Judge rejects challenges to Oakland A’s plan for $12B ballpark

The Oakland A’s plan for a new waterfront ballpark and development project took a step forward Thursday when a judge rejected opponents’ claims that the stadium at Howard Terminal would cause serious environmental and safety hazards.

In upholding the city’s environmental review of the $12 billion project, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman also said Oakland had reasonably decided not to build a new baseball park at the current Coliseum site, home to the Athletics since the team moved from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968. The Coliseum also hosted the Oakland Raiders from 1966 through 2019, when the NFL team moved to Las Vegas.

While some neighborhood groups argued that a rebuilt Coliseum site would be quicker, cheaper and better for the surrounding community, Seligman said Oakland officials had concluded that the site, surrounded by industrial users, did not have the same advantages as a port location.

The Coliseum site “does not have a waterfront or any natural features that would enhance the aesthetics and experience at the ballpark,” the judge wrote. He said it was less likely city residents would visit the area when no ballgames were scheduled, compared to the Howard Terminal site near Jack London Square.

The three lawsuits were filed in April by the East Oakland Stadium Alliance, the Capitol Corridors Joint Powers Authority, and industry and labor groups including Union Pacific Railroad, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Mike Jacob, vice president of the shipping association, said it was considering an appeal.

“We will also continue pushing to resolve our concerns from this shortsighted project regardless of the outcome of this case, as the project’s adverse impacts are harmful to the thousands of Oakland residents who live in the neighborhoods near the proposed development or to those whose jobs depend on the ability of the Port of Oakland to grow and thrive,” Jacob said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement that the ruling was “a win for the climate and for the residents of Oakland. Today’s order proves that the waterfront project, which will bring 18 acres of new public parks to our beautiful shoreline for all residents to enjoy, will be built to California’s highest and most rigorous environmental standards.”

On Friday, US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will join Schaaf and Rep. Barbara Lee to tour a part of the city that received $14.5 million in federal funds to improve bus lanes, pedestrian walkways and bike lanes in certain parts of Jack London Square — critical funding for the Howard Terminal ballpark plan. The city agreed to pay for nearly $260 million in infrastructure upgrades in the area by using state and federal funds, but has not yet identified the sources of that funding.

The new ballpark would have about 35,000 seats. The waterfront project would also include 3,000 residential units, a hotel and retail stores. Two new bridges, one for vehicles and one for pedestrians, would be built across nearby railroad tracks.

Oakland’s December 2021 environmental impact report found the plans contained reasonable measures to limit pollution and safety hazards. But the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, and the advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment, said the measures were inadequate to prevent accidents from increased traffic at the tracks or to limit air and water pollution.

But Seligman cited planned safety measures including upgrades to track crossings, improvements to sidewalks and additions of bus lanes. He said the city had reasonably concluded that the project would not increase greenhouse gas emissions or overall air pollution because of impending limits on the use of natural gas and overall emissions. And he cited a 2018 environmental review that found underground soil contamination would be adequately shielded by an overlay of clean soil.

Seligman also said city planners reasonably rejected proposals to close all six road-level railroad crossings near the stadium site because one closure would block access to a fire station and others would impede access to local businesses.

In assessing the adequacy of the government’s environmental review, Seligman wrote, courts “do not look for perfection but for adequacy, completeness and a good-faith effort at full disclosure,” criteria he said were met in this case.

And the Howard Terminal ballpark is unlikely to draw the same level of nearby maritime traffic as Oracle Park in San Francisco, where fans in small boats congregate in hopes of capturing a slugger’s “splash hit,” Seligman said.

In addition to rules that would require watercraft to steer clear of the site, the judge said, the planned outfield walls are not adjacent to the bay, and the nearest water would be 700 feet from home plate. The confirmed longest home runs in major-league history, he noted — by Colorado’s Trevor Story in 2018, and Nomar Mazara of the Texas Rangers in 2019 — were 505 feet.

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Sarah Ravani contributed to this report.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BobEgelko

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