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.

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.

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.

Official: Peralta/Laney Ballpark is Dead

Wash: “It’s incredibly hard.”
Beane: “Hey, anything worth doing is.”

About six months ago I wrote the tweet below, not knowing yet which ballpark site the A’s were choosing:

Reality is here, and it is a bitch.

Feeling pressure from faculty and students alike, the board for the Peralta Colleges abruptly ended ongoing discussions with the A’s about building a ballpark at the current district headquarters next to Laney College. There was to be a Board vote next week to decide whether or not the district would enter formal negotiations with the A’s. Not anymore. With tepid support from Oakland City Hall, the A’s were facing an uphill battle for approval even at this lowest level. They didn’t even get to the first switchback on the trail.

The decision was followed by a series of reactions from relevant parties, including the A’s using 280 characters instead of a screenshot:

This doesn’t require much analysis, and with the whole process being cut short after three months it doesn’t merit recriminations. The A’s underestimated the potential opponents, and the City was hands-off with no support. That’s often a quick recipe for failure, even as I hoped the parties to get through at least to next week. So much for that.

So what happens next?

Well, we’re in the holidays, so for now, nothing. Early in 2018 we should hear more, especially as the A’s will have to regroup leading up to FanFest, whenever that is. And unlike 2017 FanFest, when many fans interpreted the site as the A’s leaning towards Howard Terminal, maybe next year’s choice will reveal more about the A’s plans with Peralta fading away. The A’s led by Dave Kaval have shown that they’re willing to accelerate their process if they see an opportunity. Despite the missed opportunity at Peralta, I’ll be encouraged if the team shows the same urgency in 2018.

As for sites, they don’t suddenly change in value or potential now that Peralta has dropped off. Let’s look at them, December 2017 edition.

Howard Terminal

People are asking about this, naturally. I remain skeptical of the site because of the cost of infrastructure (transportation and parking), the cleanup costs that the site would incur, and the need for enhanced rail safety for cars and pedestrians. Oakland and HT proponents could salve the A’s wounds by offering a package of improvements that address the A’s concerns. Not so sure about any way to mitigate winds and temperatures at HT, which for the A’s were a few degrees cooler than at Peralta. (I informally saw this from looking at wunderground.com maps while watching late season games.)

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

There are several approaches that can be taken at the Coli. The most popular has the A’s playing there until a new ballpark is built nearby within the Complex. That’s clearly the least disruptive path. It doesn’t resolve who pays for the stadium’s or arena’s outstanding debt. Development of the remaining 100+ acres is already entitled thanks to the failed Coliseum City plan, but those entitlement can start to have developers attached to them with a revised plan and cleared land.

Kauffman Stadium

BANG’s Dieter Kurtenbach, who lives close to the Peralta site, suggests that the A’s renovate the Coliseum. While that could be the cheapest option, it would also appear to be the cheapest option, which MLB doesn’t want. Then again, Kauffman Stadium was brilliantly renovated, though it was originally built as a ballpark, not as a multi-purpose cookie cutter with a gazillion unfortunate compromises.

I can see the A’s reign in their approach at the Coliseum, given the comparably limited economic potential there. Instead I suspect they’ll focus on the old Malibu/HomeBase lots along Hegenberger, which are somewhat separate from the original Coliseum complex in terms of access and ownership. The A’s may proclaim that there’s no “Plan B” – a classic Lew Wolff tactic – but they’ve always had the Coliseum plans in the desk drawer ready to quickly revise and present at a moment’s notice. Why? They’ve talked with the JPA about the Malibu/HomeBase site on-and-off since 2003, before the City even bought the land.

Malibu (triangle) and HomeBase (rectangle) lots at south end of Coliseum

Lest you forget, there were other sites under consideration!

Somehow part of the Oakland Army Base near the Bay Bridge was rumored. If Howard Terminal was too windy, OAB has to be disqualified just for the wind alone. There were no other serious contenders.

