As a BCDC commissioner, I voted today on whether to release Howard Terminal from Port Priority designation.
The vote, pretty much a bandwagon, was 23 in favor and 2 opposed, including me.
Although invoked by most supporters, the bases for this decision are not supposed to be jobs, taxes, economic activity, baseball, housing or the environment. By law, it is about only one thing, preserving enough waterfront port space to avoid any need to fill San Francisco Bay in the foreseeable future (2050). It is ironic that BCDC is looking ahead to the end of this century planning for sea level rise but looking ahead only 28 years for seaport planning.
One argument is that the Athletics will go to Las Vegas if they can’t have a waterfront ballpark in Oakland. But they surely will not have a waterfront ballpark in Las Vegas, so it comes down to Oakland being superior, or at least competitive with Las Vegas only if the ballpark is on the waterfront. This almost rises to the level of extortion.
It turns out that BCDC once granted a permit to fill 17 acres to expand Howard Terminal, presumably because it enabled critical port facilities. Now that fill is being proposed to be used for a ballpark, which seems pretty hypocritical and certainly not aligned with the BCDC enabling legislation. If the fill is no longer required, perhaps it should be removed rather than converted to non-port use.
Based on the staff report, the need for future port space at Howard Terminal before 2050 is on the cusp. The report projected that without Howard Terminal, there could be a 21-acre regional surplus or a 9-acre deficit. The staff report opined the 9-acre deficit to be negligent, but it is not easy to find even 9 acres of prime waterfront property, and it’s not going to get any easier 28 years from now.
Then there is the issue of the turning basin proposed by USACE. Removing Howard Terminal from Port Priority designation would not preclude a future turning basin, but neither would it guarantee that space would be available. BCDC staff said it could be dealt with later.
Unfortunately, the Port of Oakland avoided providing clear answers to where the existing uses at Howard Terminal would be relocated. The Port essentially punted by saying the existing uses are temporary or can be moved somewhere else but with minimal or no specificity where those relocations would occur or what would happen to existing uses at those locations. For example, they said existing layberthed ships at Howard Terminal would go away, but they had no idea where.
At the end of the day, I just did not have the answers I needed to support the resolution, and I was troubled by the projection that necessary port capacity could be minimal to non-existent in 28 years. That seems like a long time off, but if you look back, today would be 28 years from 1994.
Figure 1 - Note that Howard Terminal is currently fully utilized