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.

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.

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.

The Adult Conversation, Aborted

I never intended to create a series of posts titled “Adult Conversation,” yet here they are:

…plus there are other related posts that had to do with Coliseum City in 2015:

What happened since then? Besides the the Warriors leaving for SF and the Raiders’ announcement of their exodus to Vegas, not that much.

Now that the City and County are embroiled in a lawsuit over the sale of the County’s share of the Coliseum to the A’s, we’re stuck in a state of utter confusion. Quick recap: City sued County two weeks ago. Rob Manfred stepped in and threatened to move the A’s to Vegas if City doesn’t back down. This week, County threatens to stop negotiations on the Coliseum if City doesn’t back down.

Hold on a sec. Does anyone really know what the two sides are arguing about?

Remaining debt payments on the Coliseum after 2012 refinancing

According to the City of Oakland, Alameda County went and took the offer from the A’s without seeking a counteroffer from the City. The previous working plan was that the County would pay off the debt, and the City would pay back the County over time to regain control of the entire complex, allowing the County to exit the sports venue business. That was the essence of the adult conversation. The City didn’t (and reportedly still doesn’t) have the money to pay for their share and pay back the County, so that went nowhere.

However, the City is now revealing a different wrinkle to the A’s deal. According to City Council member Larry Reid, the County is allowing the A’s to pay off the County’s remaining debt installments, a pitch that the County didn’t in turn make to the City. That sounds a lot like what the City wanted, right? This is what doesn’t make sense to me. The City wasn’t able to take over the debt, yet they say the County didn’t give City the option to try? (As far as I know, neither City nor County have the option to accelerate the payments to pay off their share early.)

Either the City or County is interpreting the terms of the arrangement wrong. And that is what I find most disappointing about all of this. The two sides, after back and forth periods of acrimony and harmony, literally had years to iron out the details of the Coliseum’s dissolution. That is what was supposed to be the eventual product of the adult conversation. Perhaps they got distracted by the pipe dream that was Coliseum City. There were certainly other more pressing civic priorities over the years. But the important takeaway from all of this is that the Coliseum JPA is about to get out of all of this without going broke in the process, though they certainly got close. Whether the land is sold back to the City or is sold to the A’s, both City and County will be made whole, instead of incurring even more enormous debt via a new complex of stadia as they were ready to incur.

That all said, part of me is hoping for the November hearing to go as currently scheduled, as it could finally put the matter to rest. The two sides are having closed-door talks right now to settle out of court. Maybe that’ll finally result in something. They had a chance to settle for years. What should cause them to strike a deal now, after all this time? Sometimes, the only thing you know is litigation.

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.

Patience, Grasshoppers

Two bills supporting the Howard Terminal ballpark project are now on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, thanks to their safe passage through the state legislature. You haven’t heard much static during this part of the process, which is unique to California. CEQA regulations make it tough for big projects like stadia to get to the groundbreaking stage, which has created a new environment where CEQA exemptions are allowed to shorten that process. Despite those efforts, the process remains largely the same.

We’re where those four arrows point on the right, 1/3 of the way up (I added the green arrow)

A lot of the process happens in parallel, especially the items on the left side of the cart. There is a draft version of the EIR that’s scheduled to be released sometime in October. A’s President Dave Kaval gave select media members a tour of the Howard Terminal site earlier in the week where he walked them through much of the rest of the process. The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson documented some of those next steps well, so you should take a look at it. If you can’t see that, I’ll sum it up.

  • October: Draft EIR published
  • March 2020: City Council vote
  • December 2020: Groundbreaking?

Of course, there are numerous important steps between fall of this year and spring of next year, or spring and winter of next year. As you all know from reading this blog, the devil’s in the details. I didn’t hear much about lobbying efforts from the shipping industry, though they kept up their occasional media assault on the project. I imagine the shippers are lining up their arrows for the draft EIR, which should create its own sort of postseason fireworks. The legislation stuff is the easy part.

About that legislation, Governor Newsom has until October 13 to sign it. That shouldn’t be a big deal, with the only real complication being the presence of other more important bills for Newsom to sign. You see, the biggest achievement was already earned when area legislators chose to write these bills to create exemptions for Howard Terminal. It’s hard to find vocal opposition these days, especially now that the bulk of stadium projects in California are privately financed, which means there are no direct subsidies or tax measures involved in the venues’ construction. If you’re a legislator, are you going to say no to a private business looking to invest and you don’t have to put up anything yourself? Or be the c*ckblocker for some other city?

Well, about that. There will undoubtedly be debate about the infrastructure part of the plan, which is still mostly unsettled and requires fleshing out. For instance, Mayor Libbby Schaaf indicated that she’d be willing to put up to $200 million of the City’s money towards this infrastructure. Some of that will go towards new sidewalks in a part of town that doesn’t have many of those, or new pedestrian or vehicular bridges to go over the train tracks that run next to the site. How much will go towards dealing with the demands of the shipping and trucking companies in West Oakland? And how much of the beautification aspects of the project will be confined to Howard Terminal itself, as opposed to the nearby areas?

Take the picture below. It depicts the ground level of Margaret T. Hance Park, an urban park in Phoenix.

