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.

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.

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.

Gone Baby Gondola

2018 gondola route map (with older ballpark design)

Two related bits of ballpark-related news came out of FanFest over the weekend. First, the Chronicle’s Phil Matier picked up on the transportation study that shows that people will continue driving even if the A’s come to Howard Terminal, which belies the notion of an “urban” ballpark. On a related note, Oakland’s Department of Transportation is now downplaying the prospects of a gondola bridging the nearest BART station (12th Street/City Center) and the ballpark. After all the hubbub coming out of last year’s FanFest, this news is what I feared. Dave Kaval remains optimistic. I have my doubts.

I discussed the prospects of the gondola at length exactly one year ago. It saddens me that the discussion may end there, not so much because the gondola dream is dying, but because all parties seem to be satisfied with the current lack of solutions to deal with the last mile problem. The prevailing attitude seems to be that technology will solve the gridlock problem. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that.

Transportation Network Companies, from Uber and Lyft to bike and scooter share startups, are supposed to bridge that gap along with walking. Profitability remains off in the distance. Strategies are largely confined to waiting for a competitor to go under and become a default monopoly player due to attrition, then jack up fares to become profitable once the competition is gone. Another possible scenario is a merger to eliminate competition, which makes some sense given that many drivers work for both Uber and Lyft. When that consolidation occurs, and more realistic pricing emerges, we’ll start to see how many people choose ridesharing as an option instead of walking or taking a bus shuttle. The upshot is that it’s a very difficult game to make transportation that merely breaks even, whether you’re talking public or private. (Note: Not touching the impact of AB 5.)

This is the point where I have to point out (again) that the Giants’ ballpark deal in China Basin was made with SF agreeing to a light rail extension from Market Street to the ballpark along the Embarcadero. That won’t happen in Oakland. Perhaps a BART extension could happen once everyone figures out how and where a second Transbay Tube will be built (and funded). That probably can’t happen until 2050.

Take it or leave it for now

For the majority of fans who will be driving to Howard Terminal, they could reserve parking spots at participating area garages depending on how much they’re willing to pay and walk. There’s enough parking inventory in downtown Oakland to handle the demand. How fans react to longer walks to their parking spots or BART is the coming source of friction. If fans encounter a fairly tranquil day as has been experienced for the Jack London Square version of FanFest, they’ll be encouraged to keep going to games. If they see difficulty in game night traffic, the parking experience, the walk/shuttle, or a train incident blocks the way in/out, that could mean one or more fans or families that choose to go on a weekend instead of a weekday, or simply less frequently than they used to. However the A’s and the City/Port are pitching this, convenience is not the main selling point. It will be convenient for some who live in Oakland near the park or a short AC Transit bus ride away. The problem is that it isn’t an improvement for practically everyone else who lives in the East Bay. There could be improvements with the bus schedules, helpful for those who choose to take the bus. I could see more Amtrak trains and ferry service. None of those options help the rest of the East Bay, where most of the fanbase originates.

Baseball, especially in Oakland, is dependent on casual fans who choose to go on a whim instead of being season ticket holders. The A’s even modernized their season ticket plan to effectively encourage going on a whim. But it’s not a good trend if the end result is lower friction to buy tickets and higher friction to actually attend a game. Bottom line: the only infrastructure being planned so far is the transit hub, a single pedestrian/bike bridge, and the addition of bus lanes. To be honest, I’m confounded at how this passed as a first draft of the transportation plan. A’s fans, whether you live in Oakland or Concord, whether you’re young or old or need assistance, deserve better.

P.S. – I chose not to go to FanFest this year. The lack of news about the ballpark, combined with the minimal turnover in the roster, made it easy for me to look ahead towards Cactus League play. Speaking of which, the A’s brought back their Spring Training Pass for those fortunate enough to be in the Valley of the Sun for the entirety of the spring. Maybe this time I’ll be able to go to more than a few games.

