Storm Eunice wreaked havoc across the UK on Friday, disrupting travel and power supplies whilst causing damage to numerous properties. It was carnage, but us A’s fans at least had some very encouraging news to wake up to that morning that more than took the edge off it.
Overnight, Oakland City Council had completed a marathon eight-hour session that ended with a 6-2 vote in favour of certifying the environmental impact report (EIR) for the A’s proposed ballpark project near Howard Terminal.
The EIR is a 4,000 page document that brought together a huge amount of detail around the potential impact the whole development could have and, most importantly, the measures that would be put in place to mitigate any negative impacts. Any large development and change of land use unavoidably will impact on the environment, but particularly so when building along the waterfront, so getting things planned and agreed is crucial to allowing anything to proceed.
A’s fans have faced two decades of uncertainty about the future of the team, with the present being shaped by financial constraints as the organisation remained in limbo. We’ve had plenty of false starts before, from Fremont to San Jose and beyond, and they have made most of us wary of getting our hopes up. Somehow, something always comes along and messes things up.
However, this time it truly does feel like we are getting closer to the A’s committing their future to Oakland and getting a ballpark that the fans and city deserves.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf hailed the certification of the EIR as an important point in the process.
“This is more than a milestone — it’s a giant leap forward in our shared mission to create a regional destination that gives back our waterfront to the public, connects a new vibrant neighborhood to our downtown and provides tens of thousands good union jobs for our residents,” said Schaaf. “And it does it all while keeping our beloved A’s rooted in Oakland.”Mayor Libby Schaaf, as quoted on MLB.com
It’s always important to remember here that the Howard Terminal project is about much more than the ballpark. It’s a potential $12bn development including 3,000 homes, office and retail space and 18 acres of public parks.
For the A’s, the surrounding development is part of how they hope to get support for a new ballpark that would genuinely change the future of the franchise. For the City, the development would transform the area and potentially benefit a huge amount of people, meaning that it is something they can support without it just being a case of a billionaire MLB owner getting what they want.
“Win-Win” is the phrase being thrown around and, despite its obvious corporate management bullshit bingo nature, does genuinely seem to fit here. The devil is always in the detail, though, so there’s not getting away from the fact that there is still a huge amount still to do to get to the fabled “shovels in the ground” moment.
That doesn’t change the fact that getting this binding vote on the EIR is a very important moment. That was summed up A’s President Dave Kaval on Friday as part of Casey Pratt’s latest excellent update on his YouTube channel.
The whole video is well worth a watch, but there were a few key quotes that really stood out for me.
Kaval neatly explained the context of the EIR in the overall development process and how important this step was in allowing “all the other votes to happen”.
“It’s critical and I think it allows the City staff to devote more time on the development agreement. We’ve actually been waiting for the City staff to get back to us on a lot of our proposals and so we look forward to digging in on that over the next couple weeks”.
In short, all of the steps necessary to get to a final vote had been on hold until the EIR had been certified. Now that this has been achieved, the discussions and draft proposals around funding and community benefits that have been going on for the past year or more can be brought to an end point, one that hopefully will be to the agreement of all parties.
The timing of that end point was then set out by Kaval and, in doing so, he confirmed the prevailing feeling that ultimately the A’s – and the MLB Commissioner’s Office – now are at the point when they want a resolution.
“We’re really hoping to get an outcome one way or the other, we really just need to know, we can’t let the process be the product, and we need to really bring this thing to a head … at the end of the day, we need to know one way or the other this summer”.
There’s an implicit threat there, of course, not least with the Las Vegas relocation stories still rumbling on. The Vegas side of things does seem to be progressing in parallel with the Howard Terminal project and, as distasteful as it is to us fans who are desperate for the A’s not to leave Oakland, we have to accept that we probably wouldn’t be this far forward if Vegas wasn’t a real possibility.
I don’t get the sense that John Fisher and co want to move the A’s out of Oakland, but I do believe that they see Howard Terminal as the only remaining option here and will move to Vegas if it falls through. It’s definitely a negotiating tactic to finally inject some urgency within the political and administrative machinations of getting a development done in the Bay Area, and one that appears to be working, yet that doesn’t mean they are bluffing.
It does mean that within the next six months we will know where the A’s will be playing in the future and where we stand as a fanbase. It’s a scary thought in some ways, knowing that the worst could happen, but for all the frustration with the Vegas plans – and the idiots on social media goading A’s fans about them – two more of Kaval’s comments in his interview with Casey Pratt struck me as being genuine signs for optimism.
The first was the fact that the normally penny-pinching A’s have invested a huge amount of money and work in their attempts to make Howard Terminal a reality. Kaval claimed that the team are “spending $2m per month on consultants and real estate staff” and that “the EIR itself was probably a $35m document”. These are figures we cannot confirm, but they are indicative of a level of spending that a business – let along the Fisher A’s – wouldn’t commit to a development if they weren’t serious about bringing it to fruition.
And the second was Casey’s always enjoyable efforts to make Kaval put progress in terms of trying to complete a marathon. Kaval stated that getting the EIR certified was “big mile to clear, we might even be at 20 miles in”.
Completing 20 miles of a marathon doesn’t mean you’ll make it to the end. The final six miles or so can be the toughest to get through. However, once you’ve made it that far the finish line is no longer a distant hope, it’s an achievable aim and one that can inspire you – with a crowd on the side-lines cheering you on – to draw on all your reserves to make sure you don’t fall short.
We’re not there yet, but after the EIR certification vote on Thursday we are one big step closer to the finish line and the A’s future in Oakland being secured.