Assemblyman introduces CEQA-streamlining bill for future A’s ballpark village

Now we know something is happening.

Sort of.

Yesterday, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) submitted an amendment to AB 734, a bill working its way through the Assembly. Its purpose is to limit the number and length of potential legal challenges to an A’s ballpark and ancillary development. The language allows for the ballpark to be built at either the Coliseum or Howard Terminal sites.

(c) The city has identified two viable sites for the new baseball park, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site principally owned by the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda, and the Howard Terminal site owned by the Port of Oakland. The city seeks to capitalize on the development of a new baseball park to maximize the economic benefit of the team and its facilities for the city, county, and port, including critical transit and transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, open space, and job creation. Essential to the success and feasibility of the new baseball park is the development of complementary adjacent mixed-use residential, commercial, and retail uses that will support the baseball park and further the city’s and region’s goals for sustainable transit-oriented development, including an increase in supply of housing, including affordable housing.

Bonta’s district includes most of Oakland including West and East, Alameda, and San Leandro, so he can’t be accused of playing favorites among the sites. Though it’s somewhat curious that Peralta isn’t mentioned. That indicates that all parties have moved on.

Elsewhere in the text is the definition of the project (for CEQA purposes), which the A’s haven’t yet publicly presented:

(3) “Oakland Sports and Mixed-Use Project” or “project” means the following components of a sports center and mixed-use project located at the Howard Terminal site in the City of Oakland or the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site in the City of Oakland, from demolition and site preparation through operation:
(A) A baseball park that will become the new home to the Oakland Athletics and adjacent residential, retail, commercial, cultural, entertainment, or recreational uses developed by the Oakland Athletics, and that meets all of the following:
(i) The baseball park and each new mixed-use building achieves at least LEED Silver certification or its equivalent for new construction after completion or the project achieves at least LEED Neighborhood Design Silver rating or its equivalent.
(ii) The uses are subject to a comprehensive transportation demand management plan to reduce single-occupancy vehicles and prioritize other modes of transportation, such as public transit, waterborne transportation, ride-share, bicycles, and pedestrians.
(iii) The project is located within a priority development area identified in the sustainable communities strategy Plan Bay Area 2040 adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The particulars are designed to ensure that the stadium project would qualify for CEQA streamlining. The implicit deadline for opponents to challenge the project is July 1, 2019, slightly more than one year from today.

A previous version of the law, AB 900, allowed for a few major sports facilities to be built, including the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center and the upcoming Chase Center. It also tracked with three failed SoCal football stadium projects: Farmers Field, the City of Industry Stadium, and the revamped Qualcomm Stadium.

Should the A’s end up starting a project (one should hope so), they should be prepared for resistance from all manner of environmental and community groups, as they saw with Peralta. The worry there may be diminished with the Coliseum, which already went through this process when Coliseum City was approved. Howard Terminal doesn’t have that yet, and may never get to that point. It’s expected that A’s brass will pick the site by the end of the year, kickstarting the CEQA review in the process. But could they try both sites simultaneously?

The All Bay Collective, a group of policy planners and environmentalists, started looking at areas in the Bay that could use strengthening against sea-level rise. Their plan for the Coliseum/Airport area, renamed Estuary Commons, is fascinating.

ABC’s Estuary Commons (Coliseum/Airport area)

Among the changes being considered are tidal ponds in the Coliseum parking area and a rerouting/tunneling of I-880 near Hegenberger Road and San Leandro Street. As far as I know these ideas are not being offered officially by the City of Oakland. Still, it’s interesting to consider the possibility of the Bay reclaiming part of the Eastshore as it’s doing with parts of the South Bay.

Schnitzer Steel fire sends dark cloud over Oakland

Just before 4 PM today, a fire broke out at the Schnitzer Steel metal recycling plant immediately to the west of Howard Terminal. This followed a similar fire in March, and other fires that have hit the facility over the last several years. Thankfully, the blaze came under control shortly after six, after help came from Alameda and San Francisco fireboats.

Schnitzer and the A’s met before the season started as the A’s renewed interest in Howard Terminal. Schnitzer clearly warned the A’s that if the A’s were to build there, either the metal plant or the team would be impacted because the plant’s operations have already changed to overnight hours to help reduce the impact during regular business hours. While this fire occurred on a Saturday afternoon, it could happen at any time as long as there’s a pile of scrap metal ready to ignite at the plant.

