Update 7/7/21 4:44 PM – Session’s over. Now take a quick poll. Read the thread below for comprehensive coverage.
Public comments were scheduled before the presentations, so this is what you get. The study session is still going as of 3:30 PM.
Update 7/7/21 4:44 PM – Session’s over. Now take a quick poll. Read the thread below for comprehensive coverage.
Public comments were scheduled before the presentations, so this is what you get. The study session is still going as of 3:30 PM.
Before I begin, I’m going to direct you to two blog posts on other sites. The first, by Jeff August, is at his own site, Jeff August Ego Trip. Jeff is a good friend and remains in the credits in the sidebar, though he hasn’t contributed to this site for several years. His viewpoint on Howard Terminal evolved over time, and while I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about it and I disagree with his conclusion, I fully respect it because it comes from an honest place.
The other link is from Alex Espinoza’s blog, The Rickey Henderson of Blogs. Espinoza did the inhuman task of compiling observations from Tuesday’s extraordinarily long Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting. The 6,000-word entry is truly impressive in its scope. I admitted to him while reading it that there’s no way I would try to take such notes as I would have to watch it twice to do so.
Espinoza also interviewed me before the baseball season started to discuss ballpark stuff and economics. If you haven’t checked out that podcast episode yet, you should.
After reading both posts, I immediately recalled comments made by Oakland City Administrator Betsy Lake regarding the planning aspects of the Howard Terminal Ballpark project. Lake considered the current A’s/City proposal fiscally irresponsible. Lake was asked by Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan about why the City is going through with the Howard Terminal if it’s not expressly for the purpose of building a ballpark. That brought on the following awkward exchange:
That brings me to the belated thesis of this post. It would be one thing if the A’s built a ballpark on a 14-acre city block downtown, one that conformed with the existing city and neighborhood plans. The A’s, to my complete befuddlement, are instead proposing a mega-development with its own taxing authority (HT IFD), with ancillary infrastructure funded by a separate taxing authority (JLS IFD), yet nothing is being done to amend the City’s Downtown Specific Plan or West Oakland Specific Plan to properly accommodate those changes. The Downtown Oakland Specific Plan and EIR are still in Draft form and don’t include Howard Terminal, an odd choice given that Howard Terminal is being promoted as at least downtown-adjacent. It’s entirely a cart-before-horse scenario.
At the Oakland Planning Commission hearing in April, there was a mention of the Google Downtown development in San Jose, which went through the full planning process including a certified EIR. Not only that, San Jose expanded its definition of Downtown San Jose to fold in the previously separate area, which includes Diridon Station and SAP Center west of CA-87. Construction begins in 2023. Ironically, the catalyst for that entire effort was the planned A’s ballpark south of the train station. At the time San Jose went through with the exercise with no guarantee of obtaining the baseball club. But they did something that seems utterly novel when compared to the chaos in Oakland: they made a contingency plan.
That’s right, they had a Plan B.
San Jose knew that as Silicon Valley grew eventually there would be demand for residential and commercial real estate in the newly-minted Downtown West area, which besides the arena was mostly surface lots and low-slung light industrial buildings. It was ripe for redevelopment, and despite Jerry Brown killing RDAs years ago, was assembled for a completely new vision with existing Caltrain/VTA light rail and future BART and HSR anchoring a transit hub, preposterously named the “Grand Central of the West.” Location and accessibility would earn attractiveness for a high-profile employer, most of whom generally avoided Downtown San Jose until that point. Next, the ballpark proposal died with the Giants’ legally upheld territorial claims, San Jose started looking for suitors for Plan B, and Google entered the picture. The rest is history in progress, with San Jose residents asking (and getting) more from Google in the form of a Community Benefits Agreement. Oakland is watching San Jose and is wise enough to take notes. The funny thing is that Oakland started pursuing Howard Terminal as a ballpark site years before San Jose did theirs. If you count the original HOK study which featured Howard Terminal, the site has been in an on/off pursuit for better than 20 years. Oakland, caught between trying and failing to keep their sports franchises, attracting new non-sports employers, and catering to the needs of its entrenched business interests (Port) as well as its unique and diverse population, showed the kind of indecision that could doom its ballpark plans, even its future as a MLB town.
