Oakland approves its own term sheet, tells world, “It’ll be fine, we’re good for it”

We’ve seen a wide range of reaction pieces in the wake of the Tuesday’s City Council meeting in which the Council voted on their own proposal, not the A’s own plans. The A’s and MLB responded in the negative, which was to be expected. Since then, Howard Terminal supporters took the A’s choice to let their legal team review the City’s proposal and not dismiss it outright as a hopeful sign. Which was, well, also to be expected. The supporters are ready, bent over, crying to the A’s, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

You have to wonder if Oakland likes being bent over

News links:

Ray Ratto on Defector

Scott Ostler in the Chronicle

Mercury News

KQED

NY Times

If Oakland wants to feed that appetite, it should be allowed to do so. It shouldn’t involve Alameda County in any part of it. I liken it to a recent college graduate who didn’t get the dream job right after graduation. Six months into the search, he has an opportunity to get a decent job, one that could give him a good income, pay back his loans, and move out of his parents’ house. All that’s required is a lengthy commute. He has a 2011 Honda Accord as his steed, but trusty as it is, it has 100,000 miles on it. He has designs on a Tesla Model 3. He tried to buy one earlier but found that without an income and a good credit score he’ll need his parents to co-sign the loan. Clearly he doesn’t need the Model 3, but it would make him feel good!

Alameda County, as the parents in this labored metaphor, want to empty the nest, downsize, and travel during retirement. That’s why they sold their half of the Coliseum. The City is holding onto their half despite historically having greater difficulty servicing their share of the Mount Davis debt. Alameda County knew when to call it a night. Oakland can’t do it. After the Tuesday Howard Terminal session, Council entered negotiations sell their half to one of two Black-led developer groups, with an upfront promise of a WNBA team at the vacant Oakland Arena and the future promise of a NFL stadium (AASEG) or a MLB ballpark (Dave Stewart/Lonnie Murray). 

The City will give itself six months to evaluate either bid, then decide on one to enter one of those vaunted Exclusive Negotiating Agreements. The A’s surrendered their position when they shifted completely to Howard Terminal, but thanks to their agreement to buy the County’s half of the Coliseum, they will have their own say in the Coliseum’s future. Six months is fine as I wasn’t planning to cover that deal until the offseason begins.

With that pending distraction on the back burner, let’s take a look at what the City approved during the Howard Terminal session. Out of all the mostly nothingburger was one really important bit of news.

I don’t know what the City and the A’s spent much of the weekend negotiating, but for the City to say they’ll handle the responsibilities of the offsite IFD is a mind boggling bit of capitulation on their part. Let’s take a step back and consider what this really means for the project. First of all, the A’s are essentially not responsible for any of the needed transportation improvements outside Howard Terminal. They’ll handle the cleanup and grading of the 55-acres, sure. The grade separations and other rail safety measures? City’s problem. The transit hub? City. The ongoing cost of whatever shuttles have to be run between the BART stations and the development? Also the City. In a previous post I lamented how the Howard Terminal vision didn’t include the transportation infrastructure onsite. Now that chicken is coming home to roost. You can try to argue how much this tax or that assessment will help fund it, the fact is that it’s the City’s responsibility.

In that capitulation, Oakland still has the temerity to request Alameda County’s participation in the Howard Terminal IFD. Supporters are actually saying the County just has to turn on the faucet and let the tax increment come out. No big deal, right? But they’re forgetting that once the County opts in, they have to create their own Public Financing Authority to run the tax increment collection and governance of Howard Terminal. That’s on top of the existing jurisdiction of the Port. So City is asking County to help create its own Coliseum Jr. on the waterfront. Sounds like a great proposal for a party that wants to get out of the pro sports game, no?

Hello, Coliseum Jr!