That brings up a serious conundrum that may face the City of Oakland, the Port of Oakland, and the A’s if the three parties decided to go forward with the Howard Terminal site. Would they have to figure out a way to get rid of Schnitzer? The company likes their location, with access to freeways, rail, and the waterfront for shipping to other countries. That’s pretty hard to beat as long as the company can comply with environmental regulations. The plant is overseen by an alphabet soup of public agencies. California’s DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances watches what gets leaked into the ground or bay. The BAAQMD (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) tries to make sure that toxics aren’t released into the air as they were today. Moving the plant to another location – in Oakland or elsewhere – would require drawing up new toxics control agreements and invite protests from potential neighbors.

We have a couple of test cases to guide us through the process. AT&T Park was made possible by the closure and decommissioning of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after Loma Prieta, which allowed the city to remake the entire waterfront from Mission Bay to Broadway. In Minneapolis, Target Field was placed on a site next to a plant that not only recycles, it actually burns garbage and creates energy in the process. That’s not the same as a metal recycling plant whose main job is to recycle steel from old cars and appliances. At HERC the burning is controlled. At Schnitzer, fires can occur without warning.

To support their cause, Schnitzer enlisted from former State Senate President and East Bay politico Dom Perata. While Perata has seen his image disgraced and his power diminished, I don’t doubt for second that he still has some weight to throw around and that Schnitzer will use it to make any negotiations difficult. The question is, does Oakland and the A’s want to venture down this road? Schnitzer’s problems have been well known, but it provides a useful service for area. What is to be done about it? What if a fire broke out during a night game next door? How do you protect the fans, or evacuate them safely? These are among the many questions the A’s will be considering over the next six months.

Or, as Dave Kaval wrote in a letter to Mayor Libby Schaaf in March:

Of course, significant uncertainty remains on how the various challenges for Howard Terminal can be satisfied.

One thing’s abundantly clear: We can no longer wish away Howard Terminal’s challenges.

Update 6/4 7:23 PM – ABC-7’s Laura Anthony has further clarification on the incident.

 

Battle of the dueling ENAs

So here we are, almost Memorial Day, and the A’s have entered separate Exclusive Negotiating Agreements with two potential ballpark sites in Oakland: the Coliseum and Howard Terminal.

That was followed by A’s president Dave Kaval’s response on Twitter to an inquiry about Howard Terminal:

First, it’s good to hear that the A’s will have (with the Port’s help) a weather station installed at Howard Terminal.

But where will it be located? And is one enough?

To gain some insight, let’s check with our friends at Weather Underground. Unlike last year, when it appeared that a station was installed on a buoy in the Oakland Estuary, this time it appears that it’s situated on the southwest corner of the Howard Terminal pier. That’s not the likely location of home plate or the grandstand, but it should provide a sense of the prevailing winds in the neighborhood.

Here’s what that station is registering as of 6:20 PM tonight:

Now let’s look at the Coliseum area at 6:23 PM:

Now I’ve heard a lot about how Howard Terminal won’t be Candlestick, Part Deux. Let me point out that Howard Terminal is not Jack London Square, and while HT isn’t exactly Land’s End, it isn’t the most wind-protected area ever and it’s probably not going to be in the future. Even if a ballpark is built there, local and environmental groups will fight hard to keep the A’s from building a 100-foot-tall, 800-foot-long edifice on the waterfront. The A’s will probably unveil a design that orients the park more towards downtown and away from the water, to provide allow the ballpark grandstand to block the wind. Or, as the Giants found out:

The wind and temperature conditions aren’t necessarily going to be the gating factor that determines the viability of Howard Terminal. Economic factors and political process will.

Speaking of process, now that the ENAs for the Coliseum and Howard Terminal have been approved, the A’s now have given themselves a scant six months to figure out all of the details.

Say that Kaval makes an announcement in early December. Because of the normal City Hall schedule, a project won’t be brought up for City Council review, let alone planning commission review, until early next year. Then the CEQA process will begin. If you’re keeping track of how other recent projects have been affected, consider that the Warriors ownership group bought the site of the future Chase Center from Salesforce in April 2014. It’s scheduled to open in time for the 2019-20 NBA season, which starts in October 2019.