Look, I am fully aware that San Jose and Oakland are worlds apart economically. Not as far apart as Oakland and San Francisco, but close. San Jose did the right thing by expanding their scope, by not limiting themselves to the pursuit of a sports franchise. If the A’s moved to San Jose, great. Maybe Google would look elsewhere for a secondary campus because the A’s partners would’ve gobbled up most of the nearby land. The A’s didn’t move south, which allowed San Jose to have the Adult Conversation about its vision with residents and businesses. That conversation is something I clamored for Oakland to have since nearly the start of this blog. It happens in fits and starts, never getting above a din peppered with occasional protests. Recently, Oakland asked Alameda County to participate in the Howard Terminal IFD by pledging its share for the on-site infrastructure. County Supervisors were taken aback, though if they were honest, they should’ve seen it coming and prepared for it. I didn’t expect Oakland to pull this off on its own. No one should have given how dysfunctional Oakland is. That said, Alameda County sold its half of the Coliseum in an effort to get out of sports. The Supervisors’ outrage at being put in this situation by Oakland is consistent with previous actions.
Unfortunately, the confusion over Oakland’s plans (or lack thereof) is also consistent with its previous actions. Friends, that is not a good sign. The Supervisors and their Oakland City Council counterparts put a positive spin on how things are progressing. HT supporters slurp it up without bothering to inspect the problems beneath the surface. The bottom line is that the Council is divided. The Board of Supervisors is also divided. Everyone wants to get to Yes, as Supervisor David Haubert suggests. The problem is that no one knows what Yes means except in the most vague, general terms. As Jeff pointed out in his post, 33 regional/state/federal agencies have to approve this project. Howard Terminal should be part of the Downtown Specific Plan, but that would have first required removing its maritime designation, cleaning up and disposing of the land through a public process, and numerous other steps which can’t start because of related complications. According to the A’s, time’s running out for Oakland. I don’t believe that because I believe in practical, real solutions. The A’s and MLB’s greatest tactical weapon is to ratchet up the tension on Oakland to get their desired outcome, whatever that is, however long that takes. They’ll do it again and again until they see results. It’s easy to confuse tactics with strategy, which so far the A’s and baseball have not shown an ability to execute either in Oakland or Tampa Bay. Yes, in absolute terms the A’s could move, but MLB has made it intentionally difficult to do so. I wouldn’t worry about that in the near term. Right now there’s a drought and a heat wave in the Bay Area. It’s not even summer yet! Frankly, it feels poetic.
Be safe out there.
P.S. – Google is not moving its headquarters away from Mountain View.
P.P.S. – The City of Oakland will release a revised term sheet after its study session on July 7. The release will occur no later than 7/16, which will give them 4+ days to review the terms prior to the 7/20 vote. My reaction to that news:
I spent over six hours livetweeting this thing for you.
There’s also a 9-page PDF digest version.
What you need to know is this:
I’ll drop in more of the select tweets as I go through the night. Enjoy the process.
My favorite moment of the long night:
Former Giants VP Corey Busch, who was part of Bud Selig’s Blue Ribbon Panel to study the A’s future in Oakland (and San Jose) a decade ago, was interviewed by the Merc’s Shayna Rubin yesterday. And boy, did Busch had some thoughts.
The big reveal was Busch’s belief that former Giants owner Bob Lurie was never going to ship the team to Florida. Selling the team was, as Busch recounted, merely a ruse to motivate a local buyer for the franchise, which eventually happened when Peter Magowan stepped up. That’s not to discount the tremendous amount of drama at the end of Lurie’s ownership tenure, which involved St. Petersburg and dalliances with San Jose and Santa Clara. Exploration of the South Bay included A’s owner Walter Haas agreeing to cede Santa Clara County to the Giants, which was previously an unassigned territory for MLB’s purposes. The South Bay is now and forever San Francisco Giants territory, even though they will probably never play a game there.
Busch also went out of his way to defend the Coliseum, decrying A’s ownership’s desire for a downtown ballpark – and only a downtown ballpark – at Howard Terminal.
Busch determined the Coliseum site was viable in 2014 on Selig’s blue-ribbon committee to explore ballpark options. He still attests the A’s can build the ballpark village of their dreams around the site. MLB and the A’s declared this month that the Coliseum site “not viable” as a location for a new park.
“The notion that the Coliseum, if properly developed in its totality, is not acceptable is kind of silly. It’s nonsense,” Busch said. “I know for a fact there are people in the commissioner’s office who know the Coliseum site is a good site.”
Right now the Coliseum is not in the conversation due to the stubbornness of ownership. At some point it will re-enter the picture, unless everything from this point forward falls in line for Howard Terminal. For all their posturing, the A’s still continue to attempt to buy the City’s half of the Coliseum. And even though Dave Kaval announced the A’s were on “parallel tracks” with Oakland and Las Vegas (I thought there was no “Plan B”?), it’s not hard to see a third path, one that brings them back home.
