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Important A’s ballpark vote on tap next week

new Oakland ballpark

An important new Oakland A’s ballpark vote is scheduled for the Oakland City Council next week, with approval of a 3,500-page environmental impact report (EIR) on tap.

The EIR, which was already approved unanimously by the Oakland Planning Commission in January, is a required step in the approval process for the proposed new Athletics ballpark. The A’s have proposed a downtown Howard Terminal waterfront development featuring $12 billion in private investment, including a billion dollars for a new 35,000-capacity ballpark to replace the Oakland-Alameda County 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. 

Approval is not a certainty: council members could ask to delay a vote to March in order to digest the 3,500-page document; a delay of a month certainly not be a dealbreaker. The A’s, of course, want to see votes happen as quickly as possible, and although the team’s goal of total approval of the project before the end of the year seems like a long time away, big projects take big time–and as one of the largest non-transit construction projects in California history, we are talking about a need for big time. Also possible: the council could approve the EIR to move on to further steps in the development process and stall the project at future points down the line. The approval merely let the process, which also involves other city and state agencies, to move forward.

As noted, this is just one step in the process, and there’s plenty more work to do before a groundbreaking, much less a ballpark opening. 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.

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