Then remember that the Coliseum, thanks to the aborted Coliseum City project, already is entitled for one or more stadiums and a slew of ancillary development. The Warriors ended up going with a backup plan. What will the A’s do?

Las Vegas AAA’s?

No, that’s not a typo.

BANG’s Jon Becker is reporting tonight that Las Vegas is opening up – but it’s not quite the threat you think.

Vegas, which briefly hosted the A’s at Cashman Field in the mid 90’s, will soon lose its AAA team, the 51’s, to Syracuse, where the Mets will better localize its minor league operations. The Mets purchased the Chiefs in 2017 and will officially change the affiliation starting next year.

Meanwhile, there is a new ballpark being built in the Vegas market. However, it’s not on the Strip or near downtown Vegas. It will be in suburban Summerlin, which feels much newer (and nicer) than the rest of Vegas. So nice, in fact, that the NHL’s Golden Knights built their practice facility, City National Arena, in Summerlin.

In the never-ending game of affiliate musical chairs, where does that leave a team in Vegas? Or Cashman Field, for that matter?

For starters, Cashman Field is being abandoned by baseball. A USL soccer team, Las Vegas Lights FC, started playing there earlier this year. Once a minor league team moves into the under-construction Summerlin ballpark, the soccer franchise should have Cashman all to themselves (unless they want to move to tonier Summerlin as well). There’s also talk that the XFL may choose Vegas as a city in its next iteration; chances are they’d choose the larger Sam Boyd Stadium instead.

After being ditched by Sacramento for the Giants, the A’s went to Nashville, which is far away but at least has a new ballpark. The A’s player development contract with Nashville ends this year, as do several others:

  • Fresno
  • Reno
  • Round Rock
  • Colorado Springs
  • Rochester
  • Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
  • Norfolk

Fresno may be a favorite because of its Central Valley location, but it has suffered for years for having a subpar airport, contributing to high travel costs for teams and players. Reno’s better in that regard, as is Vegas. The rest are likely to re-up with their existing MLB affiliates, with Colorado Springs always in flux because of its elevation.

Reno could happen because the MLS Earthquakes have a partnership with USL side Reno 1868 FC. It would be easier for ownership to make junkets to Reno to check out both the USL and PCL clubs.

We should find out towards the end of the season which way the AAA’s move.

P.S. – I took some pics of Cashman when I was in Vegas last year. Here’s one.

Port of Oakland set to vote on Howard Terminal ENA

Does this read like deja vu?

That’s because it is.

The Port of Oakland is getting ready to approve a one-year window for negotiating with the A’s on Howard Terminal. To help pave the way, they will also approve a feasibility study for the site. I know you’re asking, wasn’t a study done a few years ago? And I’m here to tell you, no, it was never done. Not one released in public, at least. The A’s shared their findings with the City and Port. Neither the Port nor City furnished their own study or EIR. Neither did Oakland Waterfront Ballpark, the group that championed Howard Terminal oh so long ago. Here’s the agenda item:

1. CLOSED SESSION (1:00 p.m.)
1.1
Closed Session discussions and materials may not be disclosed to a person not entitled to receive it, unless the Board authorizes disclosure of that confidential information.
CONFERENCE WITH REAL PROPERTY NEGOTIATOR – (Pursuant to California Government Code Section 54956.8)
Property: One Market Street, Oakland, CA (Howard Terminal) Negotiating Parties: Oakland Athletics and Port of Oakland
Agency Negotiator: Pamela Kershaw, Director of Commercial Real Estate Under Negotiation: Price and Terms of Tenancy
Property: Oakland International Container Terminal (Berths 55-56 and Berths 57-59) and Matson Terminal (Berths 60-63 – Port of Oakland
Negotiating Parties: SSA Terminals (Oakland), LLC; SSA Terminals, LLC, and Port of Oakland
Agency Negotiator: John Driscoll, Director of Maritime Under Negotiation: Price and Terms of Tenancy
File ID: [141-18]

Not much has changed in the intervening years. Obstacles remain for any project at HT. There’s the lack of BART serving the area. It’s still polluted. It’s still on the wrong side of the tracks, as mentioned by former city administrator Dan Lindheim:

“The reason was it was on the wrong side of the tracks,” Lindheim, now an assistant professor at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Policy, said recently. “Major League Baseball feared in the event of a catastrophe. their illustrious fans and players would be stuck. They didn’t want 40,000 people stuck over there.”