 

BUILD IT NOW

During last night’s Oakland City Council meeting, Council President Rebecca Kaplan noticed a bunch of people carrying preprinted placards.

Who pray tell printed a cheer card like this?

At a previous meeting Kaplan similarly admonished the gallery for turning the City Council meeting into a planned cheering session. That warning got the A’s to lighten up on the propaganda so as to establish some decorum. Perhaps this is another warning from the dais. Regardless, the MOU passed 8-0.

I was hoping the draft EIR would be released around the time of FanFest this weekend. No such luck.

This also follows up last week’s Port Board meeting where the same MOU (memorandum of understanding) was discussed, approved, and sent to City Hall. That particular meeting had more port industry interests and fewer A’s fans in attendance. The purpose of the MOU is ostensibly to combine effort and remove duplicative effort, another way to streamline the process. The A’s spent a lot of lobbying time and energy to streamline part of the process, but we’re getting to the nitty gritty portion. The Port conveniently put together a flowchart, which covers only the areas related to Port development activities.

Compare that to the Ballpark Tracker page the A’s put together. Here’s one of the slides:

Now take that list of accomplishments above and try to overlay it on top of the required work the Port maps out in their flowchart. If it seems like not that much has actually been done yet, you’re not wrong. We’re essentially at the red star in the flowchart and the serious talks begin once the draft EIR is published. The complicated nature of building on the waterfront, in a city with unique development challenges and numerous stakeholders to mollify, makes getting a project like this going extremely difficult.

There’s a bit of a disconnect here. The A’s want to open the ballpark by 2023. The ENA term sheet also runs out in 2023, yet the ballpark project requires all of the dotted I’s and crossed T’s before the A’s can break ground. You’ve probably noticed that the tentacles towards the right side of the flowchart aren’t under the City’s control. Regional and State agencies will determine what mitigation measures need to be made and what’s actually feasible in what timeframe.

For example, let’s take the 45-day comment period. There will be plenty of comments from regular citizens and entrenched businesses. Staff will be required to respond. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s also the time for lawsuits from those with vested interests. Major lawsuits won’t be adjudicated in 45 days. It’s highly unlikely that the Port interests, who are ready to wage war, are going to roll over in 45 days. Thankfully for the A’s, AB 734 allows CEQA lawsuits to be limited to 270 days. However, legal maneuvers aren’t typically accounted for in project plans. Even with litigation limits baked in, that’s not going to stop the well-heeled from utilizing their retainers.

At some point later this year, we might yet again hear about how shocked or surprised someone from the A’s or the City is about recent news. No one should be surprised about any twists or turns this story takes.

District 3 Council Member Lynette Gibson McElhaney punctuated the proceedings by calling the MOU part of an “iterative, deliberative, intentional process to ensure that if a development goes forward that it is good for Oakland.” This time around, I don’t doubt that.

United(?) Stakeholders of Howard Terminal

Earlier this week, the City of Oakland presented some findings related to transportation at Howard Terminal. While some of the observations were quite sharp, many of the proposed solutions were fuzzy and ill-defined.

Take this zinger for starters:

For a year or more, I’ve heard a ridiculous mantra, No one lives at Howard Terminal, which should pave the way for all manner of changes with few complaints. Problem is that impacts are not confined to the project site alone. The surrounding area is much larger and can suffer from being in close proximity. That’s the flip side to the economic improvements often claimed in stadium projects. Sure, Howard Terminal will get a lot of jobs. Is it worth the gridlock? The CEQA process is designed to help the public make an informed decision.

