‘Yuppie playground” or hedge against rising seas? Debate rages over A’s master-plan for Howard Terminal

Backers say 56 acres wouldn’t cut into port operations; opponents see “real estate grab”

Waterfront Ballpark (Oakland A’s)
Waterfront Ballpark (Oakland A’s)

A key vote this month on whether to build a $12-billion mixed-used development anchored by a ballpark for the Oakland A’s at Howard Terminal has prompted an outcry by dock workers and support from backers who call it a reasoned plan for sea level rise.

Dozens of Oakland port workers recently urged members of a key state agency to reject the A’s proposed waterfront project, calling it “real estate grab” that will transform the port into a “yuppie playground,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

But backers of the A’s request to strip 56 acres at Howard Terminal from the Oakland port say its current function as a lot for truck parking and storage isn’t key to operating a successful port.

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission is set to vote June 30 on whether to approve the A’s request to remove Howard Terminal site from the port – which would open it up for development. The A’s need a two-thirds vote, then must seek a permit to build.

The A’s have said that if they’re not able to build a ballpark at Howard Terminal, they will consider moving to Las Vegas, where they have been exploring potential stadium sites.

The bay commission staff last month made a preliminary recommendation urging the commission approve the A’s request. A final recommendation is expected mid-June.

In March, a commission advisory panel had voted narrowly to deny the A’s request, with a majority saying the port needs the terminal to meet cargo demands, despite port staff saying it doesn’t.

The A’s are seeking to develop a 35,000-seat waterfront ballpark, 3,000 units of housing, 1.5 million square feet of offices, 270,000 square feet of retail space, a 3,500-capacity performance venue, up to 400 hotel rooms and 8,900 parking spaces

If the Howards Point project is approved, it would be among the largest developments in state history, according to the Chronicle, and could completely transform Jack London Square.

The question is whether Howard Terminal is at capacity.

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Zack Wasserman, the chair of the commission, asked for a staff report on how much it would cost to expand use at Howard Terminal and for the port to address an expected sea level rise that could potentially unleash harmful toxins.

He said those harmful toxins would be “addressed” by a Howard Terminal development.

Mayor Libby Schaaf called the project “transformative,” and said it was the “opportunity of a lifetime” to get infrastructure grants, address climate threats, create thousands of union jobs and a community benefits fund.

Schaaf emphasized that Howard Terminal will not be needed to meet cargo demands, and also said it would address sea level rise. She said the project could result in 1,000 units of affordable housing, both onsite and offsite.

Danny Wan, the executive director of the port of Oakland, said Howard Terminal wasn’t needed for port functions and that the project would create ”significant transportation infrastructure improvements to ensure the long-term growth of the seaport.”

Susan Ransom, of SSA Terminal, who operates the largest terminal at the port, urged the commission to reject the A’s bid. She read a 2019 memo from John Driscoll, the former maritime director of the port, who had “very serious concerns” about the A’s project.

Other port workers spoke against the project.

“Howard Terminal will cascade into the destruction of the port… and turn it into a yuppie playground,” said Aaron Wright, a representative of ILWU Local 10. “Do not let that happen.”

[San Francisco Chronicle] – Dana Bartholomew

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