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At the West Oakland Senior Center, Derrick Muhammad of ILWU Local 10 presents his opposition to the new A's ballpark construction. Photo by Jocelyn Tabancay

A’s waterfront ballpark proposal draws a critical crowd

on September 25, 2019

On Saturday, over 100 Oakland residents gathered to discuss their opposition to a proposed plan to build an Oakland A’s waterfront ballpark and condominium project at Howard Terminal, located at the Port of Oakland near Jack London Square.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 (ILWU), which opposes the stadium’s development, hosted the meeting at a West Oakland Senior Center. A multi-generational audience, mostly composed of Black residents, listened intently to union organizers, a minister, and civil rights activists voicing concerns over the stadium proposal. Though no community members spoke in favor of the project, a sprinkling of Athletics fan gear dotted the audience.  

“This isn’t about baseball. I believe the A’s are secondary to the condominiums and 400-room luxury hotel,” said Derrick Muhammad, a longtime West Oakland resident and an ILWU Local 10 member in charge of community relations, speaking in front of the standing-room-only audience.

Although other Oakland teams are leaving, A’s president Dave Kaval envisions sinking the team’s roots deeper into Oakland two ways: building a new ballpark and purchasing the Oakland Coliseum. Kaval has offered $85 million to buy the Coliseum from Alameda County and the City of Oakland. The proposal is currently under negotiation.

For the waterfront ballpark, the Port’s board of commissioners voted in May and unanimously approved an exclusive negotiation term sheet, which would give the A’s four years to develop plans, obtain land use permits, and conduct an environmental review. According to an A’s press release published on the team’s website, if all goes well, the ballpark would be completed and open by 2023.

Though it’s unclear how much the team’s investors are willing to spend on constructing a new ballpark, leasing the property from the port would come at a high price. The term sheet outlines a lease that will be about $3.8 million a year for the first 20 years of the 66-year lease, with rates increasing after 20 years.

Port of Oakland communications director Mike Zampa emphasized the term sheet “was not binding.” The port commissioners could terminate the real estate negotiations later on, and port officials won’t sign a contract until all the proper permits are obtained. “We would enter into specific real estate negotiation where [we would negotiate] how much it would cost and what protections we would insist upon to ensure that there’s no impact on maritime industry,” he said over the phone.

Architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), contracted to design both proposed developments for the Coliseum and the new A’s stadium, have published their vision for the sites. The renderings for the waterfront ballpark and new home for the A’s team show a multipurpose venue. The development would include a ballpark, condos, office, retail, hotel, gondola, and a performance center which would translate to 3,000 jobs on-site, according to Bay Area Council Economic Institute’s study of the project.   

But since Howard Terminal is located at the port, longshoremen and maritime workers are worried the proposed ballpark will cause their industry decline and lead to the loss of jobs. Muhammed said losing industrial space on the Port comes at the cost of “jobs, homes and health care, reductions in the tax base, which in turn, lead to the cuts and necessary public services.”

“West Oakland is a historically marginalized community, community with decades of disinvestment,” said Muhammad in an interview a few days before the meeting. “Three thousand multi-million-dollar waterfront condominiums will exacerbate the displacement issues that West Oakland and Oakland in general is facing.”

At the meeting, others echoed his concerns. “The stadium is just an alibi,” said Andy Garcia, chairman of the board at GSC Logistics, a transportation company that operates out of the Port of Oakland. “What these investors are looking for is land to develop for condos—condos that I can’t afford and probably very few people in the audience here can afford.”  Though a price tag has not been set for the condominiums, the Port of Oakland’s website states community benefits will be part of the final negotiation including “affordable housing and enforcement of tenants’ rights laws.”

Port officials say the proposed development would be an economic benefit. “We don’t see jobs being reduced. We have investment, we have development going on that will increase jobs,” said Zampa. He pointed out that the port is responsible for about 84,000 jobs, and said, “We have plans to grow. Our business is growing with a record volume. As we create jobs, we create opportunity for Oakland residents.”

Zampa also said that because the terminal space proposed for development is located near shallow waters, it is not ideal for most shipping companies to dock there or use it for maritime activity. The 50-acre terminal is currently used for short-term container storage and overnight truck parking. “We can move the operations that are in Howard Terminal now to other places on the property,” said Zampa.

But speaking at Saturday’s meeting, Muhammad said he still worries that losing Howard Terminal would cause inevitable job loss. “When you give up industrial land, you don’t get it back,” said Muhammad, adding that he thinks the Port of Oakland should use the terminal to increase maritime industry and should work to make the nearby water less shallow. “If we can get the canal dredged to 50 feet or so, then perhaps we could attract bigger ships. Make it usable,” he said.

The City of Oakland is expected to publish a draft environmental impact review of the project later this year before opening a 45-day period of public comment.

Although the building the stadium will not be up to a public vote, Saturday’s meeting organizers said they will continue to voice their concerns, including at a city council meeting on October 1.

On September 27, this story was updated to correct the role of BIG in the development proposal.

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