Naturally, those infrastructure imperatives will compete with community benefits, which are still being negotiated at the moment, and because they are being tacked on are likely to be the last items in line to be funded if any funding is left over. Maybe in 20 years when the vision is developed and mature, and the collected tax increment catches up. The A’s proposal sets forth $450 million, which all parties will end up competing for like Oakland’s running its own civic funding reality show.

But there’s state and federal funding to be had, right? A Politico report points to $280 million made available by Governor Newsom that could be leveraged for the Port. The report focused on this phrase:

“improvements that facilitate enhanced freight and passenger access and to promote the efficient and safe movement of goods and people.”

What does that mean in the context of Howard Terminal? Expanded ferry service? Maybe, though that doesn’t help the existing fanbase much if at all as most of them aren’t on the water or have access to a ferry terminal. The proposal doesn’t include a new Amtrak station at Howard Terminal. Freight? By repurposing Howard Terminal for commercial and residential use, the A’s and City are taking freight out of the equation except for the possibility of providing funds for the grade separation. Which is great in theory, but doesn’t actually make the Port’s shipping operations more efficient or productive than the status quo.

As for federal funds? Republicans filibustered the first vote on the current infrastructure bill yesterday. It looks like the Democrats will take a shot next week, pairing the bill with a social safety net bill as they try to get it through the Senate. Will it provide the kind of funding this project needs? Tune in next week to see what comes out of the sausage grinder. Note that Congress has its own recess in a week, just like their counterparts in City/County/State government.

As Howard Terminal supporters look far afield for dropped coins to fund this boondoggle, I’m reminded of the lengths Oakland and Alameda County had to go to get the Coliseum complex funded initially. Some things don’t change. It also reminds me of former Mayor Jean Quan’s desperate attempts to get Coliseum City funded by the use of a controversial visa program and also by name checking the “Prince of Dubai.” It isn’t enough to do things on a manageable scale in Oakland. The thirst to become a big city never dies. It evolves into something more wretched, more complex. Who’s willing to co-sign this one?

How to Turn Win-Win-Win into No-Win in a Few Short Hours

Well, that was a disaster.

Friday morning started off with great anticipation, as fans and the media eagerly awaited the City of Oakland’s version of a term sheet. As I wrote last week, the City and the A’s are working at cross purposes in trying to come to terms, as the A’s don’t want to stray too far from what they proposed while the City wants change enough of it for the City Council to pass it.

The term sheet with attachments dropped Friday morning at 9:15 AM. Reporters from all major Bay Area print and broadcast outlets swooped in to study it. Now keep in mind that the City is now dealing with two term sheets, the one proposed by the A’s during the spring and the version put together by City staff. While the A’s and City keep working to come to agreements on major deal points, the only big achievement so far is a consensus on a 25-year non-relocation clause, up from 20 proposed originally by the A’s.

The City’s term sheet entirely omits the offsite IFD (infrastructure financing district), called JLS though it doesn’t include Jack London Square proper. Instead the focus is on a single IFD at the 55-acre Howard Terminal site. From a passage standpoint this is the best move by the City, since the offsite IFD didn’t have broad support and likely wouldn’t withstand a vote of property owners to tax themselves. However, the A’s lobbied for the offsite IFD from the beginning and continue to push for it, turning the issue into a potential showstopper.

Casey Pratt from ABC7 and Brodie Brazil from NBC Sports California both interviewed A’s President Dave Kaval later in the day. Kaval didn’t budge much on the IFD stance, though Pratt caught Kaval not being forthcoming about the state of a potential short-term extension at the Coliseum. I started to feel uneasy at points in both interviews as I got the feeling that Pratt and Brazil were practically negotiating, but for what? The City has its own negotiating team, as do the A’s. Were they representing fans, who until now have been criminally underrepresented? Perhaps, though there are always dangers in turning this already public negotiation even more public. I understand wanting to give fans some nuggets of hope, but this isn’t the way to do it. It’s already a confusing mess, since if the resolution passes on Tuesday it will likely be rejected out of hand by the A’s. If it’s voted down, which the A’s prefer, the City will have to go back to the drawing board while the A’s will have license to look beyond Vegas in terms of relocation. Hell, they’ll have the freedom regardless of what happens on Tuesday. That Kaval already has a Vegas trip planned immediately after the vote indicates that Kaval and Fisher are anticipating either outcome.