And whatever happened to San Jose? In normal Silicon Valley fashion, Google is about to swallow much of Downtown SJ whole, as it is planning with San Jose a sprawling, 240-acre campus by the Shark Tank that could bring in 20,000 additional employees to Downtown everyday. Google and its real estate partner have already bought a bunch of the land previous set aside for the ballpark, including the old AT&T facility on Montgomery. Amazing what happens when you just wave a bunch of cash in an landowner’s face.

Even Scott Ostler put a new (old) site in the hat, Victory Court! He even wondered how it didn’t work, I “chronicled” it for you Scott. Or in one two words: Redevelopment Died.

It’s been a long journey, and it’s far from over.

I am a poll… And so can you!

A’s projected development timeline for the ballpark

Since the A’s announced that the Peralta site is the preferred location of the new ballpark, there has been precious little actual news about the park. Other than talks with community groups and potential stakeholders, the only release of note is the announcement of a team of architecture firms to work on the ballpark concept. As expected, the lead for the ballpark structure will be HOK, which also worked on Avaya Stadium, the Earthquakes’ stadium in San Jose. They also worked on the “twin” venues in Columbus, Huntington Park and Nationwide Arena. The principal for the A’s ballpark, Brad Schrock, who previously worked on Coors Field and Safeco Field while part of HOK’s previous sports practice. Schrock later started 360 Architecture with George Heinlein, while the HOK sports practice eventually split off to become a separate company named Populous.

The other architecture partners may be familiar as well. That includes Norwegian firm Snøhetta, which Chronicle architecture writer John King pointed out was behind the

“ill-fated arena that the Golden State Warriors proposed for the city’s Piers 30-32, where the firm emphasized the public space aspects of the private building.”

Seems as if there is a parallel in that like Piers 30-32, there are harsh critics on the other side of the bay who are against the ballpark at Peralta full stop, though for clearly different reasons. In SF’s case the Piers were considered part of the Bay, not land, so they faced an uphill battle towards approval versus a well-heeled political gentry. The Peralta land borders Lake Merritt Channel, which will require its own special approvals, though not to the extent of anything built on the shores of the Bay proper. Snøhetta is also notable for having just finished the SFMOMA expansion, which was funded and overseen by one John Fisher, a.k.a. the A’s owner.

The rest of the team will work as follows:

“The public aspect of planning efforts will kick into full gear in early 2018. Sasaki and Studio T Square will be at the front of such efforts. The ballpark design itself will be handled by HOK in partnership with Snøhetta, which also will take part in the urban design work.”

Sasaki is expected to work on how the ballpark works within the context of Lake Merritt and the Oakland Estuary. Studio T Square, an Oakland firm, is slated to handle the relationship of the ballpark with the delicate Chinatown, Eastlake, and San Antonio neighborhoods.

On the heels of this news are a pair of polls. The Oakland Chamber released a poll in which of 500 likely voter respondents, the ballpark was supported 2-1. A week later, another poll by Oakland Rising indicated that 80% respondents prefer that the new ballpark be constructed at the site of the old Coliseum instead. How do appraise these polling efforts?

We don’t.

The polls are for the news cycle and public relations, nothing else. There’s nothing to vote on, only vague promises and threats. Most of the dealmaking will be done by the A’s and Peralta CCD, and only after Peralta decides it’s worthwhile will the project be planned and debated in earnest. And even then, there’s no promise of an actual vote, referendum, or any other plebiscite. After all, Oakland voters never voted on Brooklyn Basin (Oak-to-9th), the most transformative project to hit the city in years. If anything gets voted on at all, it will be for funding some package of to-be-determined infrastructure improvements.

Let’s see the vision take form before approving or dismissing it out of hand. A project this iconic deserves a proper, full evaluation. Oakland residents deserve it. A’s fans deserve it.

(Apologies to Stephen Colbert for ripping off the title of his 2012 children’s book.)