Supporters and opponents of the Oakland Athletics’ plan for a waterfront baseball stadium will argue Tuesday over whether the city-certified environmental report on the project is sufficient to proceed or to send its backers to the showers.
Both sides appealed portions of a trial court’s ruling that, for the most part, the environmental impact report’s analysis and conclusions were reasonable and supported by the evidence. The appellate court’s decision could tip the scales toward the American League ballclub remaining in, or leaving, the city they’ve called home for 55 years.
The options are several depending on what the appeals court does, according to Nola Agha, professor of sports management at the University of San Francisco. The panel could set aside parts of the EIR and the project would be fine or delayed, she said.
“The worst case scenario would probably have the A’s walk away if it was too complicated,” Agha said. “I think the odds of the A’s walking away are low. They’ve been very patient with the process. They really want the public funding and they’ve waited for it. And there doesn’t seem to be public funding any place else.”
The 35,000-seat stadium project on the site of the city’s Howard shipping terminal would include 1.7 million square feet of commercial and retail space, up to 3,000 residences, up to 400 hotel rooms, a 3,500-seat performance venue, and 18 acres of open space along the Oakland inner harbor, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman noted in his now-challenged Sept. 22 ruling.
The proposed project “has the potential to be a once in a generation development opportunity for Oakland,” the nonprofit San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR, said in a December letter to the A’s.
The caveats include questions for financing infrastructure without jeopardizing other city needs, environmental concerns for neighborhoods, limiting impacts for Port of Oakland activities, public transit, and housing affordability, SPUR said.
The city contends the project on 55 acres adjacent to its Jack London Square would bring an economic boost and keep the Major League Baseball franchise in Oakland, where the A’s have played since 1968 at the nearly 60-year-old Oakland Coliseum. The city in recent years has lost its professional football team, the Raiders, to Las Vegas and its basketball team the Golden State Warriors to a new arena across San Francisco Bay. MLB backs the baseball stadium project.
Opponents maintain the development uses unrealistic figures and would divert funds from other city needs while the environmental impact report fails to assess economic and environmental impacts. Among the project’s foes is the Pacific Merchants Shipping Association, which prepared a September report questioning backers’ rosier projections of the project’s benefits.
Both sides appealed Seligman’s decision throwing out many of the opponents’ legal objections, including their contention that the city’s mitigation measure for unavoidable wind impacts didn’t include a performance standard.
The team, which jointly filed its brief with the city, asked the California Court of Appeal, First District, to uphold the trial judge but for the ruling that the required wind impacts mitigation measure lacked the required performance standard.
The appellate court asked the parties to focus oral arguments on how 2018 amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act guidelines affect a 2010 appellate decision that formulating mitigation measures can’t be deferred until after project approval. Counsel also was instructed to focus on freight truck parking issues.
The East Oakland Stadium Alliance, which includes the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and neighboring Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc., claims the project would displace all current marine-related activities at the Howard Terminal site. The alliance, represented by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, also argues safe and effective railway operations are threatened by introducing tens of thousands of visitors and residents into an industrial area with major seaport operations and limited ingress and egress and construction.
Communities for a Better Environment in a brief opposing the project said the environmental impact report fails, as a matter of law, because it defers mitigation for greenhouse gas impacts.
A Rising Sea
Revenue projections are overestimated, direct costs to the city underestimated, and indirect, unanticipated, “and often inconspicuous costs have not been accounted for,” an alliance economic report said.
“Consider that sea rise remediation is offered as one benefit of this project yet the berms, floodwalls, and flood gates will surround only the Howard Terminal site and offer no protection for the remainder of the Oakland waterfront,” the report said. “By 2050, there will be temporary inundation of the site, the A’s lease will expire, and there will still be 20 more years of property tax diversion” under which the city would reimburse the A’s for on-site infrastructure costs.
The city “is offering at least $603 million in diverted property tax revenues to the A’s, and the public will subsidize at least $850 million in additional infrastructure as public funding for the Howard Terminal Project,” according to that report.
The project sparked fights over taxes and the environment. The team already lost at the California Supreme Court with justices in January refusing to consider an appellate ruling that the A’s failed to show the Department of Toxic Substances Control isn’t enforcing the state Hazardous Waste Control Law.
The appeals court will issue a ruling within 90 days of oral arguments, or by the time the Athletics are on a three-game road visit to the New York Yankees.
Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson and Oakland City Attorney’s office represents the city. Remy, Moose Manly LLP and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher represent the Oakland Athletics Investment Group LLC. Best, Best & Krieger LLC represent the Port of Oakland.
The case is East Oakland Stadium Alliance v. City of Oakland, Cal. Ct. App., 1st Dist., No. A166221, oral arguments 2/7/23.
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