Under pressure from the city of Oakland, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors late Tuesday indicated some willingness to join the city in financing portions of the A’s Howard Terminal ballpark proposal. But first, the board wants to better understand how the baseball club and team will pay for the multi-billion dollar project.
For months, city leaders have said Oakland alone cannot pay for infrastructure, affordable housing, and public parks at the site near Jack London Square.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Mayor Libby Schaaf said the city could not move forward with a development agreement with the A’s without the county’s commitment. And the mayor warned that anything but an affirmative vote would signal to Major League Baseball and Commissioner Rob Manfred that “there is not a path” to constructing a new ballpark in Oakland.
By a 4-1 vote, the supervisors declared an intent to join the city in forming a special infrastructure financing district from which the city and county would use property tax generated from the Howard Terminal project over a 45-year period to pay for infrastructure, such as roadway improvements and adding sewer, water, and electrical lines.
Although the decision is non-binding and the supervisors could back out at any time, Oakland leaders characterized the vote as a crucial step in working to keep the A’s in Oakland. The team has been simultaneously exploring the option of moving to the Las Vegas area.
“Tonight’s vote by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors is a historic action that creates a clear path to keep the A’s rooted in Oakland and build a world-class waterfront ballpark district that will benefit Bay Area residents for generations to come,” Schaaf said in a statement Tuesday evening.
The $12 billion proposal includes a 35,000-seat stadium on the waterfront, as well as 3,000 homes, hotels, a performing arts center, and commercial and retail space.
In June, the Board of Supervisors was reluctant to commit to the plan. Some supervisors have criticized the city for asking them to join a financial plan on a project in which they have had little involvement. On Tuesday, some skepticism remained.
“Clearly people are divided on this issue,” Supervisor Nate Miley said. “I think our willingness to at least go further based on the motion gives the county the opportunity to do more due diligence around this and doesn’t hold up any possible progress that could be made that would serve the public interest.”
Supervisor Keith Carson, whose district represents West Oakland, said the ballpark project has a “long laundry list of unknowns.” Carson, who was the lone no vote, said he was bothered that the city and A’s have not come up with alternative funding plans that do not include county dollars.
“Let’s be honest with each other. Once we take a political non-binding position, it’s almost impossible for us to take that back,” Carson said. “Even if this goes through, I know there’s a lot of hurdles to go over, we are really risking and taking dollars away from people we have the responsibility to oversee.”
Currently, the county collects about $70,000 a year in tax revenue from the Howard Terminal site. A consulting firm hired by the city of Oakland estimated the county would get approximately $67 million in tax revenue during the construction phase of the project and $5.4 million in property tax annually thereafter.
The County Administrator’s office, however, estimates that the county would get about $2 million a year from the project. The county would end up contributing more property taxes generated from the site to the infrastructure than the city because, as city staff explained, Oakland is using some of the tax to also pay for improvements off the Howard Terminal site.
The resolution passed by the supervisors calls for a committee of county staff, supervisors and the auditor-controller to conduct an analysis of the financial plan and to bring the information back to the full board of supervisors.
Supporters of the project who called into the meeting told supervisors it would create jobs, revitalize Oakland’s waterfront, and generate millions in new tax revenues. But critics urged the supervisors to hold off on a vote until the true cost of the project is known and environmental issues at the site have been resolved.
“The Board should not commit millions of public tax dollars toward a private project that will displace West Oakland residents, put thousands of working-class union port jobs at risk, and jeopardize the county’s long-term financial stability,” the East Oakland Stadium Alliance, a coalition largely consisting of maritime companies and port workers, said. “We are confident that upon having additional time to do a thorough analysis the Board will come to understand the overwhelming negative implications of this proposal and decline to move forward.”
Molly Maybrun, a city project manager overseeing Howard Terminal negotiations, said she expects the final environmental impact report to be released by the end of the year. Both the city and the A’s continue to negotiate a development agreement, which City Council will have to approve.
A’s President Dave Kaval told the supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting that the team and the city “remain apart on key provisions,” including “infrastructure, whether or not the county will participate, community benefits, affordable housing, and provisions around transportation.”
“These remain open items,” Kaval said. “We are in discussion with the city on a weekly basis but we have not achieved them.”
Meanwhile, the A’s are continuing to explore options to build a stadium in Las Vegas. In an interview with the Sports Business Journal earlier this month, Commissioner Manfred said MLB and the A’s have had to look at ballpark options outside of Oakland because the process there has “dragged on so long.”
“Frankly, in some ways, we’re not sure we see a path to success in terms of getting something built in Oakland,” the commissioner said. Las Vegas, he said, has been the most publicized alternative to Oakland but there are still other possible locations.