Legislature Gives A's Green Light to Speed Up Ballpark Review Process

A 2015 A's game at the Oakland Coliseum.  (Dan Brekke/KQED)

State lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Friday to make it just a little bit easier for the Oakland A's to build a new ballpark at the Howard Terminal site near the Port of Oakland.

AB 734 would streamline the process for reviewing environmental lawsuits filed against the site. The Howard Terminal location is one of two main spots the team is focusing its new stadium efforts on, the other being its current home at the Oakland Coliseum.

The team's previous top choice, near Lake Merritt and Peralta Community College, fell through last December when the school pulled out of talks with the team on a stadium deal.

The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, requires a development project to complete an environmental impact report and allows anyone to sue for a judicial review of that report. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs AB 734, those lawsuits would have be adjudicated within 270 days if possible.

The bill's author, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, said the bill was based off previous legislation that was passed to facilitate new arena projects for the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings.

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Bonta said in a statement following the vote that the legislation "is a win for the team, the environment, workers, and the larger economy.”

The proposed privately-financed development at the Howard Terminal site would include a ballpark as well as adjacent residential, retail and commercial uses that supporters of the proposal say would produce thousands of full-time jobs.

Under the bill, the ballpark and any non-residential buildings would need to achieve LEED Gold certification within one year of completion, have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and meet certain transportation standards to qualify for the expedited CEQA review process.

The Judicial Council of California, which would be responsible for implementing the expedited timeline, opposed the legislation, saying CEQA cases are already given preference in the court system and that doubling down on that preferential status would push other cases to the back of the line.

"This means that other cases, including cases that have statutorily mandated calendar preferences, such as juvenile cases, criminal cases, and civil cases in which a party is at risk of dying, will take longer to decide," the Council wrote in the first of five letters it sent to state lawmakers opposing the bill.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and A's president Dave Kaval were both at the State Capitol on Friday to do some last-minute lobbying for the bill, which passed unopposed in the state Senate and 66-4 in the Assembly.

Schaaf called the vote another step toward keeping the A's in Oakland, and Kaval lauded Bonta, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, for leading the bill to passage.

"As Mayor, I’m looking forward to working with the A’s to build a ballpark that’s responsible to the taxpayers and enhances neighborhood vitality, whether it’s at Howard Terminal or the Coliseum," Schaaf said in a statement after the vote.

Lawmakers also on Friday overwhelmingly approved AB 987, which would provide a similar expedited CEQA review process for a new Los Angeles Clippers basketball arena in Inglewood.

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Brown has until Sept. 30 to approve or veto both bills.

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