It was standing room only at City Hall Wednesday night as Oakland Athletics fans packed a planning commission meeting to cheer a proposal for a new baseball stadium near Jack London Square.
A’s fans wearing jerseys, hats and helmets squeezed into the Oakland City Planning Commission’s small meeting room, turning the hearing into the team’s first overflow crowd in recent memory. The commission had requested public comment on the upcoming environmental impact report for a 39,000-seat stadium proposed by the city. The report will address issues such as transportation, traffic and local wildlife. But Oakland residents and A’s fanatics used the meeting as a sounding board for years of frustration with an antiquated stadium and attempts by the team’s owners to move the franchise.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until there’s a shovel in the ground,” said Bobby Tselentis, wearing an Oakland A’s outfit complete with a green and yellow jersey and catcher’s mask. “It’s starting to look like there’s hope.”
The proposed stadium would be built in a mixed-use zone southeast of Jack London Square. The 22-acre site stretches east from Oak Street to the Lake Merritt channel and south from Embarcadero to Interstate 880. Adjacent developments could also include retail outlets, housing units and approximately 2,500 parking spaces. According to project drafts, the land currently encompasses a Laney College parking lot along with a handful of warehouses, restaurants and offices, as well as facilities controlled by BART and the Oakland Fire Department.
City officials do not expect a completed environmental review until next year, but an economic study by a pro-stadium group has already been released. An April press release from Let’s Go Oakland, an Oakland A’s booster club co-run by city planning commission chair Doug Boxer, predicts the stadium plan would create more than 1,600 construction jobs and generate $2.6 billion in total economic activity.
Local politicians are cautiously optimistic about the plan, citing a possible surge in economic activity in Jack London Square. “A ballpark could be amazing for Oakland, not just in terms of games, but creating jobs and money,” said City Council representative Rebecca Kaplan, wearing a black A’s hat outside the meeting room. “But it depends on how we do it.”
City Councilmember Nancy Nadel, who represents the area of the proposed stadium, was more skeptical of the proposal. “I want the A’s to stay in Oakland,” Nadel said. “I’m not sure how I feel about this particular location. I don’t know what the effect will be on the existing businesses.”
Oakland Athletics ownership has made clear its desire to move the team out of Oakland. In 2007, team co-owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher declared their plans to build a new stadium and adjacent housing development in Fremont but cancelled the project in February 2009.
Now another South Bay city is wooing the team. In June, the San Jose city council approved an environmental impact report for a new stadium site and is waiting for approval from Major League Baseball officials to place a stadium measure on the ballot. Wolff supports the plan but San Jose is considered to be the territory of the world champion San Francisco Giants, making a move south more complicated.
Attendance at A’s games in 2010 was the second worst of all 30 Major League baseball teams. The club lacks the star players, large payrolls and winning seasons of teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The A’s have not been in contention for the playoffs since 2006.
Many business owners with property inside the area of the proposed stadium want to see the baseball club remain in Oakland. But they worry about what might happen if the plan passes the review stage and construction begins.
“It would be pretty disruptive for our company,” John Breznikar, president of East Bay Restaurant Supply Company, said in a separate interview. “I’m torn — we are right in the middle of it. We’d rather be a neighbor to it.”
Alexandra Cohn, co-owner of JC Cellars, says she invested a large amount of money on improvements to her 4th Street winery, which sits in the stadium’s footprint and would need to be moved. “I was wondering, ‘where are we going to go?’” Cohn said before the meeting.
Some speakers at the planning commission meeting raised concerns about increased traffic on Interstate 880, the site’s proximity to the Oakland waterways and effects on the surrounding community. One speaker presented an alternate proposal involving a baseball stadium built on stilts above Interstate 980.
But most in attendance supported the city’s proposal. The crowd let out a loud cheer when prompted by planning committee chairman Doug Boxer just before he ordered most of the crowd into a separate viewing room.
“This is a monumental occasion that we are here in Oakland to have a hearing like this,” said Boxer.