A big-rig truck hauls a shipping container at Howard Terminal.
Howard Terminal is mostly used to store shipping containers, but has some other ancillary uses at the port today. The Athletics would like to build a ballpark on the site. Credit: Amir Aziz

The Oakland A’s plan to build a mixed-use development and ballpark at Howard Terminal crept closer to becoming a reality late Thursday. After a contentious 8-hour hearing, the Oakland City Council voted 6-2 to certify the project’s environmental impact report. 

Certification of the 3,500-page environment report helps pave the way for the massive waterfront project to move forward. But the approval process is far from over, as The Oaklandside explained to readers Thursday. Multiple other government agencies must sign off on aspects of the plan before it returns to the council. 

Councilmembers Carroll Fife and Noel Gallo voted against certifying the EIR. Nikki Fortunato Bas, Dan Kalb, Rebecca Kaplan, Treva Reid, Loren Taylor, and Sheng Thao voted yes, but no one was doing a victory lap. Even councilmembers who voted in favor of the environmental impact report expressed concerns over how the $12 billion proposal could alter the landscape of West Oakland and Chinatown, the neighborhoods nearest to the site. 

Mayor Libby Schaaf, an early and consistent supporter of a Howard Terminal baseball stadium, called the council decision a “historic moment for Oakland’s future.” 

“Tonight’s action is more than a milestone—it’s a giant leap forward in our shared mission to create a regional destination that gives back our waterfront to the public, connects a new vibrant neighborhood to our downtown, and provides tens of thousands good union jobs for our residents—and it does it all while keeping our beloved A’s rooted in Oakland,” Schaaf said in a statement following the vote. 

Fife, whose council district includes Howard Terminal and West Oakland, called for her colleagues to pump the brakes on making a decision. Fife said members of the West Oakland and Chinatown communities “are telling us they haven’t been heard.” 

“It feels like we are moving in a direction that is going to negotiate away any type of power these organizations will have,” Fife said. “This timeline is basically created by the A’s.”

In a statement issued Friday morning, the East Oakland Stadium Alliance, a group representing several Port of Oakland labor unions, which opposes the Howard Terminal project, said, “While we commend Councilmembers Fife and Gallo for rejecting the severely insufficient Final EIR for the A’s Howard Terminal project, we are disappointed that the majority voted to certify a report that puts our community and port at risk.” 

“As many community members, businesses, labor leaders, and government agencies have expressed, the EIR fails to address significant issues regarding health, safety, traffic, air quality, and toxic remediation. In allowing the project to advance without committing to meaningful mitigation measures, the City Council has failed in its obligation to put the community first.” 

A’s president Dave Kaval on Friday morning said now that the EIR has gotten this approval, the team and the city can focus more intently on a development agreement, a legally binding document between the A’s and the city that would spell out the team’s commitments and include community benefits. “It’s critically important that we got through this step,” Kaval told The Oaklandside. “We have a roadway to approach getting a final economic deal with the city.” 

At the same time, the A’s are continuing to explore stadium options in the Las Vegas area. Kaval said they are “down to a handful of sites” to either purchase or enter into a joint venture with a landowner. “There’s a lot of positive momentum” in Nevada, Kaval said. “That is going to continue until we have a real path and definite home for the A’s. We are desperately running out of time at the Coliseum.” The A’s lease at the East Oakland facility runs through 2024. 

Certification of the environmental impact report could still be challenged. State law allows for opponents of a development project to challenge an EIR in court, and many large projects face legal challenges that can 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.

Labor advocates and union reps divided on Howard Terminal

The City Council action follows the recommendation of the Planning Commission, which last month asked the council to approve the environmental impact report, known as an EIR. 

A’s owner John Fisher and Kaval say the organization wants to work with the city and county to fund and 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. 

More than 300 people attended the hearing on Zoom, which ended with a vote around 11:30 p.m. Over the course of about two hours, dozens of speakers pleaded with the council to delay a vote and allow more time to analyze how air, noise, and light impacts, along with traffic and rail safety, would be addressed. 

The issue has divided Oakland’s labor advocates. Several labor unions that would work to construct the Howard Terminal development—pipefitters, ironworkers, and apprentices for the building trades—said they saw value in the jobs the project would create, which the city estimates to be more than 7,000. Others who have worked at the Coliseum’s concession stands said they have assurances from the A’s that their jobs would move to the waterfront ballpark. “Our families depend on the income,” a concession worker told the council. 

The longshore union and other port workers are vehemently opposed. They argue that taking Howard Terminal away from the port and turning it into a commercial property will damage operations at the port. Howard Terminal is located in the inner harbor, adjacent to a turning basin where ships the size of skyscrapers need to flip a U-turn after dropping off containers. 

Aaron Wright, business agent for the ILWU Local 10 longshore workers union, said the A’s have not kept promises about building a project compatible with that reality, and others. “How can you deal with these people and their manipulation?” Wright asked. “The A’s have been duplicitous in this process.” 

Melvin Mackay, a longtime longshoreman, said, “You cannot keep pulling the wool over the residents’ eyes. You guys have to make a conscious decision about what you are going to do and stop being puppets because the voters of Oakland will see you again and it will be soon,” referring to the November mayoral election. 

