weather the backlash.

A’s ownership is getting to a crucial point, part of cycle that has been repeated since they were born over a century ago.

*Omitted the Schott-Hofmann group from the tweet because of the 240-character limit.

Fisher bankrolled most of the 2005 purchase of the A’s for $180 million. Forbes’ 2020 valuation of the team (presumably done pre-COVID) was $1.1 billion, which means that whatever was used to finance the purchase was paid back and then some. Everything after that is pure equity, especially when you consider the minimal capital improvements (ballparks and facilities) made by the ownership group since ’05. Most of the expenditures in recent years have been in sales and development, of the Howard Terminal plan and A’s Access at the Coliseum. When I spoke to Wolff many years ago about how a ballpark would be financed, he said it would be equity-based, but demurred on the details.

As for Fisher the individual, much has been made about his net worth. Also according to Forbes, as of April he was worth $2.1 Billion, not too shabby. That obscures the fact that only 2 years earlier, he was worth $2.8 Billion. Most of the $700 million loss was due to the the flagging fortunes of GAP, the family business.

No one’s shedding tears for Fisher now or ever. He was was rich before the pandemic, he’ll still be rich after. Furloughed scouts and minor leaguers not getting mere stipends don’t have that luxury. The cycle of A’s ownership, which may be repeating itself, remains troubling. It’s not a unique story. Pro sports franchises are hobbies or playthings for their owners, who usually buy those franchises with proceeds from other endeavors. Fisher has the family GAP money. Walter Haas was from Levi’s. Charlie Finley sold insurance. Only Connie Mack made his name as a baseball man from the start, which made it difficult for him to withstand the Great Depression and limited his income.

GAP is a strange mirror image of the A’s, forgoing rent and laying off workers by the thousands. In both cases there is a single fundamental truth to both businesses: there is no revenue. When revenue dries up, you look for expenditures to cut. You start with non-essential positions, like the bizdev folks the A’s hired during the Howard Terminal push over the last two years. Then you go with the minor leaguers and staff, who have no union and are considered more fungible than MLB. Those salaries are paid by the big league club’s player development budget, not by each minor league affiliate. In the past that amounted to $40-50 million annually across all minor league levels.

Going into 2020, the A’s had some money coming in. They had deposits and monthly installments on season tickets of different types, plus spring training revenue through the middle of March. I don’t know how the other game-related revenue deals (broadcasting, ads, concessions) are structured so I can’t comment on that. There’s also money from the league’s revenue sharing plan, which thanks to the current CBA was phased out gradually for the A’s (25% of a full share in 2019 or approximately $5 million, fully phased out in 2020). That aspect of the deal was premised on the A’s building Howard Terminal and emerging as a fully self-sufficient franchise when it opened in 2023.

In good times, pushing all your chips behind Howard Terminal makes sense. As we’ve seen as the plan progressed, its success depended on everything falling into place, from the environmental approvals to the working agreements with neighbors. The margin for error on a plan that complex was remarkably slim, especially when you take into account all of the external factors and how they could affect the day-to-day operation of the team. (BTW in case you’re wondering, there’s still no published draft EIR). Those external factors have created a sort of perfect storm moment for the franchise, rendering them broke in the face of the pandemic. We’re seeing what happens when you don’t make contingency plans on small and large scales, to horrific effect.

As the calendar moved from March into April and May with play stopped and no clear date to resume, I could see all the line items, the various expenses that Fisher and the rest of the ownership group would have to decide to retain or cut. Longtime minors coach Webster Garrison was spared from furlough as he recovers from COVID-related illness this spring. To treat him like the rest of the staff would’ve been a PR disaster of epic proportions, as if it isn’t already. The brutal truth of it all is that $5 million in reduced revenue sharing funds is already not going to go very far. The Rule 4 draft is two weeks. The Marlins and Padres were recently cited positively for continuing to pay players and minors staff for the next few months. Good for them! They still get revenue sharing! They should pay everyone accordingly! MLB owners and players are still divvying up the what’s left of the revenue pie for 2020, and the A’s have effectively painted themselves into a corner. If, as rumored, the ownership group has been squirreling away the revenue sharing checks into a rainy day fund, well, 2020 is a damned monsoon, John. Do what you will.

One Horse Town

Say goodbye to the bad guy.

Over at NBC Sports Bay Area, Scott Bair reported yesterday that the Raiders, who had an option to play at the Coliseum in 2020 just in case Allegiant Stadium didn’t get completed in time, recently declined the option. They had until April 1 to renew.

With the Raiders leaving Oakland behind, we can officially leave behind silly concepts like this:

Or this:

And especially this:

It was never going to end well. At least one team had to leave which grew to two. There are lessons to be learned. Memories to savor. Once we get through the current crisis, Oakland can get back to what it was like when baseball ruled the town.

