A bill introduced Friday would give the Oakland A’s new stadium project an essential designation it needs before construction can begin — but the team and its critics are at odds over the intent of the legislation.
The A’s said the bill from Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, would be a vehicle for ensuring that environmental justice concerns in the community surrounding their planned stadium — air pollution, water quality and the potential spread of pollutants in the groundwater — are addressed in the project.
But opponents, both industrial neighbors and environmental groups, said the team’s move is a way to bypass state regulations that typically apply to bayfront development.
Alongside the legislative proposal, team leaders said Friday they and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, which studies air quality, have signed a partnership agreement to develop a community-benefits package that could include money for neighborhood infrastructure, air monitoring and expanded public access to the waterfront.
The A’s say it’s about doing right by a community that’s suffered air pollution and other environmental harms for decades. The rate of emergency room visits for asthma, for instance, is almost twice as high in West Oakland as it is across Alameda County, according to county public health data.
“The A’s would represent the biggest, deepest-pocketed partner this community has ever seen,” said Brian Beveridge, co-director of the West Oakland project. “And they’ve started out by saying, ‘How can this benefit the community?’”
But that’s not the part that has irritated critics.
Bonta’s bill, which he introduced in skeletal form, would allow the State Lands Commission to authorize the stadium project as an “approved public trust use,” a designation needed before construction can begin, “if certain conditions are met.” The conditions are yet to be specified.
“The Warriors did the exact same thing,” Bonta said. “A stadium as an approved public trust is not that controversial.”
Under state law, the commission has control over tidelands, including those of the Port of Oakland, where the A’s want to build their ballpark at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square.
A’s President Dave Kaval said the conditions the bill may impose are related to the environment and environmental justice and that it could widen the parameters that regulatory agencies, including the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, could consider in permitting the project.
Right now, the site is designated for port use. The commission voted last month to consider changing it, but has not made a decision.
The stadium, Kaval said, will already go beyond typical environmental requirements around greenhouse gas emissions and building standards. He said the commitment to environmental justice in low-income West Oakland neighborhoods is another example of “raising the bar” and a way to earn the support of community members.
The presence of hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals in the site’s soil and groundwater will probably be remediated only if the ballpark is approved, Kaval said. Port officials are also considering a break bulk terminal for the property, which involves the unloading of cargo carried in containers such as crates and bags. Kaval said it would be “terrible” for air quality because of the particulate matter emitted from operations.
“We’re committed to cleaning that entire thing up. ... Without us doing that, it’s probably just going to stay unmitigated,” Kaval said. “It’s important for people to understand what the alternatives are to our project.”
Port tenants and trucking companies fear the level of traffic and access issues that would arise with not only a ballpark but all the adjacent housing and retail the A’s want to build not far from heavy industrial operations. And shipping container pilots have raised concerns about the ballpark’s lights, which their association president said could blind them and lead to catastrophic accidents.
Mike Jacob, vice president and general counsel for the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents ocean carriers and marine terminal operators at the Port of Oakland, said there would be no need for Bonta’s bill if the A’s abided by existing laws.
“If you’re intending to follow all the existing rules and procedures for how to develop property on the waterfront correctly, you don’t need to run to the Legislature to ask for carve-outs from the requirements that apply to everyone who intends to do development on the bay,” Jacob said.
And David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, an environmental group, called the bill “a huge red flag.” He said its very existence and ambiguity — the text now spans just three paragraphs — is a threat to the jurisdiction and authority of regulatory bodies.
Bonta said the “fearmongering” is premature.
“There are concerns about things that are not in the bill that won’t be in the bill. They’ve created a belief of a bill in their heads and then opposed it,” Bonta said of the early criticism. “The A’s have shown an unprecedented commitment to the city, to the environment, to equity. They’ve shown it. They’ll continue to show it.”