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Oakland A’s Waterfront Ballpark Plan Gains Steam, Wins Civil Dispute Case Pending Appeal

Following a yearlong delay, the city of Oakland released the draft environmental impact report for the Oakland Athletics' Howard Terminal stadium plan on Feb. 26.

Planning for the project that could transform a stretch of Oakland’s industrial waterfront into a publicly accessible, mixed-use designation anchored by the stadium experienced a hiatus for most of 2020 but has now been revived by the report’s release. The release's timing was influenced by the recent resolution of a lawsuit over the project’s environmental review process.

The Bjarke Ingels Group's rendering of the Oakland A's proposed waterfront stadium

“I’m excited about keeping our A’s rooted in Oakland,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a press release. “The Howard Terminal ballpark requires the highest environmental standards while giving us an opportunity to expand our entertainment district near Jack London Square, increase housing, provide good jobs, and keep our beloved waterfront working.”

The preliminary plans outline the construction of a new Major League Baseball park to hold up to 35,000 people, 3,000 housing units, up to 1.5M SF of office including life sciences uses and 270K SF of retail. The plans also include a 50K SF performance venue to hold up to 3,500 people, a 400-room hotel and 18.3 acres of publicly accessible open space.

In addition to the coronavirus pandemic’s onset slowing the planning process, the complexity of the plans and the area’s industrial nature that would necessitate environmental remediation and impact nearby maritime uses have raised questions about the project’s viability.

The release of the draft EIR is a step toward answering some of the questions as the report, which is thousands of pages long, addresses physical impacts the project could have on the area, including pollution, traffic congestion, sea-level rise and the historical cranes, which are a prominent feature of the site.

“I’m reading the report, and my lawyers have already been combing through it,”  Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval told KPIX 5 regarding the draft EIR in a live broadcast. “There’s nothing in there that’s really a show stopper. There’s nothing in there that says, hey, you can’t build on this site because it’s too polluted.”

Kaval also said that he views the project as still viable, but its progress will ultimately depend on the city council sharing that viewpoint.

“From our perspective, it’s really important that this comes to a vote this year by the Oakland City Council,” Kaval said. City of Oakland Planning Project Manager Molly Maybrun presented at a Community Benefits Agreement steering committee meeting for the project on Feb. 27, saying that following the close of the public comment period for the draft EIR on April 12, the city will work collaboratively with the Port of Oakland to prepare a final EIR that would address the comments received.

Assembly Bill 734, passed in 2018, allows the project an expedited judicial review, meaning that if it is approved, any legal challenges to the environmental analysis would have to be resolved within 270 days, Maybrun said.

“Pursuant to that law AB 734, the A's made a number of commitments in order to get that expedited judicial review,” Maybrun said. “And one of the commitments related to greenhouse gases, and specifically they committed to building a project that didn't result in any net additional greenhouse gases being released into the environment.”

On March 16, a lawsuit was filed against Gov. Gavin Newsom, the city of Oakland and the A’s by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, Harbor Trucking Association, California Trucking Association and Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc. over the expedited review process. The suit was resolved about a month ago in favor of the defendants, Maybrun said. An appeal of the decision was subsequently filed.

It is anticipated that final agreements for the project’s community benefits package will be reached by Q4 of this year, followed by public hearings by the Port of Oakland and the city council. 

UPDATE, Mar. 8, 5:12 P.M. PT: This story has been updated to reflect an appeal filed regarding the Mar. 16 lawsuit.