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Oakland A’s ballpark plan faces crucial test at Bay Area commission hearing

Mercury News logo Mercury News 6/30/2022 Shomik Mukherjee, Bay Area News Group

OAKLAND — A Bay Area commission will make an all-or-nothing decision Thursday on the Oakland A’s dreams of a new waterfront ballpark and luxury housing at the Howard Terminal, the latest hurdle for a development that’s nowhere near figured out.

If the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission decides the terminal land can’t fit the 56-acre development, the team’s $12 billion proposal to build a 35,000-seat stadium and a surrounding village of 3,000 housing units, office space, retail, hotel rooms and public parks can’t move forward.

Alternatively, if the commission signs off on the development, A’s team officials are on a tight self-imposed deadline to ink a deal with city officials by the November election, with the team’s current lease at the Oakland Coliseum set to expire in 2024.

“We believe you can have a thriving port that serves the needs of the California economy as well as a thriving ballpark — both those things can exist at the same time ” A’s team President Dave Kaval said in an interview ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

Port of Oakland workers handle large volumes of cargo shipped to the Bay Area each day — an amount that’s steadily growing by the year — but Howard Terminal itself hasn’t seen a shipment in nearly a decade.

Instead, the parcel of land is used as a parking lot for large trucks, storage area for shipping containers, and a training ground for stevedores and dock workers. Is that space suitable for brand-new housing and ballpark development? The commission gets to decide at Thursday’s hearing.

In March, the Seaport Planning Advisory Committee, a body of appointed Bay Area representatives, voted 5-4 to recommend Howard Terminal be used only for port activities and not the ballpark plan, predicting that the 50 acres of land will one day be needed to meet growing cargo demands.

But in an agenda report ahead of the commission hearing — where 18 of 27 members would need to vote to approve the project — a staff analysis has flipped positions, now siding with Port of Oakland officials who believe there’s sufficient space at the port to accommodate the eventual development.

The staff found the new ballpark and village “would not detract from the region’s capability to meet the projected growth in cargo, and (the team) has demonstrated that the cargo forecast can be met with existing terminals” at the port.

The commission includes elected officials from around the Bay Area appointed by the governor to make decisions for the port’s economic future, including whether to fill in areas of the bay waters so that the harbor can be expanded to meet growing cargo demands.

“We, as a commission, aren’t deciding on a permit to build the A’s new stadium and housing — we just have a responsibility to ensure there’s enough port land available,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, one of the commission’s 27 members.

Various factors can affect shipping volume, making it difficult to predict many years into the future, Gioia added. A recent shift in Tesla’s production model, for instance, will reduce exports from the company’s factory in Fremont and changes the forecast of how much future cargo is expected, the staff report notes.

Should the commission go against what its staff recommends, the A’s days in Oakland would most likely be numbered, with Kaval threatening to find stadium space in Las Vegas or even decamp for a ballpark used by the team’s minor-league affiliate just outside the Vegas strip in Summerlin, Nevada.

On the other hand, even if the commission decides to make space at Howard Terminal, the A’s will need to continue negotiating with the City Council, which still has not set a date for making a final decision on the project.

Kaval said that the team has demanded the City Council reach a deal before the November election, fearing a newly elected leader could delay negotiations. Mayor Libby Schaaf, a supporter of the Howard Terminal ballpark proposal, is being termed out of office.

“We would need to work with (new council members) to bring them up to speed,” Kaval said. “It has to be done this year.”

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A’s fans have pushed for years to keep the franchise “rooted in Oakland,” as the team’s slogan goes, instead of becoming the last professional sports team in Oakland to depart for a bigger city following the Raiders and Warriors’ exits.

But some residents are wary of signing off on an expensive waterfront development, especially with the team and billionaire owner John Fisher proposing to create a new tax district to fund as much as $850 million in street renovations, public park construction and other community benefits. The ballpark and housing development will be privately funded by the A’s, not taxpayers, however.

Some are worried the development could price out residents who live north of Howard Terminal, though Kaval and other officials have promised that an influx of housing, businesses and a ballpark would produce large amounts of tax revenue for the city.

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