What I find puzzling is that at some point in the past 3/6/12/18 months the City should have recognized the offsite IFD was a loser and proactively adjusted the plan accordingly, or at least pushed the applicant (the A’s) in that direction. Now City has a funding gap of $351.9 million and no clear path(s) to bridge it. Kaval mentioned in one of the previous public hearings that the A’s could get the ballpark built with only $22 million in infrastructure built prior to opening day. My guess is that $22 million would go only towards the fencing and other safety measures that would be required for minimal rail safety, though obviously that’s far short of the full grade separation wanted by Union Pacific and Amtrak.

Howard Terminal ballpark with lots of park and open space around it

The A’s chose to propose the ballpark with all of the virtually all of the needed infrastructure, especially the transit hub, located offsite. In doing so, they made the offsite part of the project much more expensive. The transit hub, which will cover a two-block stretch of 2nd Street, is likely to cost $50-100 million to implement. There are also the bridges to build for grade separation. If the A’s included the transit hub as part of the Howard Terminal IFD, they could’ve reduced the offsite cost while providing a reasons for the City to invest in the transit hub: efficiency and better packaging. The team probably didn’t go this route because they didn’t want a transit hub right next to their luxurious condo towers. The funny thing about that is that because they already conceded the western blocks of the site as a buffer against Schnitzer Steel, those blocks are set up well for office uses, parking, and a transit hub if they want it.

Site plan with the southwest corner cut out for the expanded turning basin

Even if the transit hub is relocated, the grade separations remain a priority, even moreso because of the refocused traffic. That $352 million cost doesn’t magically go away. As I leafed through the term sheet it struck me that the offsite infrastructure cost is about the same as the construction cost for PacBell/AT&T/Oracle Park (not adjusted for inflation). It never gets cheaper, and as the A’s keep dillydallying with sites and cities, the price will continue to rise especially if new requirements they didn’t anticipate 10 or 20 years ago are piled on.

Other cities will be talked about as the A’s and MLB grow more frustrated with Oakland. These days that’s par for the course. Just remember that there are a couple factors that will have sway that no candidate city can control. One is inflation, or the rising cost of construction. That’s partly explained by building more complex buildings than what used to be standard (see my visit to Globe Life Field as the most recent example). Places that need retractable roofs and comprehensive HVAC systems can add a cool $300-400 million off the top. That’s an equalizer for Oakland. The other factor is written into the MLB’s constitution.

As a team in one of the largest markets, the A’s agreed to be taken off revenue sharing indefinitely. When that occurred I complained that Oakland, while in the powerhouse Bay Area, is functionally more of a mid-market team like San Diego or team in the Midwest due to its inherent disadvantages in media and location. Regardless, the A’s have to play by big boy rules, so they get no quarter, no revenue sharing. That means that any move to a new market (Portland, Las Vegas, Vancouver) must be contemplated not only as a new market, but also a market that will require the A’s to go on revenue sharing due to yes, inherent disadvantages in media and location or market size. If MLB’s philosophy is to get franchises off revenue sharing as a necessity (call it small market welfare), moving the A’s to a much smaller market contradicts that notion. Ironically, crippling the A’s revenue picture a few years ago may be the one thing that saves the A’s for Oakland in the end. If only they can get a ballpark built.

P.S. – The Oakland Coliseum is about 16 acres in size. It’s huge. The Howard Terminal looks very close, maybe 14 acres. The packaging could be a lot better for 30,000 seats.

