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Court denies challenges to new Athletics ballpark in preliminary EIR ruling

Three legal challenges to the environmental impact report (EIR) approving a new Athletics ballpark were tentatively denied by Alameda County Superior Court, subject to a hearing this Friday.

The Oakland City Council had approved the 3,500-page report in February on a 6-2 vote–a key vote in allowing the $1-billion ballpark to move forward in the planning process. The tentative ruling, issued late yesterday, rejected three challenges from a coalition of shipping interests, Union Pacific and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, who argued that the city of Oakland did not follow state guidelines to identify and mitigate all potential adverse effects of the $12-billion Howard Terminal development, one of the largest non-transit developments in state history. The groups filing the lawsuits have consistently opposed the project, arguing the waterfront makeover is inappropriate for a shipping port and that the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site is more appropriate for a new ballpark. The three lawsuits were later consolidated into one action.

The EIR is mandated by California law to document potential environmental impacts and how the city and developer plan on mitigating them. The court was not changed with relitigating the entire report: instead, all the court needed to do was confirm that the conclusions were backed by solid evidence and reasonable decisions. Except for one aspect of the lawsuit–mitigation of potential wind impacts–the court sided with the A’s and the city.

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.

There are still lawsuits challenging the project, but this was a big win for the A’s and the city, assuming a Friday hearing won’t lead to any changes in the preliminary ruling. Still to come in court proceedings: a similar lawsuit against the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission on that body’s approval of the Howard Terminal project.

Assuming the decision stands, next up: other state approvals from the likes of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, a binding commitment from Alameda County, and final approval of a lease and an agreement on community benefits, including affordable housing, tied to the project. This last step will be a major challenge to both sides: the A’s have fought city proposals on community benefits and affordable housing, but in today’s political climate, it may not be possible to win that fight for the Athletics.

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