Squeaky wheel gets the grease, so to speak

To that end OakDOT has apparently decided to attack the gridlock problem by prioritizing certain types of traffic on specific streets in the area. Embarcadero West/1st Street has train tracks right in the middle of it, forcing rail activity there to take priority. A block north, A four-block stretch of 2nd Street is the location of a transit hub. Which sounds pretty exciting, until you scratch the surface and realize that it’s mostly a staging area for BART shuttles. That’s not stopping Oakland from full-on selling the hub’s prospects:

It’s Oakland’s version of the Transbay Terminal, except, not

There is talk of a potential BART stop there, though BART nixed any near term prospects. You can hope for 2050, which at the current rate of stadium aging is around the time that a Howard Terminal ballpark becomes obsolete. Bottom line, what’s planned is the stop for the bus bridge between the ballpark and BART, whether you’re talking about 12th Street/City Center, West Oakland, or Lake Merritt. Buses would line up along that stretch before turning onto a bus-prioritized Castro Street, then heading to one of the BART stations or the other parts of Oakland.

Bike traffic currently has 2nd Street as a designated route, which got the attention of bike advocates:

Strangely, 2nd Street is a designated bike route

Every redevelopment vision is going to have winners and losers, which makes it incumbent upon local government to work to protect the interests of those who can’t afford to buy their way out of the gridlock (hello, ridesharing). Keep in mind one of the bullet points above:

While BART serves a critical transportation role for communities of color, riders are disproportionately whiter than the residents around the stations

BART functions as a set of contradictions. It uses the same technology that powers metro subways, yet has less frequent, more spread-out stops and runs longer distances like commuter rail. For a long time it had those comfortable, e. Coli-infused wool seats. BART’s operational and spiritual hub is in Oakland, which makes it strange that the A’s and the City/Port are working so hard to propose a project that actively sidesteps it. Yet those contradictions make it difficult to justify an infill station nearby, as any slowdown in speed or efficiency within downtown Oakland could negatively impact ridership from the admittedly whiter suburbs.

Absent a direct connection to BART, HT proponents are pumping up that transit hub, limited as it is, and other solutions. As part of designating certain streets for certain types of travel, ballpark vehicular traffic is mostly confined to Market Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

Rush hour gameday traffic map is a huge visual improvement from the old LOS (level of service) charts

You may remember that last year there was talk of a new ramp to the Adeline overpass to help route cars to the Nimitz. Evidently that idea encountered some resistance from Port interests, as there’s no mention of the ramp in the presentation. That’s probably just as well, since the ramp would mix ballpark traffic with Port traffic, which trucking companies have been fighting to keep separated for some time. It doesn’t help that the ramp runs through Schnitzer Steel, another opponent of the ballpark. Are those measures enough to satiate all concerned stakeholders? As usual, color me skeptical. Project mode splits show that with the move from the Coliseum to Howard Terminal comes a shift in cars to downtown Oakland, a duh moment but one with surprisingly minimal planning to deal with it.

10,000 vehicles is 10,000 vehicles, no matter how you slice it. Thankfully, fewer than half are expected around the ballpark on gamedays.

Some infrastructure is planned. Again, whether that’s enough is up for vigorous debate. Consider the following legend from the pedestrian map:

The terms Proposed and Potential are the keys here. The pedestrian/bike bridge at Jefferson is Proposed. The vehicle/pedestrian bridge at Market is listed as Potential, as are some underpass improvements. Can you discern the difference?

You’ll notice a passing mention of the gondola above. You haven’t heard much about it since its splashy introduction a year ago. That should tell you how much traction it has. Whether it gets traction or evaporates like most non-traditional transit proposals, there still remains a big last mile transit hole that is being addressed with little efficacy. Not much new infrastructure is planned, other than the stuff the Port interests are pushing for. The above map shows a bus rapid transit station at 12th Street, a separate project from Howard Terminal. Presumably BRT would be expanded to include HT, effectively making the hub a nice BRT stop. The disjointed nature of how all of the various transit options (three BART stations, Amtrak, ferry, AC Transit) come close but don’t actually converge is rather disturbing, more than a year after studies started. Obviously, you can’t move a ferry terminal or the train stations, but that last mile problem remains vexing. The way to resolve it, as proposed, is to throw a bunch of rules, operational costs (buses), and gridlock at it. That doesn’t sound much like progress to me. I eagerly await the end of the month, when the draft EIR is scheduled for release.

