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Will A’s stadium project hurt more than help the community?

on November 24, 2021

As the Oakland Athletics proceed to finalize a development agreement for the new baseball stadium at Howard Terminal, some community members who have been involved in the project worry that it won’t provide enough benefits to residents, including jobs and affordable housing. 

“This deal is going to bring value to the property owners and create more displacement,” said Jabari Herbert, a contractor and a member of the steering committee that worked on a Community Benefits Agreement. 

The committee, which included representatives from the community, the Oakland A’s, the city and the Port of Oakland, formed last year to make sure Oakland residents reaped benefits from the development. The agreement it crafted sets a bottom line for the community benefits that the $12 billion project should provide. 

In July, the city and the team agreed to a term sheet that incorporates some of the agreement’s key recommendations but modifies or excludes others. 

Four months later, the 55-acre development, called the Waterfront Ballpark District — which includes a 35,000-seat stadium, an indoor-performance center, as well as housing, retail, office, and open space — is advancing, after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors agreed in October to co-finance part of it. 

The city is reviewing the waterfront district’s overall design and by the end of the year, will finalize the Environmental Impact Report. That report, along with a binding development agreement that will encompass the project’s community benefits, will eventually go to the City Council for approval.

In the meantime, the team’s longtime home took a step closer to redevelopment Wednesday, when the City Council selected the African American Sports and Entertainment Group to develop the Coliseum site, where the team is moving from. That group has said it wants to interest a Black-owned NFL team to the site, which also would include housing. 

As for the waterfront project, the further it gets, the more concerned Herbert and others are that the steering committee’s recommendations will be lost. 

The Community Benefits Agreement asked that at least 1,000 of the newly built housing units in the waterfront district be affordable for households with incomes at or below 50% of area median income,  around $61,650 for a three-person household. It also suggested an investment fund be established to purchase market-rate houses and make them permanently affordable.

But the term sheet, which is non-binding, proposed only 450 affordable on-site units, along with a fund to turn another 450 off-site units affordable through new construction, renovation, or downpayment assistance. 

A's stadium
Artist’s rendering of a new Oakland Athletics stadium and waterfront district. (Courtesy of City of Oakland)

City officials deemed the changes necessary, saying it would take an additional $196 million to fully implement the Community Benefits Agreement’s affordable housing target.

Karen Boyd, city spokesperson,  said the term sheet fully embodies the key principles from the Community Benefits Agreement, and it offers an avenue to deliver community benefits throughout the project. 

Herbert says all the housing units in the waterfront district should be affordable, with a great portion of them reserved for households earning below 30% of area median income — $36,990 for a three-person household — especially because the commercial offices and retail space are set to be market-rate.

A study released in May showed that citywide, in the past two decades, West Oakland had the highest percentage of residents leaving the area for neighborhoods where the home values and opportunities were lower, owing to financial instability and unemployment.

As a Black contractor, Hebert also pointed out that Black contractors don’t have easy access to the city’s procurement process. He cited a study that found African American businesses in Oakland missed about $43 million in city contracts between 2001 to 2016.

That is why Herbert demanded that the A’s guarantee opportunities for Black contractors and create on-site apprenticeship programs that allow Black construction workers to meet the training requirements — another recommendation not seen in the term sheet.

Saabir Lockett, project director at the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, who was also on the steering committee, said the term sheet also lacks details for promoting local hiring.  

According to Lockett, the steering committee members were no longer engaged in the negotiation process after the Community Benefits Agreement was submitted. He is concerned about whether low-income residents in the affected areas, including West Oakland, Chinatown, and Jack London Square, will be prioritized for the jobs created in the waterfront district.

He said the city should include community members in the ongoing negotiations.

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