October 3, 2012

When the dust settles, the A’s and A’s fans will have to pick up the pieces. What world will we live in? What restrictions will be placed on our movement, or on limits to assembled crowds? It’s more than a little ironic that the cavernous Coliseum could work in an era of social distancing – at least if the crowds are limited to 20,000 or less.

MLB is saying for now that the start of the season is postponed until mid-May at the earliest. Until then confusion reigns, as teams are deciding where to set up camp for the season. A’s staff and players have it relatively easy, since they can easily shuttle between Oakland and Mesa. Players often have offseason homes in Arizona. Other teams have more complicated logistics. Take always-an-Athletic Sean Doolittle and Eireann Dolan, who described their living arrangements, which included the specter of dual concurrent leases.

Whenever the season starts, it will be truncated and condensed. You might see many more doubleheaders (hooray!) and expanded rosters, perhaps six-man rotations. Gotta get the games in somehow. Fortunately, there won’t be anymore $250k baseball-to-football-to-baseball Coliseum conversations to plan this year, maybe forever. There is also the matter of the Raiders locker rooms. The A’s will have about two months between now and the start of the season. Should the team choose to keep all their training in Mesa, they can continue to use the old cramped clubhouses with few complaints. If they choose to move more of the team to Oakland before the official start of 2020 season, they’ll need the extra space. And while a scant two months is a tough timeline to hit, that should be enough to make sure the plumbing works, install new carpeting, and slap a new green-and-gold paint job on the joint.

Modern NFL locker rooms are vast, perhaps overkill for the A’s (photo: Flickr user rocor)

The benefits would be enormous. It’s a larger space to house the entire 40-man roster and camp invitees if needed. The facilities on that level are newer and more functional than the old baseball clubhouses (insert plumbing joke here). The team will still run the shuttle between Oakland and Mesa as needed. Parts of each football locker room could be cordoned off for press use or other functions. And outside on the field, Clay Wood and his stalwart crew can focus on keeping the turf and infield as pristine as possible without much worry about divots, dealing with the gridiron, or 300-lb. dudes trampling everything.

It’s no vaccine for the coronavirus. It could help the team be more competitive with the rest of the American League, and if the theme this year is to strike while the iron is hot, I can’t think of a better way to prepare for this season.

Howard Terminal neighbors challenge CEQA streamlining effort

I was wondering when the Port private interests (PMSA, trucking and transport companies) would file their first lawsuit. They laid down the gauntlet yesterday, suing the City of Oakland to stop the CEQA streamlining process for Howard Terminal.

I expected the first lawsuit to be filed after the draft EIR was released, not before. What made the Port group fire the first shot? A technicality, of course. Governor Gavin Newsom didn’t certify the project for streamlining by the end of 2019, which opponents are seizing on as something that should disqualify the project from streamlining altogether. Absent the streamlining, the project would have to undergo the exemption-free CEQA process, dragging on potentially for years.

The A’s applied for CEQA streamlining through AB 900, which was passed nearly a decade ago. If you look at the list of projects that were certified for streamlining, you’ll see a number of high profile examples such as the Apple Campus (certified 2012) and the planned Clippers arena (certified 2019). You’ll also see a listing for Oakland Sports and Mixed-Use Project at Howard Terminal, which to date is not yet certified for streamlining. This is despite the fact that AB 734 was passed separately to help assist with the process.

A draft version of the EIR was expected to be released at the end of 2019 in February sometime this month. (We’re past the Ides of March, as you know.) At issue were a number of environmental issues such as the project’s carbon footprint and the difficulty in getting 20% improvement over the Coliseum, a requirement that was going to be difficult to hit given the lack of transportation options at the site.

Mayor Schaaf’s office also had some feedback:

A judge will have to determine if HT qualifies regardless of the missed deadline. Maybe after that we’ll get to read the EIR. Maybe not. It can be hard to grasp how difficult a puzzle this is, and perhaps I haven’t done a good enough job spelling it out. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out. Perhaps if this drags all the way out and there is a groundbreaking, everyone will be able to appreciate the effort. Until then, as usual, never mistake activity for achievement.

P.S. – The Clippers and A’s were in roughly the same place process wise as the main legislative session was winding up in Sacramento last summer. Both teams got their respective bills passed. The Clips doubled down on their plans by offering to buy out their chief legal opposition, MSG, taking the Forum off MSG’s hands and building a bunch of affordable housing in the process. So far, the A’s say they want to build affordable housing too! As far as buying out opponents, we’ll see about that. Unlike Inglewood, the two sides aren’t natural competitors.

There’s a reason I consistently talk about whether or not Howard Terminal is prohibitively expensive. Getting rid of opposition is a huge factor, and the A’s have proven time and time again that they’re unwilling to pay to get rid of opponents. We may be getting to the tipping point for Howard Terminal.

MLB Pushes Opening Day Another 8 Weeks

My only question is: Does this mean that the A’s can skip over the usual horrid start to the season?

 

Life Comes At You Fast: Global Pandemic Edition

Fangs are the scary part

After March 11, 2020, inserted itself into the “Day That Will Live In Infamy” annals, let’s take stock.

