Thursday, February 13, 2014

Port of Oakland Delays Decision That May Clear Howard Terminal for A's Ballpark

The proposed 38,000-seat ballpark that some 
hope will be built at Howard Terminal,
just north of Jack London Square.
PORT OF OAKLAND | HOWARD TERMINAL | Before groups interested in building a new downtown ballpark at the Port of Oakland's Howard Terminal can more forward with their plans, port commissioners need to exhaust the property's potential maritime uses. However, this did not happen Thursday.

The Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners postponed for two weeks a decision to reject three proposals for use at the 50-acre Howard Terminal site. The board acquiesced to one of the applicants, Bowie Resources Partners, LLC, a company based in Louisville, Ky., which indicated recent information given to the port staff had not been sufficiently considered. In addition, representatives from Bowie said they were unclear about specific information requested by port staff.

While the board may have erred on the side of caution in the near-term, Port Commissioner Michael Colbruno said the applicant was vetted thoroughly in the staff report and in a previous subcommittee on the issue. "They had their chance," he said. Colbruno, appointed to the port commission by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, was the lone opposition to the motion to table the item to Feb. 27. He registered his vote during the roll call as "emphatically no."

Later, in an interview, Colbruno said staff performed due diligence and predicts the board will ultimately move to reject the three proposals in two weeks."We heard nothing new today, nothing groundbreaking to say that any of those proposals should have moved forward," he said.

The motion to postpone the final determination includes direction for staff to determine if the new information will change its previous recommendation to reject all three proposals for Howard Terminal. However, during testimony, a member of the port staff repeatedly said it would not.

"There seems to be some differentiation between what staff said they communicated and what [Bowie] said. I never want someone to be thrown out on a technicality," said Port Commissioner Bryan Parker of Bowie's bid. It was a sentiment shared by other commissioners.

In addition to Bowie's response for proposal, the port received interest from Schnitzer Steel Industries and a joint bid by California Capital Group, Kinder Morgan and MetroPorts. A staff report faulted Schnitzer's bid for requesting use of just three acres of the property and found the group led by California Capital Group failed to sufficiently detail its plan.

Bowie's bid may be far more problematic because of a desire to ship coal through Howard Terminal. "Controversy and litigation over coal and coal export facilities and the impacts along the entire supply chain has been significant in recent years throughout the U.S., including on the West Coast," said the report. Port Commissioner Victor Uno said Bowie's bid will be unpopular with labor groups at the port, particularly Longshoremen concerned with the environmental impact of coal passing through West Oakland.

Last December of group of local businessmen led by Clorox CEO Don Knauss announced interest in building a 38,000-seat waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal adorned with towering white shipping cranes in the distance. However, even if the Port of Oakland determines no maritime uses are suitable for the location, certain environmental hurdles exist before the dream of downtown ballpark in Oakland can move forward.

Parker, also a candidate for Oakland mayor this year, says the ballpark supporter's case may have improved Thursday evening even though a clear decision was not yet made by the port commission. "If you've looked at all of the maritime uses and you find none are suitable, then you ask what is in the best interest of the people?" said Parker. While noting the potential difficulties the project may face for adhering to the state Tidelands Act, Parker lauded the plan for its possibilities. "If the ballpark could be put there in a compliant way," Parker said, "it would be a transformational thing for Oakland, the waterfront and Jack London Square."


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