New Howard Terminal Renderings from the BCDC 10/7 Design Board Meeting

The BCDC held its first public meeting about the Howard Terminal project on Monday night. Download the report and the exhibits addendum with all the lovely renderings for more details. Among the details was the description of what the A’s are planning to build. There’s a lot to cover, so in this post I’ll focus only one a couple of items. I’ll cover the rest of the interesting stuff in the coming days.

Before we get started, I’ll quote a few paragraphs from the report.

Baseball Park Development (Exhibits 11-17, 22-34)

For the purposes of organization in this staff report, the Baseball Park Development section considers all development east of Market Street which includes the ballpark, Athletics Way promenade, the development parcels surrounding the ballpark, Stomper Plaza, and the waterfront parks adjacent to the stadium.

The ballpark, with capacity for approximately 35,000 people, is proposed as an open-air bowl-shaped design. The ballpark includes a rooftop park that would reach an approximate elevation of +127’ NAVD881 and slope down to meet Water Street, along which home plate and the scoreboard are aligned. The ballpark seats are arranged in a configuration that creates a compact urban stadium footprint, with additional seating available on the rooftop park. The current proposal sets the field at approximately elevation +10.8’, which is about 3 feet below the existing grade of Water Street.

Athletics Way

Athletics Way is a proposed approximately 60-foot-wide 4.7-acre raised promenade with at-grade connections at Water Street that wraps around the ballpark. The promenade would serve as a public pathway and retail street for neighboring residents and visitors to the waterfront. The promenade would rise to elevation +34.8’, allowing for ballpark operational facilities to be tucked underneath the grade of Athletics Way. On gamedays and event days, the promenade would function as the stadium concourse and would be limited to ticketholders only.

One of the big reveals is the location of free viewing area beyond the right field power alley. In the diagram below, it’s where the green and orange areas intersect.

Game-Day Security Zone (with upper right inset of view from right field free area)

The feature is much like the free promenade area open for Giants games, except it’s not hemmed in by the water. At Oracle Park the policy is to limit fans to three innings in order to rotate through lines. The ballpark at Howard Terminal is symmetrical, so there is a similar area in left field. I would expect that to be utilized as a group picnic area.

Okay, now the good stuff.  I’ll make some observations as we go (click on each picture for a larger version). Focus on the scoreboard in the rendering below. Stay focused on the scoreboard as the perspective and viewing distance changes in the following renderings. And note how high the roof deck is. According to the report, the roof’s elevation is 127 feet. The field sits at nearly 11 feet, making the difference from field to top 116 feet. That’s taller than any part of the original seating bowl, and would land somewhere on the upper deck of Mount Davis. Again, look at the scoreboard. Then look at the gap between the roof and the seating bowl beneath it.

Rickey Plaza

It’ll be a trek to get to the apex of this ballpark. Multiple portals will allow fans to enter and exit the roof deck to shorten the journey. The portals will not be open on non-event days, otherwise it becomes a free-for-all. That leads to the best rooftop perch in the house, right behind home plate. Note the scoreboard and the batter’s eye. Looks far away, doesn’t it?

View from the Homeplate Terraces

BIG previously said that rim of the roof deck facing the field would be terraced, though not to the extent that there will be a large seating tier. Unless you need a wheelchair space or companion seat, it looks like you’ll have to stand. Considering how high up it is, that’s just as well. At least you can see in the image above a rail. You know how when you go to the upper deck during a typical A’s game there are always ushers to keep fans from loitering too close to the edge? Thankfully, there will be clear glass to prevent the pictured munchkin from plummeting. Assuming that’s how future A’s Access fans will be accommodated, there will surely be numerous opportunities to upgrade (not for free) to the good seats, on whatever basis their wallets can handle.

