The East Oakland Stadium Alliance, the group formed of Oakland-based firms that depend on the Port of Oakland and its land for their livelihood, are rightly concerned about their collective future in considering Howard Terminal as site for a ballpark for the Oakland Athletics. But, rather than advance a plan that has as its objective the co-existence of Howard Terminal Ballpark and its operations, it’s touting a ballpark at the Oakland Coliseum. Trouble is, the place I once favored for the Major League Baseball team has a future that’s quite literally underwater.
As stated before, according to a number of studies, including two that surfaced in 2020, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Complex will face floods of water up to 72 inches higher than current levels. That’s almost a full story. But putting a platform under the ballpark will not solve the problem. And that’s because most of East Oakland,including the Oakland Airport, is looking at the same fate. So, even if there was such a “lifted ballpark”, how are you going to get there when the freeway is flooded?
As UrbanNext wrote in 2015:
Interstate 880 in East Oakland is at imminent risk of flooding. As sea level rise threatens operations on this life line artery in the coming decades, the two-mile stretch of I-880 along San Leandro Bay will no longer be viable without significant modifications. Instead of building it higher, ABC proposes protecting it in a tunnel. The last generation built interstates over creeks which constrained ecological habitats. Future generations can flip this model and tunnel beneath waterways, ensuring healthy ecosystems and a longer useful life span for the freeway as the sea levels continue to rise. Tunnels can control polluted air by filtering it before it reaches nearby neighborhoods. Creating a resilient corridor transforms the existing I-880 barrier and stitches together the divided urban fabric of East Oakland.
That came from ” Resilient by Design: Floating Neighborhoods, Underwater Highways, and a Flood-proof Future” by The All Bay Collective. That was 2015. In other words, the overall problem has been part of Oakland’s discussion about its future for quite a few years, indeed, decades. But, as we move to just a generation away from a flooded future, there’s been a lot of talk, and no meaningful action.
One of the documents that has resulted from “the talk” is the Oakland Sea Level Rise Road Map. It was posted at the City of Oakland website August 31st, 2018, and updated January 20th, 2021. The front page and the introductory page reads, in part:
To plan for and adapt to the effects of rising ocean levels, the City has prepared a Preliminary Sea Level Rise Road Map. Building on multiple studies of the potential for sea level rise to affect people and property in Oakland, this Road Map sets forth the projections for rising Bay levels, the impacts of king tides and storm surges in association with these changes, identification of critical facilities, and a series of recommendations for how the City and the community can help prepare for these impacts.
Several groundbreaking SLR (Sea Level Rise) studies have already been conducted for parts of the Oakland shoreline, such as the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) Sub-regional Pilot Project,2 Climate Change and Extreme Weather Adaptation Options for Transportation Assets in the Bay Area Pilot Project,3 and the ART Oakland/Alameda Resilience Study.4 Based on these studies, critical assets such as highways, transit stations, schools, wastewater infrastructure, and landfills are anticipated to be impacted by SLR.
The City of Oakland is committed to planning for and adapting to the impacts of climate change and has a number of initiatives and policies already in place. For example, Oakland’s Energy and Climate Action Plan6 calls for “Identifying and Acting on Opportunities to Improve Resilience in City Plans and Policies.” The Coliseum Specific Plan7 includes forward-thinking policies requiring new development to consider SLR and adaptive management. The 2016 Local Hazard Mitigation Plan8 also includes several SLR adaptation strategies.
That’s all well and good, but no action has been taken in the form of a plan to rework the land to mitigate the flooding problem and make developing Coliseum land for future sports and urban living use possible. And the bigger problem is that Oakland’s two poorest neighborhoods – East Oakland and West Oakland – are the ones in the most danger of being flooded.
While Howard Terminal’s also in the zone of flooding, it’s one parcel of property, and the proposed Howard Terminal District is much smaller, and thus less expensive to install flood-hampering measures for. Moreover, SB-293 Skinner’s call for a tax increment financing (TIF) district, combined with the large land values that come with building a new ballpark, office, and housing complex, will produce bondable revenues into the billions (assuming a 40-year-bond-issue property tax collection period from buildings in the district, including the A’s Ballpark).
In fact, SB-293 Skinner not only offers the East Bay Stadium Alliance the chance to gain money to improve its industrial future, but it provides a way to finance the reformation of the West Oakland waterfront to stop future flooding.
Indeed, Section 53395.82. (a) (d) (1) reads as follows:
A district may finance the design, purchase, construction, expansion, improvement, seismic retrofit, or rehabilitation of any real or other tangible property with an estimated useful life of 15 years or longer, as described in this chapter. The facilities need not be physically located within the boundaries of the district. However, any facilities financed outside a district shall have a tangible connection to the work of the district, as detailed in the infrastructure financing plan adopted in accordance with subdivision (e). Subdivision (b) of Section 53395.3 shall not apply to the district, but the district shall only finance public facilities of communitywide significance that provide significant benefits to the district or the surrounding community.