Union Pacific explains their Howard Terminal position

After the release of the Howard Terminal Draft EIR, I waited for the compiled comments to become available. Beneath the pleas from transit agencies and housing groups, there was a video provided by none other than Union Pacific (UPRR). The well-produced video comment is not much longer than a typical music video and comes with a highly professional voiceover.

Video illustrates hypothetical train parked in front of Howard Terminal

Union Pacific continues to raise concerns over the project, saying that it will impact its operations. The chief problem is that when a train stops at UPRR’s yard to the west of Howard Terminal, it will often be stuck there for 10-45 minutes as a long train is effectively split into three parts to fit it into the tracks at the yard. After that switching activity is completed the train can be loaded or unloaded. Presumably, the train has to be reassembled to some extent in order to begin its next journey.

Okay, we knew that going in, nothing new, right? Ah, but there’s a twist. UPRR acknowledges that despite its concerns, the City of Oakland could plow ahead with the project anyway. If that happens, UPRR is prepared to make demands. The big ask, which I heard from PMSA’s Mike Jacob in a discussion with Zennie Abraham yesterday, is that UPRR will request that all construction traffic be grade separated from the active rail line before construction on the rest of the project begins.

Block or charge? You make the call

It’s a reasonable request from a safety standpoint, one that I could see the Federal Rail Administration, Caltrans, and Amtrak supporting. If you’re going to reduce the risk of train-automobile or train-pedestrian/bike interactions, putting in a grade separation at Market Street (location not finalized) makes sense. The problem with that what we’re really talking about is putting in a big concrete bridge at Market, a piece of infrastructure that the A’s have been hesitant to commit to. As UPRR’s Robert Bylsma wrote in May:

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.”

Of course, a fully grade-separated entrance to the site that can handle trucks and heavy iron won’t be cheap. It’s not a showstopper, since if that’s the cost of doing business at Howard Terminal, that’s the cost of doing business. It does push a major project cost to the front of the line where it would compete with other line items. Plus there’s the visual issue of an eyesore bridge going up before the ballpark or anything else along the waterfront. During last week’s session, City staff still considered the vehicular grade separation an alternative, not a requirement.

With the separate vehicular and pedestrian bridges added to the project, the grade separation cost alone threatens to run into the $300 million range. There’s no surprise there. Good quality infrastructure costs money. When HT was considered 10 years ago for a ballpark, guess how much a new BART station at Market or Brush streets was estimated to cost? $250-300 million. I guess in hindsight I can see why A’s ownership is being so tightfisted about an item as fundamental in 2021 as affordable housing. Even if your budget is projected to hit $12 Billion, every $300 million counts.

Thread for today’s City Council Study Session (with poll)

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.

Judge’s ruling provides glimmer of hope for Howard Terminal

Yesterday, the Merc’s A’s beat scribe Shayna Rubin reported on some important legal news: Judge Noel Wise of Alameda County Superior Court threw out the case levied by a coalition of shipping and trucking interests and Schnitzer Steel against the Howard Terminal project. Judge Wise opined:

“…It would be a perverse outcome if the Howard Terminal Project could not advance pursuant to a valid and operable statute because that statute includes a reference to the potential application of the guidelines for another statute that is no longer in effect.”

The judge hinted she might rule in this direction towards last month, and the ruling follows suit. Judge Wise effectively said that because Howard Terminal was passed under the auspices of AB 734, it was not subject to the deadline specified by AB 900, which expired at the end of 2019. Not meeting the deadline was the crux of the lawsuit.

So, full steam ahead, then? Not so fast.

The first step will be the release of the oft-delayed and long overdue EIR Draft, hopefully in the next few weeks. The point of AB 734 was to allow for fast tracking of the CEQA process, allowing approved projects to settle legal challenges in no more than 270 days. That period would be concurrent with the actual EIR approval process, which legally should take 45-60 days but in large project reality never does. Both the A’s and opponents are getting ready to file responses to the Draft, which will be long and likely tedious, albeit necessary.