Rooftop Park

Back to the scoreboard. It’s slightly more visible because the new view looks further down the third base line. One consistent thing you’ll notice in all these images is how low the scoreboard is. Even the very first rendering has the scoreboard just above the batter’s eye. That’s more for the benefit of the folks in the seats as opposed to those on the roof. The roof is conceived in a way that will push most fans to the rim. Some of those fans will be 116 feet up. Others towards the foul poles will be lower, and the roof terraces will be placed lower as the roof descends to the field. I worry, though, that fans on the roof who don’t camp out early for a nice spot at the edge will have pretty bad or practically no views of the game.

Homeplate Hill

Consider this image, on a hill behind home plate. Not only can you not see home plate, you can barely see the scoreboard. Yet it’s named Homeplate Hill, a rather ironic choice. That brings me to my chief misgiving about this ballpark concept. I get that incorporating a park into a roof can create some fantastic views. However, those views do very little for baseball fans. Baseball historically doesn’t have steeply terraced stands as is commonly done in hockey and soccer. Eyes tend to drift from the normal pitcher-batter confrontation to action elsewhere. But this might be a step too far. This works great as a park. It might curry enough favor from community and civic advocates to win the day. Yet it comes at a cost. According to the plan, a sold out ballpark will have 10,000 people on this roof, up to 116 feet above the action. When they scream and chant, the roar will extend out into the estuary and towards downtown, not at the players. Maybe the idea is to have the 27,000 in the seats create most of the noise. If so, they might want to consider piping in some crowd noise to make up the difference. Oakland has been home to numerous experiments in ticket pricing and marketing, many of them unsuccessful. A’s Access? Successful so far. PSL’s? A miserable failure. I’m afraid that this ballpark plan exemplifies the wealth gap… with an actual gap.

City of Oakland gets Temporary Restraining Order against A’s-Coliseum sale

Original Coliseum pamphlet provided by Peerless Coffee’s George Vukasin, Jr.

Do you remember the name Egbert Perry?

No?

Perry was the money-partner with Ronnie Lott for a short-lived 2016 offer to buy the Coliseum complex, including both the stadium and arena, plus the additional parcels purchased extending to Hegenberger. Then just like that, the City of Oakland nixed the offer. Vegas interests and the Nevada continued to work with the Raiders on site plans for the football franchise’s move, and the Raiders have been running out the clock in Oakland ever since.

The A’s weren’t part of the Lott-Perry plan, which may have spurred the City’s decision. The offer was for $167.3 million and was made prior to a reappraisal of the complex, completed later in 2016. It was that appraisal that provides the basis for the A’s offer on the Coliseum property, a half-interest (Alameda County) for $85 million. Do the math to buy out the City’s share, and you have $170 million, remarkably close to the old appraisal. A mere two weeks after the offer was made, the offer was retracted and Perry was out after a purported double-cross.

Previously, Floyd Kephart’s New City group offered $116 million in 2015. That also didn’t get far. Which makes the news that the City is suing the County over the sale of the County’s half-interest of the Coliseum land not surprising in the least. Let’s be honest about this. Modern politics in Oakland has been shaped – for the worse – by frequent, almost constant litigation. It’s practically the only way the City knows how to operate. As reported by the Chronicle’s Phil Matier:

The suit took on added significance Tuesday when Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch issued a temporary restraining order on the sale and set a Nov. 14 hearing on the lawsuit.

“We were very close. This will put a chilling effect on us being able to close the deal,” Kaval said following the judge’s order.

A’s CEO Dave Kaval expressed shock at the lawsuit. In his professional and personal time in the Bay Area, he surely learned some local political history, especially about Oakland and California as a whole. Kaval is the last person that should be surprised by this. Kaval (and John Fisher) were shocked by the Peralta blowback. You’d think they would’ve braced themselves for City-County political tensions. After all, Oakland and Alameda County spent the better part of the last 40 years mired in tensions. Everything you see, from the original Coliseum to Mount Davis, is a product of those tensions, along with the truly unquenchable thirst for pro sports that keeps being displayed.

