"The A's are our last major league team in Oakland. We need to keep them. This is how they see their future in Oakland and they are willing to pay for it," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf during an interview with ABC7 News Friday. "This is a privately financed ballpark that is very important to me. Oakland has made some pretty bad deals in the past with sports teams, this is not one of them."
FULL INTERVIEW: Oakland mayor discusses A's ballpark Environmental Impact Report
The A's had been considering Howard Terminal as a possible site for years before November 2018, when the official plans were revealed.
The plan, supported by Schaaf, includes the ballpark, shopping and housing.
"This report is actually going to create a legal obligation for the A's to make certain improvements. We really want to make sure that the ballpark is not going to impede our port traffic. We love our working waterfront. We know it's our economic engine. This report looks at very specific ways to keep that engine chugging along," said Schaaf.
Oakland A's President Dave Kaval has said the development will have the highest environmental standards of any project in California history. He said the project is "bigger than baseball " with what he called "no showstoppers" in terms of why the project can't be built.
It could be a game changer on the road to keeping the A's in Oakland in a long envisioned waterfront ballpark with room for 35,000 fans. In a just released video rendering, there is a glimpse of a new hotel and performance venue along with 3000 new homes, many of them desperately needed affordable housing, all opening up onto 18 acres of a new waterfront park.
The impact report must asses the stadium's potential effects on the environment and identify any mitigation measures.
"The next step in the process is people now have a couple of days to comment on the Environment Impact Report," said Schaaf. "There are going to be several public hearings. Please come chime in. Look at what has been recommended. Let us know whether you think this ballpark on the waterfront is a good idea. Oakland cares so much about being a model of environmental stewardship."
One big question is how the stadium would effect the port.
"These are complicated projects, as they should be, especially when they are on the waterfront," said Schaaf. "It's a very environmentally sensitive part of our ecosystem. We have to be very careful whenever we disturb it or build there. We have to make sure any project is enhancing our environment stewardship, not degrading it. I know the A's are committed to that. More importantly, the city will hold them to that and this community will also hold them, to not just being good neighbors, but being good environment stewards."
The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association has long opposed the plan.
"If you transform your waterfront into a tourist mecca and expensive housing -- you will not have an industrial port left, " said Mike Jacob, Vice President and General Counsel of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
The draft report is just a small step. The shipping association is still involved with litigation over the plan and there are several more bureaucratic hurdles.
Schaaf also spoke to ABC7 News about when the new ballpark could potentially reopen.
"We will have a better idea of that once the city council approves this project. That is on track for happening by the end of this year. That's the next big milestone that will really drive the construction schedule."
She also said the report indicated "there are no net greenhouse gas emissions. That is a huge deal."
The plans detailed in the EIR prioritize not impeding port traffic and more efficient truck access along with transit links to the downtown core possibly using a gondola to ferry passengers to the stadium. Bike and pedestrian bridges would arch over 880 and the railroad tracks. The entire site would be raised 5 feet to mitigate an anticipated rise in the sea level. The A's say the project would attempt to transform the industrial site into a sustainable community using no taxpayer dollars while working to reimagine the old coliseum site in east Oakland.
Oakland A's President said "We have an exciting vision for east Oakland as well. With public input it includes keeping the arena, building affordable housing and creating an important job center in East Oakland."
The mayor said "The A's are our last major league team in Oakland. We need to keep them. This is how they see their future in Oakland and they are willing to pay for it."
There are plenty of critics to the plan as well. Public hearings for the EIR are scheduled between now and mid April. The A's need the full support of both the Port and the city council to proceed. The target date of opening day 2023 for the new stadium will not happen. The pandemic is slowing down progress. By the end of this year a final thumbs up or thumbs down on the project is expected.
WATCH: Critics, fans raise concern over draft EIR for proposed Oakland A's waterfront stadium
Dominic Miranda, who lives in Pleasanton, was walking his dogs around Jack London Square, near the Oakland Marina, where he has a boat. He is a big Bay Area sports fan and wants to sse the Oakland Athletics stay in Oakland.
"Go A's! I am a Giants fan, but I am Bay Area fan. I always support the A's, and hopefully we will get this done," Miranda told ABC7's Anser Hassan.
"The plan, the way I've seen it, (it's) thought out well, there is a lot of buildup that is going to happen. A lot of jobs, I think, will come from that," says Miranda.
But Mike Jacob, Vice President of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, isn't as enthusiastic.
He says they will thoroughly review the Draft EIR, but adds, he already has some big concerns.
Jacob says the proposed location is zoned for industrial use, and bringing in a stadium, retail stores, office space, tourists and luxury housing will create problems.
"Those are 24/7 uses that are not just the stadium, and when you invite those types of uses, especially housing, into an industrial area, those uses aren't compatible with what we are doing," explains Jacob.
He says the future success of the Port of Oakland is based on its ability to grow its access to cargo and overseas markets. He thinks this project puts billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at risk.
"We can't reinvest in our operations at the Port of Oakland if our cargo can't move, if we have increased congestion, if our vessels can't turn around, and if we constricted in our ability to move shipments by rail," explains Jacob. "If this project moves forward and doesn't address our ability to do business and constricts our ability to grow, then our members, who are the tenants and investors in the infrastructure of the Port of Oakland, won't be reinvesting here."
The East Oakland Stadium Alliance, of which Jacob is a part of, issued a statement that reads in part:
"Unfortunately, this Draft EIR is also being released under an unresolved claim that the A's project has the authority to proceed under a now-expired fast-track process. Because there is still a lawsuit pending on this very question in state appellate court, we are very disappointed that the A's and the City are moving forward with the release of this Draft EIR prior to the final resolution of this critical issue."
John Wilson, a die-hard A's fan, has been following developments as well. He says that he doesn't want the city to fast track the plan. He thinks traffic will be the biggest obstacle.
"I see what is projected. There is no way you're going to put that many people on a tram and move them at that distance, at speed, at that time. It just can't be done," says Wilson.
Members of the public will have 45 days to submit comments on the Draft EIR. Public comments will be accepted until 4:00 p.m. on April 12, 2021. Comments can also be made publicly at the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board public hearing on Monday, March 22, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. and Planning Commission public hearing on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 at 3:00 p.m.. For information on how to submit public comments, see the Notice of Availability.