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Oakland Planning Commission approves A’s ballpark EIR

new Oakland A's ballpark

Planning for a new Oakland Athletics waterfront ballpark moved forward after the Oakland Planning Commission approved a 3,500-page environment impact report (EIR), with the City Council up next in the approval process.

The vote from the Planning Commission was unanimous. The report will now be considered by the full City Council, with a review expected to begin in February before a potential vote on certification.

The A’s have proposed a downtown Howard Terminal waterfront development featuring $12 billion in private investment, including a billion dollars for a new 34,000-capacity ballpark to replace the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum as the team’s home. The development would also include 3,000 units of housing, as well as 1.5 million square feet of office space, 270,000 square feet of retail space, a 400-room hotel, 18 acres of parkland and an estimated $450 million in community benefits. It would represent a massive makeover of the Oakland waterfront, transforming a industrial site into a mixed-use development. 

Last night’s hearing featured some familiar arguments from opponents: the 3,500-page EIR did not adequately address all potential impacts of the waterfront development and was silent regarding some salient issues, including traffic management.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a proponent of the project, issued a statement hailing the decision:

“Tonight’s Planning Commission recommendation to send the Final Environmental Impact Report onto the City Council for certification is a huge win for our entire region and puts Oakland one step closer to building a landmark waterfront ballpark district with the highest environmental standards.

For this EIR, our City provided an extended public comment and review period and responded to more than 400 comments in writing. A new waterfront neighborhood will provide a long-term home for our beloved Oakland A’s, 18 acres of beautifully landscaped public parks, 3,000 units of much-needed market rate and affordable housing, and bring more than 25,000 union construction and 7,000 permanent jobs to our region.”

As to be expected, the East Oakland Stadium Alliance–a stalwart opponent of the project–issued a press statement decrying the approval, saying that there were a number of issues not addressed in the EIR, including the lack of a traffic-management plan and no process for cleaning up toxic soil at the Howard Terminal site:

“We are disappointed that the lack of thorough analysis and the inadequate response to public comments by the City of Oakland and the A’s has resulted in a Planning Commission recommendation that continues to put our community and Port at risk. The Final EIR fails to address the significant concerns that community stakeholders and agencies have raised, particularly in regard to health, safety, traffic, air quality, and toxic remediation. As the Planning Commission made clear, in its action the Commission did not approve the project and all Commissioners have remaining questions about the project. Given the serious flaws in this document, it is our hope that the City Council will give greater diligence to reviewing the report, acknowledge their obligation to protect our community from harmful development, and vote no on certifying the EIR.”

The approval of the EIR does give a jump-start to further negotiations on a lease between the city and the A’s. The two sides still need to work out a deal on affordable housing and community benefits, and an infrastructure funding mechanism needs to be discussed with the city and Alameda County. The county had tentatively committed to an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD) to fund infrastructure upgrades in the Howard Terminal area. In the nonbinding vote, the county approved the district. The EIFD would benefit all businesses in the general area, not just the new A’s ballpark, but obviously the new development would be the biggest beneficiary of the fund. That nonbinding commitment needs to become permanent.

Speaking of community benefits: how these are to be paid was one of the topics covered by a poll commissioned by the aforementioned East Oakland Stadium Alliance. According to a press release issued by the group, Oakland residents oppose the use of taxpayer dollars for the process. You can view the findings here, but it’s probably not as illuminating as you might think. We see this a lot in discussions of public funding of sports facilities: the poll insinuates that the tax money potentially spent on the overall project could be used on other city needs. But if the waterfront development doesn’t happen, then the proceeds of the EIFD used for infrastructure would not be generated, either, and the polling limited attitudes toward the new ballpark, not the overall development.

For those unfamiliar with California’s regulatory process, it would seem approval of this project is moving at a very slow pace. And it is, but that’s par for the course in California, which sports a regulatory process requiring plenty of citizen input and challenges for developers, and is designed to slow down the process. And to give you an idea of the scale of this project, if totally built up it would represent one of the most expensive mixed-use non-transit developments in the United States in recent years.

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