Now that the A’s (and MLB) have Oakland to themselves, they can start squeezing. So it was on the day of the AL Wild Card game that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred started the squeeze. I opined at the time that I didn’t expect him to start this early. Manfred, via the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

“I made it clear that it’s time for the city of Oakland to show concrete progress on the stadium effort,” Manfred said. “It’s gone on too long, and things need to fall into place to get a new stadium here. The fans here, as demonstrated by the 55,000 here tonight, are great fans and deserve a major-league quality facility.”

We’ve seen this movie before. If the City folds on the lawsuit, Manfred will back sometime in February to praise City leaders for “coming to their senses.” If the City keeps on, we’ll start hearing louder murmurs about Portland. Or Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, or maybe Salt Lake City or Sacramento. Probably not San Jose, as that ship has sailed. But don’t put it past Manfred to tighten the squeeze on Oakland, even if MLB’s apparent leverage is debatable. I wouldn’t discount the concept of Manfred taking over negotiations from Kaval and Fisher, using a team of negotiators to do the dirty work. Or Manfred could go the same route as he did with the Rays. In that case he started by granting the ability for the Rays to look at the City of Tampa/Hillsborough County. That resulted in the Ybor City domed ballpark plan, unveiled in June 2018 and dead by the end of the year. That was followed by the announcement of a potential split season situation, half in St. Petersburg and the other half in Montreal. Montreal backer Stephen Bronfman even showed up in Oakland last night, the better to get the Tampa denizens thinking.

Here’s the tough part. Oakland has barely stepped onto the legal battlefield. The EIR is supposed to be released before the end of this month, and that will bring its own lawsuit. Whether it’s from port operators, transportation companies, or Schnitzer Steel – or all three – it’s almost guaranteed to tie things up. Fortunately, the exemption the A’s lobbied for in Sacramento limits lawsuits to 270 days prior to certification. From the perspective of the A’s, it makes sense for them to prepare for that particular legal onslaught.

But the City getting on the same page with the County? They probably figured they had that in the bag. In May 2018, I saw a lot of remarks about how so many key figures were in the same room singing praises of the A’s plans.

The problems, as I pointed out back then, relate to the complexity of the projects. That’s right, projects – plural. As you know by now, there is the Howard Terminal part, the actual ballpark, located on the waterfront near Jack London Square. Then there’s the Coliseum, which will keep its arena (if anyone can afford to run it) and an amphitheater where the old stadium currently stands. Around that redone complex are a sizable urban park, commercial and residential development, plus some additional community facilities. It’s a way to throw a bone to East Oakland for leaving.

The plans also provide for some amount of affordable housing to be built and either or both locations. Just how much is the big topic of negotiation, as City Council President Rebecca Kaplan cited the state’s Surplus Lands Act in trying to put the kibosh on the sale. The main issue is the percentage and number of affordable housing units to be built:

…if the disposed land will be used for residential development, at least 25% of the total number of units in the development must have rents or sale prices that are affordable for persons and families of low- or moderate-income.

Of course, over the post-recession period, the Bay Area has been plagued by an inability to build affordable housing. Call it a perfect storm of rising construction costs, the ridiculous never-ending seller’s market, and the loss of decades-long affordable housing subsidies when former governor Jerry Brown killed redevelopment. There are perfectly reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of the debate. From the City’s angle, surplus land is an extremely limited resource that shouldn’t be handed out without a competitive bidding process. For developers including the A’s, having to bake in an allowance to accommodate a greater amount of affordable housing will undoubtedly cut into the profitability of the project. In the A’s case, it could impact the feasibility of both projects, though the A’s launched their own PR offensive to counter such notions.