A’s President Dave Kaval admitted that the A’s timeline for the project has slipped:

“How far it slipped, I can’t answer that. I don’t know yet. It depends on if the city can even get this to a vote this year. It depends on the other priorities the city council might have.”

It also depends on how the numbers work out for the A’s. The pandemic took the wind out of the economy in multiple ways. There’s a lot of uncertainty moving forward about how the commercial real estate aspects of the Howard Terminal plan pencil out. Who’s not hurting? The shipping industry, which has been going gangbusters since the pandemic unleashed this perverse economic transformation.

If their interest is in the status quo, it’s in the best interest of the shipping industry to use that entire 270 days. It’s my sincere hope that they don’t. I would rather all the parties hash out a working agreement like all businesses, government, and community groups can and do. Can the Port of Oakland force the opponents to the table? Or will the opponents continue to lawyer up and let the chips fall where they may?

Not to be lost in this is a $4.1 million settlement worked out last week by California’s DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances Control) and Schnitzer Steel. Schnitzer has been the proxy for the shipping interests all this time, though it was caught up in its own legal wrangling over the numerous fires that spewed toxic black smoke around West and Downtown Oakland. The settlement has a few knock-on effects. Does the settlement and the prescribed remedies help or shield Schnitzer in the A’s lawsuit against the DTSC? That might be for yet another court to decide. Do the A’s try to partner with Schnitzer to enhance the remedies? To me that would seem like the best case scenario, though it would also require an acknowledgment that both can co-exist as neighbors.

The A’s filed their initial development application for Howard Terminal in November 2018, after six months of lobbying and legislation paved the way for it. Kaval is right in that the City Council shouldn’t be expected to vote on this project in 2021 with far more pressing issues on the table. It would be nice to see, however.

New timeline (8/1)
A revision is in order

Unlike early 2019, when there was an all-out PR and media assault to sell the project, there won’t be quite the same effort in early 2021. Any momentum for Howard Terminal has to be built up again over time with a more clear-eyed vision (and less confusion over the details). I know Kaval has the stomach for that battle.

Does John Fisher? 🧐

P.S. – In an addendum to Rubin’s original story, the port interests are – guess what? – lawyering up. See you in Appellate Court.

P.P.S. – Kaval celebrates Governor Newsom’s certification of the project streamlining, which is not the same as certifying the full EIR (that comes later).

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?

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.

Contraction Comes To The Minors

Change is a-coming. Maybe.

The above map shows the 42 cities MLB is considering to wipe off the face of the earth. That is, if the face of the earth constituted of affliated minor league baseball teams. (Go ahead, take a few minutes to expand the map and study it.) Some people call this a restructuring of the minors. Others call it contraction. I come from the tech world. We call this downsizing.

Read about what’s being proposed:

I’ve been thinking about this for much of the weekend. My initial reaction is to try to preserve professional baseball in all cities and towns that have it regardless of size or affiliation. I do recognize that, historically, baseball has undergone numerous transformations regarding its relationship with its farm system(s) for decades. If you look at the map, you’ll see that California is mostly safe from this downsizing, with the exception of the high-A Lancaster JetHawks, whose current stadium opened in 1996. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll see that the California League has itself undergone a great deal of restructuring, losing teams and changing affiliations at a rapid rate recently. (Remember how the A’s used to have two Cal League affiliates?) The new trends of vertical ownership (MLB teams owning choice affiliates) and minimizing lower level team affiliations is foreboding for cities in the Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues, where the cities are literally several hours from the nearest MLB stadium and long bus rides from each other. Dropping teams is a surefire way to kill baseball fandom in those places, by making it much less accessible to the average fan or family.

