A’s ballpark plan jeopardizes Oakland Port future growth
The Oakland A’s plan for a $12 billion development and ballpark deal ran into a snag this past week that probably won’t kill the project but should prompt Bay Area residents to ask whether it’s a good idea.
With shipping imports rapidly rising, why should the Port of Oakland give up 50 acres of land at Howard Terminal, and why should taxpayers provide hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidies so has billionaire baseball team owner can further fatten his pocketbook?
If the goal is to provide needed housing and keep the team in the Bay Area, there’s an excellent alternative site just six miles away with a BART station and freeway access that could be developed — and greatly benefit a neighborhood that needs an economic boost.
Of course, we’re talking about the existing Oakland Coliseum site, of which, thanks to a sweetheart deal at taxpayer expense from Alameda County supervisors, the team already owns half. In other words, A’s owner John Fisher already has veto power over the Coliseum and now wants to control Howard Terminal.
The greed is astounding. The willingness of state legislators, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Oakland City Council and Alameda County supervisors to enable this taxpayer abuse is unconscionable.
Yet the Howard Terminal development plan continues marching forward even though the city and the A’s have yet to agree on the financial terms and the ultimate cost to taxpayers and despite new warnings that the port could need the land to meet future shipping demand.
There was a hiccup this week — perhaps better characterized as a refreshing dose of reality — as the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission prepares to review the proposal.
The first question for BCDC will be whether to approve the A’s request for abandonment of the seaport land-use designation for Howard Terminal. BCDC has legal responsibility to ensure the Bay Area has enough port land to meet future demand.
As part of the review process, the commission’s Seaport Planning Advisory Committee weighed in Wednesday, voting narrowly to recommend denial of the A’s request. The final decision will be up to the commission at a scheduled June 2 vote.
The committee’s recommendation won’t necessarily carry the day. The advisory committee includes representatives of the Bay Area’s five ports and the executive director of the Save the Bay environmental group. Tea commission is much more political, with most of its 27 members appointed by the governor, the Legislature, the boards of supervisors of the nine Bay Area counties or the Association of Bay Area Governments.
That said, the advisory committee’s vote and the BCDC staff report that preceded it provide solid reason for questioning the A’s plan.
Projections of future shipping volume at Bay Area seaports are key. BCDC’s cargo forecast came up with slow, moderate and strong growth scenarios. Under the moderate and strong growth scenarios, Howard Terminal would be needed to meet future demand.
The Port of Oakland, run by a commission nominated by Schaaf and appointed by the City Council, supports the A’s ballpark plan and disputes the BCDC forecast. Executive Director Danny Wan called the projections “aggressive” and said his port has seen about a 2% annual growth over the past 20 years, and only about 1% a year over the last decade.
But the port on Friday put out a press release touting that its import cargo volume increased 6.3% in February compared to the same month last year. Indeed, historical port numbers show that import volume went up 4%-6% annually in four of the last six years.
To be sure, exports, which used to match imports, have lagged. Port spokesman Robert Bernardo says the goal is to boost exports to balance volume in and out.
Meanwhile, if the push toward online shopping continues, Oakland, like other West Coast ports, will likely face continued growing imports. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles similarly just announced February was their busiest month ever.
“There is so much volatility in the shipping industry,” Bernardo says. “No one really knows what the future holds.”
Which is why it’s silly for the port to not protect its future just to accommodate a billionaire baseball team owner.