Thing is, the A’s haven’t done a very good job of explaining how the two projects aren’t connected. They did a media tour of Howard Terminal a couple weeks to reaffirm their stance. From reading the Community Engagement document available at the A’s Ballpark site, the two efforts appear to be directly related, if not joined at the hip. That’s a tough position to be in, because once you decouple the two projects, it’s easier to argue that one doesn’t need the other.

The explanation is not that difficult. If the A’s are approved to build at Howard Terminal, they plan to build the ballpark in the first phase, hoping for a 2023 Opening Day. The ancillary development at Howard Terminal, whatever form it takes, will take place after the ballpark opens and will take perhaps decades to complete. That makes the A’s ballpark village next to Jack London Square part of the long tail. Meanwhile, the Coliseum is already approved for some 3,000 housing units right now. That makes the Coliseum a sort of bridge financing for the ballpark. Fisher and Lew Wolff employed this to success at the separate Avaya Stadium and iStar developments in San Jose, the latter helping the finance the former. What’s being attempted in Oakland is the same thing on steroids, except for one big difference. iStar, located in South San Jose near where IBM built the first disc drive, was largely undeveloped in its previous form. To date, Avaya Stadium is in its fourth year of operation near SJC Airport after breaking ground in 2012. Some commercial and residential development has been done at the iStar site, though we’re coming to the end of 2019 and not one single-family home has been completed. In San Jose, they built a stadium and a separate subdivision on separate parcels miles apart. In Oakland, they want to do something similar, except that they’ll move the sports-related jobs from the Coliseum to Howard Terminal in the process.

The sales pitch for the Avaya Stadium/iStar package didn’t arouse much debate in San Jose. The stadium was set to replace a former military vehicle manufacturing plant. San Jose’s historic sprawl had plenty of room for 25 acres of new housing, especially after the recession brought construction to a halt. Ten years later, the housing crunch is far more acute, reaching every part of the Bay Area. Collectively, local governments did a poor job of planning to add to the housing stock, including forecasting and accommodating affordable housing. If Oakland officials want to take nearly 200 acres in two high-profile locations and hand it to the A’s to finish the job, they and the A’s should prepare themselves for the lengthy debate to follow. Manfred, who played the nice guy until Wednesday, now gets to play the heavy.

P.S. – Please don’t tell me how no developers want any part of East Oakland. Besides the A’s interest, the JPA had two unsolicited bids for the land in 2018, Tesla and a group trying to build a soccer complex and stadium at the complex. What developers want is Bay Area land for relatively cheap. Interest from previous developers for Coliseum City, the 2018 bids, and the eventual exclusive negotiating agreements for the A’s shows how much people want to take advantage of the Coliseum. It doesn’t hurt that the land has freeways and a transit hub right next to it. East Oakland has no potential? Perhaps if you’re stuck with a 1968 mindset.

P.P.S. – Read J.K. Dineen’s piece in the Chronicle for an extensive description of one property owner’s CEQA-related shakedown and how it affected both San Francisco and Oakland. Then take a look at that Community Engagement document and try to understand what kinds of partnerships are being forged, and what remains to make a similar one with the City. Keeping any sports team in Oakland is/was going to cost something. The City is thankfully over direct subsidies, but the ambitious nature of these two projects has me thinking that the final price tag will approach eleven figures including cleanup, community commitments, and new infrastructure. That might be what it takes. No one is publicly talking about costs yet. That’s what truly concerns me.

P.P.P.S. – None of the oft-mentioned relocation candidates deserve more than a cursory look unless they approve or start building a major league-ready ballpark. These days that might mean 30,000 seats or less. It probably also means those 30,000 seats will be quite swanky with pricing and amenities to match. The new AAA parks in Las Vegas and Nashville are exactly as advertised – nice AAA parks. They’re not meant to handle MLB crowds temporarily given the greater requirements these days. If someone wants to ink a deal with Henderson, Nevada for a billion-dollar domed ballpark 10 miles from the Strip, good luck.