The thing is, I see the point of the ruthless efficiency at work here. I live in Scottsdale, within walking distance of the Giants’ Cactus League stadium and training facility. I’m 15 minutes from the A’s in Mesa. I’m practically down the road from Phoenix Muni, where the A’s used to play and ASU’s baseball program now plays its home games after the A’s left for Mesa. I can see baseball for cheap or free nine months a year, without having to pay escalating MLB prices. That is a tremendous gift to me, and an enormous convenience for the 15 teams that have Cactus League facilities. They can do regular spring training, extended spring training, summer league, fall league, and rehab all in one place. Bus rides are mercifully short. Living costs are manageable. That doesn’t mean that minor league ball is obsolete. In fact, MiLB drew over 41 million fans last season, and there continue to be new venues popping up all over the country. Prospects still need to prove themselves at different levels. Yet there is an argument for some sort of consolidation.

That said, looming over all of this is potential backlash. If MLB chooses to cut ties with dozens of cities, good luck trying to get the next smallish municipality to buy into the baseball-as-boon concept. There’s talk of lawsuits. Surely there would be many of those, though MLB’s antitrust protection only extends to major league games and the cities that host MLB teams. It’s not surprising that the idea may have originated with the already-on-the-hot-seat Houston Astros organization. Whether this is merely a trial balloon or the start of a major reform effort, minor league baseball has major issues to address, such as paying a living wage.

As much as I am a fan of an analytically driven approach to baseball, there are limits. Baseball is still a game played by human beings, in communities, not entirely on spreadsheets. Not everything about the sport should be boiled down to being a revenue or cost center, or an investment with an ROI. As we saw during the World Series, there has to be room for drama and feeling. That’s what loving baseball – or any spectator sport – is about. If you suffocate the communities, you kill the game. I hope that the Lodge, in its infinite wisdom, doesn’t forget how important that is.

*BLINK*

 

It figures that right before a hearing, hours after I mention the latest lawsuit in a post, that one of the parties chooses to drop the lawsuit.

That’s what happened tonight, as the Oakland City Council ordered the City Attorney to drop the lawsuit over the Coliseum land. Per the Chronicle’s Sarah Ravani:

That was followed by the A’s own release:

Okay, now what? Well, don’t break out the shovels just yet. Why? Because the key sentence in the City’s statement is this:

Additionally, the Council directed the issuance of a surplus land notice on the Coliseum site, a legally required precursor to selling public land.

According to the checklist (PDF) put together by nonprofit law firm Public Advocates, that’s gonna add at least 60 days to the land sale process. I expect the City to continue to negotiate concessions from the A’s in the interim. As affordable housing is not a huge moneymaker without some sort of subsidization effort, I wouldn’t expect a ton of better offers than what the A’s can provide. The important thing, though, is that the process is being followed properly, and codified in the Surplus Land Act is a desire to approve bidders that can provide 25% of the constructed units as affordable or below market-rate.

There’s also a provision to approve park uses for surplus land, which may require a small zoning change if it’s what the A’s have on the drawing board – converting the Coliseum into a park/amphitheater.

Throughout all of the legal and political wrangling during the fall, both City and County had rather different takes on who was following the right procedures with the Surplus Land Act. Both the park and affordable housing are in the A’s plans, which has me wondering why the City and County couldn’t get on the same page in September when this mess started. Similarly, why would the A’s go along with a plan so likely to face political friction? Perhaps they wanted to take the procedural express lane to Howard Terminal. So much for that. Over at Beyond the Box Score, Sheryl Ring provided greater insight into the specifics of the law.

For this whole concept – ballpark at Howard Terminal, redevelopment of the Coliseum – there’s a great deal of work to flesh out the details. If the A’s end up putting no affordable housing at Howard Terminal and try to place all of the affordable units at the Coliseum, that’s likely to go over like a lead balloon. Then again, it’s unclear if Howard Terminal itself is subject to the Surplus Land Act, which would really throw a wrench into the A’s projections.

I was surprised when Rob Manfred used the move threat card at what I considered a very early juncture. Then I remembered that the commissioner can use it whenever he likes without fear of reprisal. Antitrust exemption, you know. Exhale, everyone.

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.