The backers of converting the Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland in California into a mixed use development that would house a new baseball stadium for the Oakland A’s have won a significant court victory.
A California Court of Appeals panel Thursday upheld a lower court ruling that held the environmental impact report (EIR) on the conversion of the Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, which is mostly used for truck parking and container storage, had been adequate and met the requirements of state law. That EIR had found issues with a mitigation plan by the developers involving “adverse wind effects” but otherwise gave approval to the project.
According to the court’s finding, the EIR overall concluded that “the project’s benefits outweighed several significant environmental impacts that could not be fully mitigated.”
A group called the East Oakland Stadium Alliance had brought suit against the city of Oakland and the ownership of the A’s, charging that the EIR had failed to meet the requirement of the law on several fronts. The alliance is primarily made up of unions and trade associations involved in shipping activities at the port, such as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Harbor Trucking Association, the trade group that represents the drayage industry.
Matt Schrap, the CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, posted a news story about the court’s finding on his LinkedIn page and a sarcastic comment about the outcome: “Congrats to the Port of Oakland on working to seal their own demise. … We are now one step closer to realizing the dream of the State of California and the City of Oakland of only having 2 containerized port gateways in the 4th largest economy in the world.”
In an email to Freightwaves, Schrap said the primary concern of the shipping industry is “about the removing of yet another ancillary support facility for port operations.”
“When residents move into million-dollar condos, industry moves out,” Schrap said. “That is the main issue.”
Ultimately, the Port of Oakland’s “days as a working seaport are numbered,” Schrap said. “Shippers do not feel the support and are making decisions accordingly. More than one major importer has said they will find other gateways if the stadium is built.”
The Port of Oakland last year processed 2,337,125 twenty-foot equivalent units. Its peak year was 2018, when it handled 2,546,399 TEUs. By contrast, the Port of Long Beach last year processed 9.13 million TEUs.
On its website, the Port of Oakland says Howard Terminal is 50.3 acres and is marked by “older container gantry cranes, limited room for expansion and the lack of 50-foot depth at berth.” Given that, the port said, “Howard Property is no longer being used as an active cargo terminal.”
However, it is used for some container activity. The Port of Oakland had not responded to an email request by publication time regarding recent activity levels at Howard.
The court’s decision reiterates the A’s plan for the site: a replacement for the dilapidated Oakland Coliseum where the baseball team plays now, generally considered the worst stadium in baseball; construction of 3,000 residential units; 270,000 square feet of retail space, 1.5 million square feet of space for “other commercial uses”; and parking for up to 8,900 vehicles. There are other parts of the development that would be considered “public amenities.”
As for the lost truck parking if Howard Terminal is converted, the panel said that where the displaced parking ends up is not a concern of the EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires the EIS. But any environmental impact from the displacement of parking was required, the judges said.
To reach that decision, the EIR “assumed that the trucks currently parking at the project site would find sufficient alternative overnight parking within the port,” the judges wrote. The study assumed that even assuming a growth rate in parking needs, 30 acres elsewhere in the port would be adequate through 2050.
The report said those 30 acres could come at 15 acres of an area known as The Roundhouse, which is west of the Howard Terminal and already is used for parking. The second is on the site of a former Oakland Army base. That area is slightly more than 15 acres.
There was pushback to the two alternative sites from commenters, with the court noting that comments from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District challenged the existence of available space at The Roundhouse, while the CalTrans transit agency made a broader criticism of whether there was availability at all in the port area for more parking.
But the court cited the findings of a study called the Seaport Forecast, which said those 30 acres would be adequate “for foreseeable conditions.”
Shomik Mukherjee of The Mercury News was less positive about the court case speeding up the process by which the A’s stay in Oakland at the Howard Terminal or head to Las Vegas, as has been widely reported and discussed.
“Even after this win, though, there’s still a long way to go before Howard Terminal could save the city’s last major professional sports franchise from skipping town,” Mukherjee wrote. “The team has already blown past a self-imposed deadline last November to strike a deal with the city. No one’s said a thing about the current timeline for the team and city to potentially reach an agreement.”
The story goes on to note that the A’s have actively engaged with Nevada officials about the possibility of moving the team there, hiring a group of lobbyists “to secure public financing for a stadium in Las Vegas, where the team has threatened to go if a deal isn’t reached in Oakland.”
The East Oakland Stadium Alliance says its plan to keep the A’s in Oakland involves construction of a new stadium near the current site of the Oakland Coliseum. It says its plan is an “opportunity to redevelop the existing site … with a world-class new stadium surrounded by housing, shopping, restaurants and entertainment.”
However, the A’s have not expressed any enthusiasm for that plan, even though the existing site is on a BART rapid transit line. Howard Terminal is not, but it is relatively close to downtown Oakland.
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