Last night’s Planning Commission meeting was totally awesome. Really. It was the most enjoyable City meeting I have watched in quite some time.
I was actually really not looking forward to it, because I was convinced it would last for hours and there would be like a hundred public speakers, nearly all of whom would say nothing productive whatsoever. People kept asking me if I was going to go to the meeting yesterday, which I found completely baffling. Every time I know some meeting is going to be a circus, I stay the hell away from City Hall unless I, like, really, really want to speak on some item. Even then, I usually watch from home until it gets close to my turn.
So I watched last night from the comfort of my home. Which, in addition to being more a more pleasant place to hang out than City Hall, also has the advantage of allowing me to record the video of the meeting and share it with all you fine folks. Here it is:
That’s the entire ballpark portion of the meeting, start to finish. It’s about 2 hours long, which I realize might be a kind of a lot for some folks. But don’t worry! I’ve broken out some highlights for you below.
Anyway, the whole meeting was interesting. Sometimes discussions at the Planning Commission can drag out for like, a ridiculously long time on some minor issue that is of no interest to me whatsoever, but last night they kept it to a pretty good pace. And then there was one item that I had not paid any attention to before, or even bothered to read the staff report, because it sounded so dull from the description on the agenda. But it turned out to be totally fascinating. So that was a pleasant surprise. You’ll get to hear more about that one soon. Maybe as soon as tomorrow, or possibly not until next week. It just depends on how quickly I can secure a copy of the DVD, since I didn’t record that part of the meeting.
Victory Court Scoping Session
Anyway. So I was expecting the ballpark discussion at the meeting to be totally awful. And even though the hearing room was completely packed, and even the overflow room overflowed, the public comment portion of the meeting was completely manageable. And actually really interesting. There weren’t that many speakers total, and the ones they had were pretty much the perfect mix of crazy and productive. Even the people who were obviously there just cause they thought it was a rally or something seemed to make a sincere effort to stay on topic, which I thought was really sweet. And the people who were there with serious concerns did a good job of keeping things light and having a sense of humor about it all.
Anyway. At scoping sessions normally, they always explain at the beginning what the purpose of the meeting is and about how you’re not supposed to comment on whether or not you like the project, but of course, everyone always totally ignores that.
So I was super pleased that last night they took out the time to really do that right, and spent like a good ten minutes describing not only the purpose of that particular meeting, but also how the whole CEQA process works and why we do it. It was great. Also, I’m really happy to have this video now, so I can just post it every time I have to write about CEQA or an EIR or something, instead trying to figure out how to write the same thing I have written like fifty times in an at least slightly new way.
So then it was time for the public to weigh in.
Public Comment Highlights
Okay. It wasn’t the most entertaining thing of the night, but I have to feature Max’s comment, partly because he makes a very good point about taking care of freeway underpasses, but mostly because he mentioned my blog, and I always get really excited when I get a shout out at a public meeting. Also, he pointed out one of many reasons the 980 ballpark proposal is infeasible.
Then there was this guy. He starts out talking about how he’s not going to read the speech he had prepared because he now knows that it is not relevant to the hearing. Then he just talks about irrelevant things anyway. If he was going to do that, then maybe he should have just stuck to the speech. But even though his comments had nothing to do with this meeting, I could not help but smile the whole time he was talking. One, I always appreciate it when people take the time to prepare their remarks in advance, even if they don’t end up using what they wrote. Two, his enthusiasm was just really kind of heartwarming. I found it adorable. Like a little puppy!
Baseball Oakland’s Mike Davie urged that the EIR consider pedestrian and bicycle impacts of the project.
Brian Grunwald, the guy who wants to build a stadium on top of the freeway, gave the pitch for his site, and asked the Planning Commission to include his proposal as a “dual proposed action,” which would mean the City is considering it as seriously as Victory Court.
His argument is basically that the 980 ballpark plan is superior to Victory Court because it would require far less infrastructure repair and therefore be much cheaper, plus it is benefical from a social justice perspective because it would reconnect downtown and West Oakland, which are divided by the freeway.
