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Key vote for environmental review: waterfront ballpark plan wins
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Key vote for environmental review: waterfront ballpark plan wins

Wednesday’s vote by Oakland Planning Commission saw it recommend that the City Council approve the environmental review of the As waterfront baseball park project. This is an important step in the approval process for this $12 billion project.

After hours of public comment about the sufficiency of the final environmental report, which is a detailed study that must be done by the city for large-scale development projects, the unanimous vote was reached. Some speakers asked the commission to delay its decision.

The vote by the commissions shows that they believe the environmental report is complete and in conformity with state law. The City Council could vote to approve the document as soon as next month.

Tonight’s recommendation of the Planning Commission to submit the final environmental impact report to the City Council to be certified is a major win for our region. It puts Oakland one step closer towards building a landmark waterfront baseball park district with the highest environmental standards.

Dave Kaval (President of the As) also applauded and praised the decision of the commissions.

He said that it was a very important and positive step towards obtaining final binding approval for the project.

Kaval stated that he believes the environmental document addresses the concerns of the speakers during public comment. The approval by the planning commission is an indication of that.

The As waterfront ballpark is just one step closer to becoming a reality with the commission’s decision. The team is planning to build a 35,000-seat waterfront park, 3,000 housing units and 1.5 million square feet worth of offices. They also plan to create a 3,500-person performing venue, 400 hotel rooms, and 8,900 parking spots. The development would transform Jack London Square and increase economic development by creating thousands of jobs and residents.

Commissioners said it was up the City Council to work closely with the community to address their concerns.

Jennifer Renk, Commissioner of Environmental Quality, said that this was an enormous and quite extraordinary undertaking. The final EIR is a proof that CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), works. The conversation is not over. There is much more work ahead and the council will have the opportunity to address some of those feasibility questions.

The draft report was released by the city in February. It received more than 400 comments from the public as well as government agencies. After staff at the city stated that they had addressed all of the comments, the final environmental impact reports was released last month.

However, opponents of the project argued that their comments were not properly addressed and urged commission members to request further analysis of the project. They raised concerns about compatibility of the Port of Oakland, affordable housing and removal of toxic waste. There were also concerns about congestion, parking, pedestrian access over railroad tracks, and the impact on Chinatown.

Many speakers raised concerns Wednesday that the environmental report didn’t adequately detail As efforts to clean-up toxic substances and mitigate air pollution.

Mike Jacob, vice-president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (which opposes the project), said that EIR is downplaying it.

Jacob stated that the document did not address seaport compatibility measures or disruptions to port functions.

Margaret Gordon, cofounder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, spoke out against the project, saying that it raises health concerns for West Oakland residents.

She said that you are not really taking into account our health.

The East Oakland Stadium Alliance, a group that has opposed the project, released a statement after the vote. It expressed disappointment at the commission’s decision and stated that the environmental document was not well-analyzed. The group expressed hope that the council would be more thorough in reviewing the report and acknowledge their responsibility to protect our community against harmful development.

To ensure compliance with state law, the Department of Toxic Substances will review the As cleanup plans. Howard Terminal’s soil and groundwater contain dangerous and cancer-causing chemicals, according to regulatory documents.

Additionally, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and Port of Oakland must review final plans to ensure that they are seaport compatible, despite opposition by port workers.

The Port of Oakland would also need to approve the plan.

The As and the city are currently negotiating the terms of the project, including who will be paying for infrastructure upgrades. The ballpark is expected to cost over $1 billion. The As plan to finance the project through private financing and project-generated revenue. The As last year outlined a financial plan that called for the development of two taxing districts in the city: one at the ballpark site, and one that includes large swathes of Jack London Square.

The As financial plan was rejected by the city, who claimed that a taxing district above Jack London Square would be financially irresponsible.

Instead, the Alameda County has been urged by the city to form a taxing area over the ballpark site. The county has also pledged to raise more than $350,000,000 through regional, state, and federal grants.

Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors announced its willingness to fund infrastructure through a tax district in October. However, the vote was not final. The board is currently analyzing the finances.

Schaaf announced in November that $14.5 million will be granted by the federal government to improve Jack London Square. Schaaf also stated that the Port of Oakland received $260 million from the state budget to improve its infrastructure. The city has also secured $17 million in additional funding for the area. It is currently considering a limited obligation bond to help pay for remaining infrastructure costs.

The As and the city must also finalize the affordable housing plans as part of the development contract. Staff from the city are currently negotiating for 450 affordable units on-site, or 15% of the 3,000 units. They also want $50 million to support affordable housing in the city.

Kaval stated that the As and the city meet multiple times per week to reach an agreement. He urged for a vote by the council on a final deal as soon possible. The As organization is also interested in a possible Las Vegas ballpark.

He stated that the two markets are on parallel paths. It is crucial that we move quickly in Oakland. We need to get the project to the full approval of the council.

The Planning Commission would approve permits and entitlements for the project. The City Council would need to vote on the final development agreement, which could occur later in the year.

Sarah Ravani, a San Francisco Chronicle staff journalist, is available for comment. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SarRavani

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