The City Council passed a resolution this week to work collaboratively with the Port of Oakland to authorize a new A’s stadium at Howard Terminal on the waterfront – a decision that has little substance but gives the impression that the council is moving quickly to a final decision to build the stadium.
The resolution, which the council passed unanimously Tuesday evening, authorizes the City Administrator to sign a “non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)” between the city and the port to review the project proposed by the Oakland A’s.
The resolution was submitted by the Office of the City Administrator. Since it is well known that Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration strongly endorses the Howard Terminal project, some council members were concerned that the resolution might be committing them to more than what it appeared to say on its surface.
Council President Rebecca Kaplan asked city staff and legal counsel why this resolution was needed.
“We are not voting tonight on whether or not to build a ballpark,” Kaplan said.
“I didn’t think we needed an MOU for the city and the port to work together,” she added, questioning why the resolution was “recommended or necessary.”
After consulting with city staff, Kaplan said the reason for the MOU is “so there will not be lack of clarity in terms of city/port duties.”
“We are not changing any duties, just restating them so the city and port will not have any confusion between each other,” she said.
Speaking at the council meeting, Ruby Ascevedo, a staff attorney with Public Advocates, criticized the resolution for lacking substance and clarity.
“There is no information on this item that could inform the public of what this MOU is actually doing, how it’s going to govern the actions taken by either the port or the city,” she said.
“I reviewed it several times. I am an attorney and cannot tell you what is in there and what the public can expect from this MOU.”
Councilmember Noel Gallo wanted to be sure that the resolution did not mean that the council was giving up its authority to make the final decision on the ballpark.
“At the end of the day, who has the final vote and say in terms of the ballpark? He asked, satisfied with the answer that it was the council and not the mayor.
“We’re all Oakland A’s fans, but I represent the best interests of the public,” Gallo said, pointing out that past deals with the Raiders and Warriors have left local taxpayers on the hooks for millions of dollars.
“This is not a rubber stamping process,” said Councilmember Lynette McElhaney. “It is important that this body send a signal that there is nothing set in stone.”
“It is fine for the mayor to be a champion,” she said, but the council process must be “deliberative (and) intentional,” weighing the impact of the project on the port and its workers, air quality for the community and transportation in the area.
Under the team’s timeline – backed by A’s fans, local businesses, developers and building trades unions – the project would break ground next year and completed in time for the 2023 season.
The A’s is also currently negotiating with the city to purchase the city’s share of the Coliseum property or become partners in a major real estate deal, turning the area in a complex of housing, offices and retail.
Opposing the deal are the International Longshore Union Local 10, East Oakland churches and local residents, who view the proposed project as leading to intensified gentrification and undermining the port as a major international shipping hub.
Another coalition, Oakland United — made up of residents, nonprofits and community groups — is willing to back the Howard Terminal ballpark if the project contains a strong community benefits agreement.