The City Council is scheduled to vote today on certifying the environmental impact report for the Oakland A’s Howard Terminal ballpark and mixed-use development project, a crucial step in the process of evaluating this proposal, but far from a final decision.
If the Council opts to certify the 3,500-page document, it’ll be saying that the city adequately reviewed the project’s potential effects on the environment, including traffic, air quality, and noise, responded to input from citizens, and found ways to lessen the impacts.
Under state law, approval of this sort of report is required before the city can take other actions, such as approving a development agreement with the Athletics baseball team. Financial details of that agreement, a legally binding document between the A’s and the city that would spell out the team’s commitments, are not expected to be released publicly until this summer at the earliest.
Besides the city, other local and state agencies would also need to sign off on various aspects of the massive project, made more complicated because it is on both the Oakland waterfront and Port of Oakland property.
The A’s want to build a 35,000-seat ballpark, 3,000 units of housing, 1.5 million square feet of offices, 270,000 square feet of retail space, 400 hotel rooms, an entertainment venue, and 18 acres of parks and open areas along the Oakland Estuary.
If done right, supporters say, the Howard Terminal site, located west of Jack London Square, will provide better connectivity along the waterfront and Embarcadero Road and attract more people to the square, which is cut off from downtown Oakland by Interstate 880. It would also keep the A’s—Oakland’s last professional sports franchise—from following the Raiders to Las Vegas or relocating elsewhere. The A’s have said they are on “parallel paths” in Oakland and Vegas.
If done at all, opponents argue, it is going to damage operations at the Port of Oakland, a major regional job hub. Howard Terminal is currently used as a staging area for truckers and is near the turning basin for ships the size of skyscrapers. There are concerns over how much affordable housing the A’s will commit to and whether the project will gentrify areas like nearby Chinatown and West Oakland by driving up the cost of housing and commercial space. Many are also concerned about how the city and county would pay for millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements like improved streets, pedestrian and bicycle paths, and increased transit options.
The Oakland Planning Commission voted last month to recommend that the City Council certify the environmental report. Although the council is scheduled to vote later today, some members have indicated they would like more time to study the report after hearing from the public. Among other considerations, the city has had to analyze how to get thousands of fans safely across train tracks without disrupting the flow of freight and commuter trains. City planners are recommending new bridges for vehicles.
Before digging into the environmental report, the council first will discuss and vote on a resolution that requires the project’s community benefits package and freight compatibility be considered and approved either before, or at the same time as, the approval of a development agreement.
“The EIR will set the floor, not the ceiling, for project expectations,” wrote councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas, Dan Kalb, and Rebecca Kaplan, who scheduled a vote on the resolution. “There are several critical issues to address regarding the project, and some are outside [the California Environmental Quality Act] and the EIR. Our resolution seeks to identify what those outstanding issues are and how they will be addressed prior to the final project approval of the Development Agreement with the Oakland A’s, regardless of whether they are included in the EIR.”
The resolution is intended to give city staff negotiating the terms of the development agreement a clear understanding of what the council wants prioritized. Bas, Kalb, and Kaplan’s list includes onsite affordable housing commitments from the A’s, opportunities for small businesses to open around the ballpark, a study of traffic and parking impacts in Chinatown and West Oakland, and transparency around any toxic cleanup.
CEQA allows for opponents of a development project to challenge an environmental impact report in court, and many large projects face legal challenges that can sometimes drag on for years. However, a state law authored in 2018 by former Assemblyman Rob Bonta streamlines the process for the A’s. Under AB 734, any lawsuits would have to be adjudicated within 270 days of certification.
Before working out the terms of the real estate deal, the EIR must be certified and the Council must approve an ordinance that gives the city decision-making authority over the property from the Port of Oakland since Howard Terminal is on port-controlled land. That vote is taking place today as well.
More votes and multiple meetings would need to happen before the project is spiked, significantly altered, or a shovel could go into the ground at the end of Market Street. Here’s what else has to happen:
The state Department of Toxic Substances must sign off on the team’s plan to clean up toxic substances found on the site, a process council members have asked for a working group to review.
The San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission [BCDC] has a hearing on May 22 to change Howard Terminal’s designation as a port terminal on the bay map.
Various city commissions and committees will review the development design, permits, rezoning of the area, amendments to the city’s general plan, and other land use approvals. The Port of Oakland, which has its own commission, with members who are nominated by the mayor and appointed by the council, must also approve a master lease that would give the A’s control of the land.
If a development agreement is reached, it would be reviewed by multiple city commissions and committees before eventually going to a public hearing of the City Council for a vote on the terms, which would include how much affordable housing would be provided on and off the project site, and who would pay infrastructure upgrades.
Separately, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors could vote to join the city in an infrastructure facilities district to help cover costs of pedestrian and car bridges, roadway improvements, and adding sewer, water, and electrical lines. If the county doesn’t, it would mean fewer tax revenues from the project are dedicated to paying for these upgrades.
The City Council has the final say over the entire project.
A’s president Dave Kaval told the Planning Commission in January that the team could break ground on the first phase of the $12 billion project within a year of getting all necessary approvals, which Kaval would like to happen this year. The A’s lease at the Coliseum runs through 2024.
Today’s City Council meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. and the agenda can be found here.