Who’s on First

John McLaurin
President, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association

In a coronavirus-shortened season, the Oakland A’s baseball season is about to start in a stadium filled

with cardboard cutouts of fans. Ironically, the cardboard cutouts will probably break the A’s attendance records of the past couple of decades. 

According to the Port of Oakland in 2019, the Portand its partners provide 84,144 jobs in the Bay Areaand contributed $698 million to state and local taxes. Business revenue, consumer spending and value of goods and services create the Port’s overall economic value of $130 billion. 

Yet there is still uncertainty about whether the Port’s commitment is to the trade community or the dream of luring the A’s and their cardboard cutouts to the waterfront. 

Way back in November 2019, long before the Coronavirus pandemic, the Port of Oakland hosted a meeting crowded with maritime stakeholders to discuss the proposed ballpark/hotel/housing/office development project at the port’s Howard Terminal site. Also in attendance at this meeting were senior port staff and several port commissioners. 

The purpose of the November meeting was to discuss “seaport compatibility measures” – mechanisms and safeguards to ensure that the A’s proposed development wouldn’t impact existing or future maritime operations, waterfront jobs, or the port’s own future seaport revenue streams. 

Lots of ideas and suggestions were offered in good faith by the many members of the trade community who are rightfully afraid of the consequences of introducing housing, office workers, and tens of thousands of sports fans into the current Howard Terminal footprint. Words of assurance were provided by port staff and commissioners. A summary of the meeting was dutifully written up by port staff and posted on the port website. All of the boxes were checked. 

But in the intervening months since that meeting, nothing else has happened with regard to the seaport compatibility measures effort. 

There has been no follow-up with stakeholders, no status report to port tenants and customers, no requests for additional information and no feedback on proposals. Nothing. Just silence. 

The only noise being made is by the Oakland A’s, who have started up their public pronouncements about their commitment to move forward with the developmentof the project, and to hold as close as possible to an accelerated timeline. 

In the movie Field of Dreams, while watching a game of baseball, farmer Ray Kinsella tells his daughter Karin, to “Watch Joe. Watch his feet as the pitcher gets the sign and starts to pitch. A good left fielder knows what pitch is coming, and he can tell from the angle of the bat where the ball’s going to be hit.” 

At this point, the trade community is watching the Port of Oakland Harbor Commissioners to see where “the ball’s going to be hit.” 

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