Margaret T. Hance Park (Phoenix) looking west

What you don’t see is that underneath it is Interstate 10, which runs right through central Phoenix from east to west. The park itself was built atop a series of bridges and decks to connect downtown Phoenix to midtown and points north over the freeway, which in this area was once called the Deck Park Tunnel. Hard to tell from the photo, right? The park is 32.5 acres in size and is flanked by new apartments and condos, an arts district, and a library. Some of you are probably thinking that this is the approach that should be taken with the tracks along the Embarcadero, or I-980 if/when it’s decommissioned as a freeway. If that happens, it’s many, many steps down the road and will cost billions, so I wouldn’t get too excited about the prospects of either. Still, it’s nice to consider the possibilities.

Specific and Incomplete

While most A’s fans were spending most of the weekend wondering how exactly the A’s could survive the rest of the regular season and postseason despite a patchwork bullpen, I started digging into new documents released by the City of Oakland. We’re talking about the Downtown Oakland Specific Plan, EIR, and EIR appendices, light reading totaling over 1,600 pages. For those who have some experienced reading such docs, that size shouldn’t be a surprise.

1,600 pages allows for over 100 mentions of Howard Terminal. However, for the purposes of the Specific Plan, Howard Terminal is not considered part of Downtown. It remains part of West Oakland.

Howard Terminal as “Future Potential Development Site” (see legend)

Howard Terminal is literally next to what’s defined as downtown and will have major effects on Downtown. A comment by Vivian Kahn of Oakland planning firm Dyett & Bhatia lays out the issue accordingly:

The proposed Howard Terminal project will obviously have a significant impact on the Specific Plan area and, in particular, the Jack London District. While the previous drafts of planning docs for the Specific Plan went on at length about the potential benefits the stadium and associated development would bring to the Jack London District, this version states that Howard Terminal is “outside the plan boundary.”

So “Downtown” per the Specific Plan looks like this:

Something’s missing here

You’d think that, given the amount of time the City and the Port have used the mull the idea of a ballpark at Howard Terminal, they would at least include the parcel in their study. Rather, the documents are evidence of the City trying to have its cake and it eat it too. The idea is that if a ballpark is approved, it would create spillover development in nearby blocks. The implication is that with a ballpark Howard Terminal would be annexed into Downtown at a later point. If a ballpark isn’t built, Howard Terminal remains part of West Oakland as if no speculation nor ancillary activity will happen. To me, that sounds foolhardy at best. Are the only alternatives at HT the ballpark or the lower-impact maritime use the Port utilizes currently? Some creativity is in order. The quotes below acknowledge how impactful the ballpark project will be.

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Howard Terminal is undergoing its own CEQA process and the City will put out a draft EIR shortly. Changes approved by the Port, City, and BCDC should influence downstream changes in Downtown Oakland Specific Plan, the West Oakland Specific Plan (last updated 2014), and the Estuary Policy Plan (1999). 20 years is an eternity in Bay Area planning, so all of these documents merit serious updates.

Activity areas loosely defined

It doesn’t take much work to see Market Street gentrifying in much the same way Broadway has, with Howard Terminal as its southern anchor. I’ve heard two types of responses to this. Some fans welcome the expansion of Downtown to Howard Terminal and the bonanza it would bring. Others are decidedly more wary of gentrification. One fan even tried to educate me on where Howard Terminal was.

Of course, I had to correct that missed assessment. Look, I get that the ballpark could be huge for Oakland. It’s why John Fisher has the whole A’s staff in line behind Howard Terminal. But let’s be honest about what we’re dealing with here. Howard Terminal, combined with the Coliseum redevelopment, looks like a massive land grab. The A’s have tried to disassociate the two projects. The problem with trying to say they’re not connected is that only the Coliseum is approved for development now. The staging of Howard Terminal has the ballpark coming in first, followed by development surrounding the ballpark that could stretch out perhaps decades and has many steps before plans are approved. The Coliseum is the financial bridge to get there. That’s fine if that’s the intent, just be honest with everyone about it, and not use A’s fans to communicate it out through the community.

When Danny Glover spoke at Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland on Saturday, he mentioned gentrification a lot. He said that West Oakland could be transformed into San Francisco East. That sounds a lot like what happened to Brooklyn or what’s in progress in Long Island City in Queens. Gentrification has a creeping effect. In some cases there’s an argument that it’s needed to clean up neighborhoods or make them more livable. There is a flip side to that coin, in that those very same neighborhoods can become less livable for some because they’re less affordable. Glover was recently in two films that covered the current era of technology and gentrification: Boots Riley’s 2018 film Sorry to Bother You (set in Oakland) and Joe Talbot’s/Jimmie Fails’ 2019 film The Last Black Man in San Francisco (set in SF’s Fillmore and Hunters Point).

Here’s another tidbit from the DOSP:

Bottom line: If you think gentrification is not a factor in all of this, you are in willful, total denial. Be prepared for the backlash.

P.S. – San Jose took steps to annex the Diridon site as part of its Greater Downtown initiative in 2011. Nearly a decade later, Google is set to swallow all of the newly annexed area (save for the arena) whole. That’s gentrification for you.