And in addition, SB-293 Skinner has a veritable kitchen sink of allowed uses for the large sums of tax increment financing revenue expected from the Howard Terminal Ballpark District. Read the following list, and you’d have to ask The East Bay Stadium Alliance if they’ve lost their collective minds in opposing this already signed-into-law legislation:
(3) In addition to any other project authorized by this chapter, a district formed pursuant to this section may finance any of the following:
(A) Highways, interchanges, ramps and bridges, arterial streets, parking facilities, and transit facilities.
(B) Sewage treatment and water reclamation plants and interceptor pipes.
(C) Facilities for the collection and treatment of water for urban uses.
(D) Flood control levees and dams, retention basins, and drainage channels.
(E) Childcare facilities.
(G) Parks, recreational facilities, and open space.
(H) Facilities for the transfer and disposal of solid waste, including transfer stations and vehicles.
(I) Brownfield restoration and other environmental mitigation.
(J) The development of projects on a former military base, provided that the projects are consistent with the military base authority reuse plan and are approved by the military base reuse authority, if applicable.
(K) The repayment of the transfer of funds to a military base reuse authority pursuant to Section 67851 that occurred on or after the creation of the district.
(L) The acquisition, construction, or rehabilitation of housing, whether publicly or privately owned, for very low income households and persons and families of low or moderate income, as those terms are defined in Sections 50105 and 50093, respectively, of the Health and Safety Code, for rent or purchase.
(M) Acquisition, construction, or repair of industrial structures for private use.
(N) Transit priority projects, as defined in Section 21155 of the Public Resources Code, that are located within a transit priority project area. For purposes of this paragraph, “transit priority project area” includes a military base reuse plan that meets the definition of a transit priority project area or a contaminated site within a transit priority project area.
(O) If the State Air Resources Board, pursuant to Chapter 2.5 (commencing with Section 65080) of Division 1 of Title 7, has accepted a metropolitan planning organization’s determination that the sustainable communities strategy or the alternative planning strategy would, if implemented, achieve the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, projects that implement a sustainable communities strategy.
(P) Projects that enable communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change, including, but not limited to, higher average temperatures, decreased air and water quality, the spread of infectious and vectorborne diseases, other public health impacts, extreme weather events, sea level rise, flooding, heat waves, wildfires, and drought.
(Q) Port or harbor infrastructure, as defined by Section 1698 of the Harbors and Navigation Code.
(R) The acquisition, construction, or improvement of broadband internet access service, as defined in Section 53167. Notwithstanding any other law, a district that acquires, constructs, or improves broadband internet access service may transfer the management and control of those facilities to a local agency that is authorized to provide broadband internet access service, and that local agency when providing that service shall comply with the requirements of Article 12 (commencing with Section 53167) of Chapter 1.
(S) Remediation of hazardous materials in, on, under, or around any real or tangible property.
(T) Seismic and life safety improvements to existing buildings.
(U) Rehabilitation, restoration, and preservation of structures, buildings, or other facilities having special historical, architectural, or aesthetic interest or value and that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places individually or because of their location within an eligible registered historic district, or are listed on a state or local register of historic landmarks.
(V) Structural repairs and improvements to piers, seawalls, and wharves, and installation of piles.
(W) Removal of bay fill.
(X) Stormwater management facilities, other utility infrastructure, or public open-space improvements.
(Y) Other repairs and improvements to public facilities.
(Z) Planning and design work that is directly related to any public facilities authorized to be financed by a district.
(AA) Reimbursement payments made to the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank in accordance with paragraph (5) of subdivision (e) of Section 53395.81.
(BB) Improvements, which may be publicly owned, to protect against potential sea level rise.
(CC) Fire stations.
Imagine an Oakland where, for once, people gathered together to marshall public money to fix large-scale problems? I can see that Oakland, because I lived that Oakland. After the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, we rebuilt Oakland City Hall, and formed a new West Oakland from the rubble of the Cypress Freeway. Sure, there were community-relations squabbles, and because, well, that’s Oakland. But the whole never stopped the city from achieving its objectives of not just restoration, but improvement after the quake.
The same can be said for The Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 – I was in that too, as I went with my Skyline High School friend Valerie Ostrom to help her folks move out of their home on Proctor. Afterward, some residents, paced by Olivetto Market Hall Owner Bob Klein, wanted to start a new town in Oakland called Tuscany, and because they were upset with the City of Oakland’s initial response to their needs. But Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris and the Oakland City Council made sure the City got its act together, and fast.
Now, we face a similar crisis: a flooded future, especially in East Oakland, which includes the Coliseum. Fixing that must be our top priority. Ironically, the A’s at Howard Terminal provides the key to our positive future in East Oakland and West Oakland. Dave Kaval and John Fisher should have a laser-focus in advancing the Howard Terminal plan, working with the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda, and making a better future without floods. This MLB relocation talk is empty (there, I said it) – the only real plan is here in Oakland. Let’s do it and honor the work of so many members of our community, in the process.
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