Others see no reason why the A’s can’t build a new ballpark at the Oakland Coliseum. Supporters of keeping the team in East Oakland say it’s an ideal location because of its proximity to BART, Interstate 880, and the Oakland International Airport. The 120-acre site had an environmental impact report completed and approved in 2015, when the Coliseum City development, a plan to build a new stadium for the Raiders and A’s and build housing, retail, a hotel, high-rise office buildings, was under consideration. 

Concerns about affordability and neighborhood impacts

Sheryl Walton, a longtime East Oakland resident, said the A’s must commit to providing community benefits to East Oakland for “divesting” from the area to build a “luxury real estate” development on the waterfront. 

Reisa Jaffe added, “I understand people want jobs. Those same jobs could have happened at the Coliseum. The A’s made a choice to draw a line in the sand. But let’s not let that push us to make mistakes…let’s take it slow and careful.” 

The A’s are the last remaining anchor tenant at the Coliseum, after the Warriors left for San Francisco in 2019 and the Raiders for Vegas in 2020. Currently, a group of Black business leaders with ties to the community is negotiating with the city to build housing, entertainment, educational centers, and retail at the site, and lure a WNBA team. 

“I still believe the area for development is at the Coliseum,” said Councilmember Gallo, who represents District 5 and Fruitvale. Gallo said a Coliseum redevelopment that includes the A’s would “grow Oakland, not just in one neighborhood but throughout.” 

Some residents and organizations of Chinatown and West Oakland pleaded for a delay on the certification of the environmental impact report. Alvina Wong, of the Asian Pacific Environment Network, said the EIR fails to analyze impacts on nearby Chinatown. “We were informed there is an additional analysis underway.”

A city consultant said that report would not be out until April. 

A West Oakland resident who only identified themselves as Wiggi on the Zoom call said the A’s move from east to West Oakland might help people get jobs in Acorn, the neighborhood where Wiggi lives. “Will a ballpark give my neighbors new jobs on this side of Oakland?” Wiggi asked. “Certainly it would.” 

Several residents raised concerns about how much affordable housing would be created, both on the Howard Terminal site and in developments nearby. City officials have asked the A’s to designate at least 15% of the 3,000 proposed residences as affordable and pay for some $50 million to build affordable housing elsewhere within the city. 

“The entire report is basically a shrug emoji,” said Oakland resident Emily Wheeler. “It’s reasonable for the community to demand more answers than what’s been given us. Frankly, I think that report is insulting.” 

The Sierra Club, according to a representative, expressed that the EIR did not account for sea-level rise projections by 2050. The A’s has proposed capping the site and leaving hazardous materials in the ground, rather than removing them, which has also drawn concerns about who will pay for or monitor the toxins left behind. Planner Pete Vollmann, who works for the city of Oakland, said the permit fees the A’s pay are expected to cover those costs.

Jon Loebl, a supporter of the ballpark plan, asked the council to not be “narrow-minded.” Putting a ballpark, homes, parks, and open space at Howard Terminal would cause less environmental harm than what’s currently there, he said. “Please put the community first,” Loebl said.  

A’s fan Fernando Gallo, who doesn’t live in Oakland, said he would like to spend money in town while attending A’s games, similar to the restaurants and bars he visits after attending Sacramento Kings games. But because of the current setup, he doesn’t, outside the Coliseum. “I don’t have a reason to go out of my way to visit Oakland,” said Gallo. “Spending money in the community—isn’t that what you want?” 

Rail crossing safety, and about that gondola…

A major area that needs to be resolved is how potentially 35,000 people will safely cross train tracks dividing Howard Terminal from the rest of Jack London Square without disrupting rail services. Adrian Guerrero of Union Pacific Railroad said there are close to 100 train movements a day on the rails. Guerrero says UPR’s concerns have been brushed aside. “The A’s dismiss this and say it’s a preexisting issue,” he said. 

The California Public Utilities Commission is in charge of evaluating the rail crossings, staff told councilmembers, adding that the adopted plan should adhere to CPUC regulations. 

The A’s proposal to have an aerial gondola carry fans from the Marriott hotel to the ballpark was not part of last night’s vote. For now, it’s just talk: no actual plans have been filed. Moving people on an aerial track would require more studies because the path along Washington Street is near historic buildings in Old Oakland and would need to cross Interstate 880, in the air above a state highway. 

Another splashy idea, allowing watercraft in the Oakland Inner Harbor (think kayaks in McCovey Cove across the bay), was shown in early project renderings. Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan told the City Council “they have no access to water, no boats in the water.” 

For diehard A’s fans, the vote could not come sooner. The Fisher-owned A’s previously threatened to relocate to San Jose and Fremont. Hiring Kaval, who as team president is the face of the A’s front office and point person on the stadium search, was supposed to ease those worries, but the A’s are again looking elsewhere. 

In a separate vote, the City Council adopted a resolution to make sure any project-related community benefits and freight compatibility is considered before or concurrently with a development agreement between the city and the A’s. 

That resolution, authored by Bas, Kalb, and Kaplan, is intended to give city staff negotiating the terms of the development agreement a clear understanding of what the council wants to see prioritized. Listed priorities include 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. 

Council voted 7-1, with Gallo dissenting, to adopt the resolution. 

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.