Is everyone clutching their pearls tightly?
Oakland’s City Council has a non-binding vote scheduled for July 20 on the Howard Terminal project. If the majority of the council votes Yes, the project continues, including the tangled negotiations for community benefits, transportation, and mitigation for the Port stakeholders. HT proponents, who are mostly a ragtag bunch of volunteers at this point, are pushing the pro message.
But what happens if Howard Terminal gets voted down?
That’s a subject that hasn’t been broached much by local or national media. Honestly, who wants to spend much time gazing beyond the edge of a cliff? Given A’s ownership’s recent Vegas trip, Sin City would appear the be in the lead as a candidate for relocation. A’s President Dave Kaval even nixed a planned trip to Portland, desiring to explore Vegas further.
So Vegas is the ace in hand, while Portland is the ace in the hole. Except they’re not. They’re both bluffs at this point. Kaval’s trip to Vegas was exploratory in nature, with no definitive sites or organized funding instruments at hand. Kaval tweeted from a Golden Knights playoff game, which created blowback from fans. There were meetings with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, representatives from Henderson (where the Raiders training facility is located), and Summerlin (where the A’s AAA affiliate Aviators play). The three options provided are far from ideal. Let’s break them down.
Mayor Goodman wants to redevelop the old Cashman Field/Cashman Center complex to include a domed stadium just as her husband did. As the site is within city limits and not in unincorporated Clark County like the Strip, that makes sense. However, going north past Downtown (Old Las Vegas), past a freeway, and to the Cashman site, is its own cliff in a sense. I visited Cashman a few years ago, before the stadium was converted for soccer use, and well, it’s the same dump the A’s played in 25 years ago while the Coliseum was refurbished for the Raiders, except that it has aged. The concept for now is to level both the ballpark and the small convention space next door and build a domed stadium on the spot. Kaval weighed in with the Las Vegas Review Journal on the subject, including one foul tasting nugget:
Henderson doesn’t have a specific site to offer up to the A’s yet. Summerlin’s plan would presumably be to build the dome over the curiously named Las Vegas Ballpark. Both Henderson and Summerlin are 10 miles from the Strip, in nicer neighborhoods than Cashman. As I considered the options, the A’s and MLB’s likely strategy became clearer to me. It all comes down to Vegas’s previous successes with the NHL (Golden Knights) and NHL (Raiders). Though we haven’t heard about it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the recently vacated Sam Boyd Stadium enter the picture. It’s also 10 miles away (east) of the Strip.
If MLB considers Vegas a small market from a population and TV audience size perspective, any relocation or expansion-to-Vegas strategy will have to include a plan to capture as many tourist fans as possible. In the past that was somewhat controversial for the potential competition between pro sports and other forms of entertainment, but now, it’s all fair game and can be somewhat synergistic depending on whatever events are happening during baseball season. That makes the location of the ballpark key, as a 30-minute ride away from the Strip is not conducive to capturing much of that tourist base.
Last year, Caesars put the off-Strip Rio Hotel and Casino up for sale. There were rumors that the site would make a good landing spot for a MLB team, with space for a domed stadium and a mega-development. Alas, a real estate firm gobbled up the property and is rebranding it a Hyatt Regency among other things. Given how the stakes for teams were raised by Commissioner Rob Manfred recently, it’s worth asking whether The Strip or an off-Strip site is the only location in Southern Nevada that makes sense. If we’re going by the standard of placing a ballpark in the middle of a downtown or central business district, Henderson and Summerlin don’t make the cut the same way Fremont or anywhere on the I-680 corridor wouldn’t work in the East Bay. Never mind that the ballparks for the Braves and Rangers violate the “downtown” standard.
Beyond Las Vegas’s stalking horse status, let’s consider next steps. For Vegas to work for three-quarters of baseball owners to approve a move, there needs to be a clear economic advantage in moving a team there. Southern Nevada had the benefit of a Stanley Cup Finals-bound team in its inaugural year, truly an enviable feat. There’s plenty of earned goodwill to keep attendance strong there for years to come, plus the Golden Knights get the spoils of being the pioneer in the market. Despite the pandemic-marred 2020 regular season, Raiders attendance should be strong thanks to its large migratory fanbase. MLB is different in that so much of a team’s revenue is generated locally from ticket/suite sales and local television rights.
