Oakland City Councilwoman Carroll Fife called on residents from West Oakland and Chinatown, neighborhoods she represents as part of District 3, to discuss plans for the new waterfront ballpark and high-end housing development at Howard Terminal. She followed that meeting up with a series of guest presentations on her YouTube Channel.
Attendees filled out a questionnaire at the meeting, held on March 19, 2022, and from that, Fife said that a majority were in favor of a referendum coming before the voters. The questionnaire also asked about spending priorities and whether they supported the City providing infrastructure funds, which would be paid back by future business taxes.
Briefly, the A’s want to build a new ballpark and move the team from the Coliseum in East Oakland to the Howard Terminal, which is located at the Port of Oakland and west of Jack London Square.
A wide range of opinions were expressed by attendees at an open mic segment with a majority of attendees concerned that Oakland not get stuck with a bill for the development as occurred when the Raiders moved back from L.A. and the Coliseum complex was built.
Many advocated for the A’s to include substantially more affordable housing in the development plan and several people questioned why owners of the A’s, the Fisher Family, would need any public funds. The Fishers founded The Gap retail chain, which also owns the Old Navy brand and others, as well as media and real estate assets estimated at over 2 billion dollars.
While most speakers appreciated the Town Hall and other venues to discuss the issues surrounding the A’s plan to develop the Howard Terminal site, comments in the YouTube channel showed some concern that Fife was late raising the issues since selected community members had already spent almost two years discussing community benefits and the City had already prepared the Environmental Impact Report, which the Council may approve in the next few weeks.
“Many voices expressed opposition to the project, two public comments from 20+ expressed support,” Fife noted on her YouTube channel. “I also predominantly heard support for a ballot measure where voters decide whether or not the project moves forward. However, some shared concerns with this process…It’s been my position that Oakland deserves the best from any deal, but we won’t get that if we ignore the voices of maritime stakeholders, industry experts, and the local communities immediately impacted by the project. “
Housing advocate James Vann called for the A’s to provide for at least 25% affordable housing in its plans as well as fully funding the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which they currently propose would be funded by projected future tax revenues. But he was also skeptical of the A’s sincerity, expecting the A’s to join the Raiders in Las Vegas unless Oakland was to “bow down” and subsidize the project. Better “…If it came out of their pocket,” he explained. Finally he said, “Marine operations at the Port and a ballpark do not mix. They aren’t going to go together well.” Other speakers also expressed concern about a loss of union jobs at Howard Terminal if shipping had to be curtailed.
Resident Susan Hammer noted that the A’s had long stated that development of the ballpark would be fully funded, and current statements seem to contradict that. She was also concerned that this public and private investment might not be usable in 20 or 30 years due to rising sea levels.
A’s President Dave Kaval expressed surprise and concern about the potential delay that a new citywide referendum could cause to the approval process. “It brings a lot of uncertainty, changing at such a late time in the game. Kind of the structure in which we were trying to work hand-in-hand with the city. And it also takes a lot longer. Obviously, we’re talking about November,” Kaval said, according to a CBS SF Bay Area report.
According to Fife’s staff, after finalizing the Environmental Impact Report in December, the next steps in the process are to finalize the Community Benefits and Development Agreements. Councilwoman Fife wanted to get additional feedback from the community around these steps at the Town Hall. District 3 residents are encouraged to fill out the questionnaire to better inform Fife.
Fife told Oakland Voices, “My top priority is engaging the community. I want to get the best deal for the community. Finally I would like for the A’s to properly engage with the representative of District 3, where the project is taking place.”
Follow up Meeting on YouTube
At the followup broadcast, Fife invited Taj Tashombe, the Vice President of Government and External Affairs for the Oakland A’s, to chat. Tashombe told Fife he had heard no formal report of her March Town Hall meeting on the ballpark, then added, “At this stage, we can’t add any more delays. It should be up to the powers that be to make the decision.”
In response, Councilwoman Fife said some citizens were in favor of a ballot measure on the Howard Terminal project and some others believe the City Council should decide on issues of spending of taxpayer money.
Fife added that she was concerned about the future tax burden. She wanted a solid agreement on the financing and benefits structure, especially for low-income housing.
Fife also said to Tashombe that her constituents were more concerned with homelessness and safety as impacting lives and their pride in Oakland.
Fife also noted that the A’s have not yet agreed to the City’s Term Sheet. “So how do we proceed?” she asked Tashombe.
Tashombe was open to the questions and concerns raised by Fife. He said he thought there are opportunities to move to an agreement, which he said was underway for years. “We need to ensure that the CBA has been vetted with a fine-tooth comb,” then adding that he was sad as an Oakland native to see other sports teams leave.
Tashombe noted that he is also the chair of the Jack London Improvement District and said it’s more than just the ballpark development, but also the access and area improvements that the project will bring. “We can bring greatness to Oakland with this project,” Tashombe said. He offered to have possible weekly conversations with Fife and her staff.
Later In the second part of the session, Fife invited Alvina Wong and Melvin Mackay to the program. Wong is the Campaign & Organizing Director at Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) in Chinatown and was a steering committee member for the CBA process, which represented hours of community engagement. Melvin Mackay is President of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10.
Both expressed reservations about the project, including concerns about noise, traffic, and future jobs at the Port of Oakland. Mackay noted that the needed apprentice training programs had not yet been set up so he found the planned job percentages for Oakland residents to be questionable. He noted that it could cause havoc to longshore workers and the Port of Oakland.
Wong expressed concern about extra air pollution in the area and that the A’s had not yet accepted the priorities in the proposed Community Benefits Agreement. “What we’re hoping for is the best deal possible, which means the most affordable housing, the most opportunities for local residents to get permanent and temporary jobs, the most opportunities to pay for the things that we deserve and have been lacking resources in for so long.”