And don’t forget the A’s finding that Howard Terminal is appreciably colder than other sites in Oakland. Or the constant pounding noise coming from Schnitzer Steel at night.

Maybe the A’s-led effort will resolve the myriad issues plaguing the site. You have to give the parties credit for giving this a good old college try. However, I’m afraid that thanks to MLB backing the A’s into a corner, the team will have no choice but to kick the can down the road. We’re all familiar with that routine by now.

—-

P.S. – You noticed how third parties came out of the woodwork to hopefully bid on the Coliseum, but none have done the same with Howard Terminal? I wonder why.

The A’s fortunes won’t turn on a dime

This sums up my thoughts on the Portland Oregonian’s John Canzano’s clarion call to recruit the A’s to Portland (or convince MLB to expand there):

The Portland Diamond Project group, which made two separate offers on land in the Portland area, is not considered a potential ownership group, according to Forbes’ Maury Brown.

Portland’s biggest problem is that it actively pushed aside AAA baseball to entertain MLS soccer years ago. No matter how much the market may have improved statistically, it’s still guilty of putting baseball on the back burner. Its only baseball team is the short season Hillsboro Hops, a team that pulls slightly more than 3,000 regularly in a stadium built to hold 4,500. PDX now has to go the Phoenix route, hoping that a spec-built stadium will be sufficient for an expansion team or a relocated team. In either case the club will have to wait at least three years for the stadium to be developed.

Brown also argues that any stadium in Portland should have a retractable roof like Seattle’s Safeco Field. After seeing from afar how inclement weather has affected early season games in the Northeast and the Eastern Seaboard, I have to agree. Teams can’t afford to lose revenue dates if they can help it.

Sure, it’s easy to crap on the A’s attendance so far in 2018. Those columnists don’t seem to understand the concept of loss leaders. That’s what last night’s 10-2 win over the ChiSox was. It attracted >20% fans who have never been to the Coliseum in its 50 years as a ballpark. Some of those fans may be the next generation of A’s fans, or those whose interest was recently piqued. The process to build a fanbase is a long, slow one, not triggered by one event or game date. The A’s have to earn the fan base’s trust, which will not happen overnight.

Mayor Schaaf to approve ENA’s for A’s on both Coliseum and Howard Terminal sites

During a joint announcement with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf today, Dave Kaval made this rather pointed statement about how he envisions the future home of the A’s:

Having just a destination ballpark with a sea of parking — that’s not a suitable sports complex for the 21st Century for millennials, for fans.

Based on ENA discussions with Schaaf, that could be at Howard Terminal or the Coliseum. Howard Terminal remains a sort of mirage: beautiful in pictures but a sort of illusion up close. The Coliseum is the practical albeit thoroughly unsexy choice. We all know that the A’s are lukewarm at best on HT. It’s Schaaf’s jewel on the waterfront. Whether the A’s will truly continue to fully evaluate or keep it on the board to placate Schaaf is unclear.

Let’s break down some of the key pros and cons of both sites:

The difference between the two sites is the HT is still essentially a series of drawings without a framework for execution, whereas the Coliseum has a framework but few cool concepts (renderings). To that effect, I expect the A’s architecture firm HOK to release something by the end of the regular season. The previous drawings envisioning a Raiders stadium as the anchor with the A’s ballpark in the periphery can be thrown in the trash. What we can expect next will be A’s-focused with no trace of football in sight. (I hope the team of HOK + Snohetta + T-Square are retained as they could create something truly eclectic and local-focused.)


 

If the A’s are going to use all 120-130 acres, I’d love to see the creation of an Athleticsland, a multipurpose, multi-venue complex that retains the arena for concerts, wrestling, and drone races with a street plan that ties it together with the ballpark. I’ve been to a few of these concepts that have failed in the execution (Atlanta), and the A’s can do better. As long as they focus on turning out future generations of fans and not just the currently well-heeled gentry in Rodeo or Pleasanton, they’ll be on the right track.