Sportico reports that the A’s pulled in $220 million in revenue for the 2019 season, the last full regular season on record. 2019 also happened to be the last year the A’s received a revenue sharing receipt (25% share), which showed when the team stripped costs to the bone in 2020 by laying off front office employees, minor leaguers, even scouts. The teams in the middle of the revenue pack, Minnesota and Milwaukee, had figures of $289 million and $286 million in 2019. That makes the gulf between the A’s and other small market teams that opened new ballparks recently around $70 million, inclusive of all media and sponsorship deals but without revenue sharing thanks to the A’s big market status. If the A’s move to a smaller market, they will immediately become a revenue sharing recipient simply because they won’t be able to compete with the big markets. Despite the top-heavy big-market focus of MLB franchises, baseball realizes that it needs all 30 teams to compete at least once in a while. If Tampa Bay moves to Montreal or a Southern city there won’t be a revenue sharing change.
The A’s remain a unique case because of its place as the economically inferior team in a two-team market. The traditional markets, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, don’t have strange revenue carveouts or oddly gerrymandered territories. The A’s are a sort of enclave (think Piedmont or Newark) within Northern California, which is dominated by the Giants. The O’s and Nats’ relationship is defined mostly by the O’s owning the sports network that broadcasts both teams.
“Howard Terminal or Bust” is effectively the admission that the A’s can no longer function as a big market team under the current operating situation. They must move to a newer (albeit not bigger) stadium where they can maximize revenue. The A’s are only starting to rebuild their radio presence after a controversial online effort. The A’s TV revenue is in the middle of the pack among MLB teams, which is fine for now and helps to stabilize the franchise. Altogether, the A’s exploration of other markets is ostensibly the search for a replacement level market. If the A’s can get that extra $70 million annually through Howard Terminal, the team can stay in the East Bay. If they can’t get that $70 million, they might as well find out if that money can come elsewhere. Personally, I think they’re going to find out that’s a much tougher task than it seems. Local TV revenue is transforming thanks to streaming threatening to make many RSNs obsolete. Radio is a wounded animal, a necessary annoyance. Ballparks are getting smaller while trying to cater a more exclusive clientele. If the A’s and Oakland are going to prove they can hang with the big boys, Howard Terminal is the way to do it.
That’s what they want you to believe, anyway. I’ll have more to say on that later.
P.S. – Henderson, NV, was in MLB’s sights two years ago, when the Arizona Diamondbacks used a trip to Henderson to help pressure Maricopa County to help fund improvements to Chase Field. A ticket tax was approved earlier this month, though the team is being coy about whether they’ll use it. Henderson played its role well that time.
P.P.S. – The City of Oakland is urging the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to fork over a matching share of funds from the EIFDs (Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts) proposed for the Howard Terminal project. One of the EIFDs is for the 55-acres of Howard Terminal. The other is for a large swath of Jack London Square and the surrounding neighborhood, which got me thinking:
I thought Alameda County wanted out of the pro sports business?
Just watch Brodie Brazil from NBC Sports California, dissecting the A’s relocation drama point by point, including some historical references. It’s excellent.
I’ll have more to say later today or tomorrow.
UPDATE 4:40 PM – A synopsis
UPDATE 3:30 PM: The squeaky wheel always gets the grease. Council vote on 7/20.
I’ll preface the following (from KRON) by pointing out that the three signatories to the letter are the most ardent skeptics of Howard Terminal. Read what you will into the letter.
In 2015 the City of Oakland released a Coliseum Area Specific Plan. Amazingly, it had real estimates for various types of required infrastructure. Imagine what could happen if the A’s let Howard Terminal goes through a full, proper planning process instead of rushing it.
Ongoing talks over whether the City will sell its half of the Coliseum complex to the A’s are scheduled for May 20. I had a response to that as well:
The other day I was looking at the comments Union Pacific sent in regarding Howard Terminal. UPRR’s comments are bundled with comments from RailPros, a rail services consultancy that would probably engineer any modifications to the Embarcadero corridor that is used by UPRR and Amtrak. As you might expect, both sets of comments deem the HT transportation study and the mitigations identified as insufficient. UPRR calls for full grade separation if the ballpark is built, a consistent stance from the beginning. Given what’s at stake from a safety standpoint, I agree. Unfortunately, the A’s continue not to address this issue to the fullest. Robert Bylsma, UPRR’s Senior Environmental Counsel, ends his comments by quoting the Draft EIR and providing a response.