You can find a more comprehensive list of cancellations and postponements at “is it canceled yet?

Giants cancel 3/23 Bay Bridge Series game due to coronavirus, A’s decisions loom

UPDATE 6:43 PM– Oakland is also suspending 1k+ events.

UPDATE 2:20 PM – Alameda County is going the same way as SF.

A recent San Francisco directive to ban assemblies of 1,000 or more persons pushed the Giants to cancel the planned Bay Bridge Series game featuring the Giants and A’s on Monday, March 23. As the game is technically an exhibition, it won’t have any effect on standings, unlike the Warriors decision to play tomorrow’s home game vs. the Brooklyn Nets in a Chase Center devoid of fans. The A’s, who also have a planned Bay Bridge Series game and a weeklong opening homestead starting March 26, produced their own wait-and-see statement:

Those familiar with the normal Spring Training operations schedule know that there’s a big media meet-and-greet in the Bay Area prior to the start of the Cactus League schedule, followed by pitchers and catchers reporting in mid-February. After that is the start of games, then the split into major and minor league camps. Throughout the month of play fans of all stripes travel to Arizona to watch their teams and soak in the sun (not so much this week, unfortunately). Cactus League play ends a week before the regular season starts. That week usually includes one or two tune-up games like the Bay Bridge Series. At the same time, rehabbing players start extended spring training back in Arizona, while the major league players and staff moves to their regular season homes. It’s a fairly well-orchestrated set of logistics that, thanks to a growing pandemic, has been thrown into chaos.

As Opening Day rapidly approaches, the A’s will have to make key decisions on how to operate. Do they play their Bay Bridge Series game in Oakland? In front of a crowd? If Oakland adopts similar assembly restrictions as SF, there’s no telling what will happen. As the Bay Bridge provides that tune-up function, it’s worth asking if the A’s should host one or both games in Oakland sans a crowd.

In trying to figure this out I put together a quick poll with a focus on Opening Week, which the A’s traditionally play at the Coliseum:

It gets complicated, even more for visiting teams. The Twins were supposed to open the season in Oakland, the fly up to Seattle for a series. But the State of Washington is restricting events as well, which puts the Twins in a pickle. The Twins spring in Florida’s Grapefruit League. They don’t have a West Coast base on which to fall back. And they can’t realistically plan to play games in Minneapolis for the first week due to weather. So the A’s and Mariners have to adjust their plans to accommodate the Twins as well. Same goes for other California teams.

Here in Arizona, there are nine reported cases of coronavirus, including three this week. There isn’t the same widespread work-from-home strategy deployed in AZ as elsewhere, although there are exceptions. The coronavirus outbreak is relatively mild here compared to California or Washington. Normal seasonal warming here and in Florida may help limit cases of COVID-19. It may also come back with a vengeance after summer ends, who knows? For now, people here are still attending Cactus League games. As the virus spreads and more cases are reported, everyone from teams and players to fans and families have to plan and prepare for the worst. This is so much more than a game.

The Future of Domes Is Not In Texas

The Rangers posted a quick look of Globe Life Field. Honestly, it looks like most other retractable roof ballparks built in the last 20 years.

Unlike the ballparks in Seattle and Houston and like Marlins Park, the new one in Arlington has its roof designed to retract out of the way behind first base. T-Mobile Park and Minute Maid Park retract their roofs beyond the right field wall.The sheer size of the structure kills views of half the skyline.

Besides Seattle, all of this is in the name of climate control. Like Phoenix’s Chase Field, Globe Life Field will also use artificial turf.

There exist visions for more forward thinking retractable roof ballparks. The best and newest is planned for 2023 in Hokkaido, Japan, for the Nippon Ham Fighters:

Or try this concept for Portland (if they get a team):

In both cases, the domes retract behind home plate. That runs counter to the old notions of grand entrances with special architectural features like rotundas, instead giving way to a more open outfield. Air conditioning, if included, could be more expensive and harder to accomplish in such designs with the roof closed. Thankfully for Hokkaido and Portland, they are located in more northern latitudes with milder climates. Still, it’s disappointing that the Rangers are going with what could be termed the new cookie cutter design. At least the fans will be comfortable in there.

EIR will come out eventually (advanced thumb twiddling)

UPDATE 11:30 AM – The A’s are trying to respond to all the questions.

Can you imagine what this will be like if March comes and goes without delivery of the EIR?

The problem with this step of the process is that it’s opaque and inscrutable. So we wait.

ORIGINAL POST

Any day now.

I hope you readers understand why over the past several months I haven’t devoted many posts to the EIR process. Having read the completed reports for Levi’s Stadium, Earthquakes Stadium, and Chase Center, I wanted to wait until there was a finished (draft) work product for the Howard Terminal ballpark. And so we wait for that product.

Good thing we have spring training to pass the time. Until the report arrives, enjoy the spring. There’s plenty of other things to read. Or other diversions.