Of course, the beauty of Victory Court is that whatever investment you have to make in terms of infrastructure is supporting all these other areas and not just the ballpark, which is what makes it a good location for a stadium. This guy just doesn’t seem to grasp that. More importantly, there is some degree of time sensitivity to getting something built, which really should be reason enough to rule this concept out. The Commission ended up saying it should be included in the EIR as an alternative, which was less than what Grunwald was asking for.
Ben Delaney, President of the Jack London District Association, also weighed in on the side of 980 park. He questioned what would happen to the existing businesses at Victory Court and how residents would be impacted by traffic and complained about the limited BART access at Victory Court, which a couple of people did during the meeting but I found completely bizarre, since the site really couldn’t be much closer to a BART station.
Not everyone was so afraid of having a ballpark in their neighborhood. The Chair of the Oak Center Neighborhood Association spoke in favor of 980 Park, which the group has apparently been asking the City to study for some time. Additionally, he emphasized the need for transparency during the EIR the process, which I totally agree with.
Some Jack London District residents were equally excited about living near a stadium, like this guy who lives in The Ellington: “It’s in my backyard. I’m not worried about it. Put it in my backyard. I’m excited about it.”
I thought this guy below was a hoot at first, all yelling crazily about the “idiots” who attend baseball games. But then he started yelling all panicked about how he’s terrified they’re going to take his house and tear it down to build the stadium, and then I just felt bad for him. I mean, it’s easy to think “Dude should calm down. We all know there is no way eminent domain for residential property is going to fly in Oakland anymore.’ And while that is an accurate assessment of today’s political reality, I can hardly blame people who have witnessed years of abuse of eminent domain in the past for not believing it when people tell them that.
And I’m sure that listening to comments like this one don’t do much to ease his fears.
980 Park wasn’t the only alternative location brought up at the meeting.
This guy suggested a different alternative location — Wood Street, in West Oakland, way out by the old train station. The selling point? 39 acres of totally vacant land with property owners eager to unload it.
Sharon Cornu of the Alameda Labor Council asked that the City examine the quality of the jobs that would be created by the project, and consider imposing certain conditions to ensure quality jobs are created by the project.
A representative of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network was concerned about the impacts of the project to Chinatown, and asked about rising housing values and possible job losses that could result from a new ballpark. She was one of several speakers who requested a health impact study be completed.
Finally, it was the Commission’s turn to talk. You can watch all their comments below.
Commissioner Vince Gibbs said he was taking an “optimistic, but realistic” approach to the project, and asked for evaluation of the economic impacts of the displacement of any businesses, impacts to BART and AC Transit, the trains, and a job analysis. He also said he wanted to see an evaluation of what happens if we don’t get to keep the A’s, which I didn’t understand at all. I mean, if we don’t build a stadium there, then it stays the same as it is now. Right?
Commissioner Sandra Gálvez also wanted to know about job impacts, and was curious about possible flooding from future climate change. She echoed the concerns of several public speakers about how we need a health impact study, with a focus on pedestrians and bicyclists. And then (sigh), she said that since so many people had brought up the 980 stadium proposal, they really should study it as an alternative.
Commissioner C. Blake Huntsman was concerned about parking, displacing the vendors at the Laney College parking lot swap meet and other possible job displacement, and supported the idea of a job quality analysis. Commissioner Vien Truong wanted an alternative included that would keep the area as light industrial, and emphasized that the process should be transparent, with information being routinely made to the public. She was also concerned about the flea market vendors.
Commission Chair Doug Boxer expressed his delight at the quality of the public comment, and then asked that the EIR consider the location of the parking for the ballpark, the intermodal split of anticipated ballpark visitors, the fucking ferry, planned improvements to the Lake Merritt Channel, and that the location should be considered in conjunction with all the other nearby planning efforts going on.
And that was that. Fun meeting! I always love it when I’m pleasantly surprised by these things.