“Provision of a grade-separated crossing prior to commencement of Project construction was deemed infeasible given the length of time it would take to design, get approval for, and construct a new grade-separated crossing and the stated Project objective to complete construction of the new ballpark, together with any infrastructure required within a desirable timeframe and to maintain the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB.”
So, apparently it was the Oakland A’s who made the decision to reject grade separation — the only safe and effective means of protecting Oakland A’s fans, as well as families residing in the Project area and other Oakland citizens, using Project facilities — as infeasible because of the “length of time it would take” to design and build, and would affect negatively “the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB.” However, the DEIR’s evaluation of this alternative is deficient because it does not indicate how long it would take to permit and build the needed grade separation, and whether the A’s decision to “maintain [its] competitive position within MLB” in exchange for the lives and well-being of those who will use Project amenities, truly makes grade separation “infeasible” as a matter of law.
Perhaps rail safety isn’t deemed a showstopper for the A’s. What can’t be argued is that this is a bad look. It reeks of potential negligence from the A’s in search of a quick buck. If the A’s truly want this to work, they’re gonna need to step up. Not stepping up because it will jeopardize the ability to “maintain the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB” is a pretty lame excuse. If you’re going to build something as transformative as a $12 Billion neighborhood-cum-ballpark, you need buy-in from all your neighbors. This ain’t it.
From Carroll Fife, Oakland District 3 (West Oakland including Howard Terminal) Council Member:
On the eve of the EIR comment period deadline, that’s a doozy. The thread is worth following to get a taste of the constituencies at work.
In addition at Oaklandside, Dan Moore mostly succeeds at summing up the coming battle for the future of Oakland through the lens of the Howard Terminal project. It’s a worthwhile read.
I have thoughts.
So did Ron Leuty of the SF Business Times.
After the A’s played a doubleheader on Tuesday, some of us had our own doubleheader on Wednesday with the getaway day game leading into Oakland’s Planning Commission hearing, in which Howard Terminal was the key agenda item.
The comment period was initially supposed to last 45 days after the release on the Draft EIR in February, but community groups lobbied for deadline to be extended twice. The deadline is now Tuesday, April 27, at 4 PM. Get your comments in now while you can.
I watched the hearing on Zoom as the ballgame extended into extra innings.
Mostly, I wanted to get the temperature of the public as commenters chimed in. Naturally, hearings like this tend to have a certain bias towards people with grievances, that’s the nature of the game. However, I was surprised at how few supporters for the project were present. To be fair, supporters are at a distinct disadvantage in forums like this. They aren’t armed with all of the plans the developers and city are working on. Because of that, a lot of what they can offer is hope and platitudes. As an A’s fan you know how well hope works as a strategy. Then again, sometimes it does.
I tweeted out some observations from the open comment period. I did not get all of the commenters’ names. Otherwise, enjoy.
(I may have transcribed that wrong, “bike shop” may have been “bus stop”)
On the last point, I’m not clear on whether the Draft EIR can be recirculated. Perhaps it’s possible if the City feels enough pressure. Apparently the comment deadline won’t be extended further. Will there be yet another legal challenge?
The grade separation problem won’t be solved by placing a single pedestrian bridge at Clay Street and fences along The Embarcadero. The whole area is geared towards dispersing fans from numerous exits onto different streets heading north and east. Vehicular traffic remains an unresolved issue.
All told, there were five comments in support of the project, dozens more against. After a while I stopped logging them until I heard something unique in the arguments. The comments ran the gamut, touching on transportation worries, affordable housing concerns, even general planning. If the A’s want to garner better public support in forums like this, they have to do better than to merely trot out the usual suspects with the regular #BiggerThanBaseball talking points. The opponents have their talking points as well. For the supporters it’s akin to taking a knife to a gunfight.
I’ll do a quick ranking of topics based on what I heard in terms of perceived importance:
After the open comment period ended, the individual commissioners spoke. Clark Manus, who is Vice-Chair and an architect, ended the proceeding with a telling note:
As I mentioned in March, Transportation is the most important chapter. If they can’t crack that nut, there’s no deal. It’s that simple. As there’s an active rail line right outside Howard Terminal, it’s not realistic to expect major changes to the rails itself, whether you’re talking about running them in a cut (submerged) or on a viaduct (elevated). If the trains run in the street, the area becomes ripe for dangerous pedestrian/train interactions.
Howard Terminal supporters, if you want this thing to happen you’re gonna have to do more than be dismissive of the critics or attack them for being plants or astroturfers. They’re coming strong with their arguments. You need to have a response. The project is in search of real practical solutions. That’s the hard truth.