The Agriculture Transportation Coalition says replacing marine terminal with ballpark would be a step backward and limit potential export growth.
The Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC), a national organization that represents agriculture and forest product producers, farmers, processors and exporters, is raising concerns about the possible use of the Charles P. Howard Terminal in the Port of Oakland as the site for a new baseball stadium for the Oakland Athletics.
In a letter to Ces Butner, the president of the Port of Oakland’s Board of Port Commissioners, AgTC Executive Director Peter Friedmann said his group has “deep concern regarding proposals to permanently remove a viable marine terminal at the Port of Oakland from the international supply chain infrastructure upon which we depend.”
“Prior to taking action on the Howard Terminal development project, we strongly urge the mayor and the Oakland Port Commission to meet with all segments of the international trade community, including farmers, manufacturing, trucking, logistics services, warehousing, labor, maritime and others who depend on the port as a trade gateway,” Friedmann said.
In February a coalition of maritime and environmental groups asked state legislators not to relax environmental rules to allow the ballpark to be built at the Howard Terminal in the Port of Oakland’s inner harbor.
AgTC said, “The Port of Oakland is a critical gateway to our largest international markets — Asia Pacific and South Asia. All around the United States, ports are expanding their terminals and export capacity. It is almost inconceivable that one state, city and port would now be reducing capacity by shuttering a maritime terminal, converting it to non-maritime uses such as a hotel, retail, residential housing and a ballpark.”
The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) voted 15-4 on Jan. 17 to study possibly removing Howard terminal as a “port priority use area” from its San Francisco Bay Plan and Seaport Plan. While the terminal is not currently being used to unload ships, Mike Jacob, vice president and general counsel for the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, told the BCDC that “just because you are not using the ship-to-shore cranes at present does not mean it is not being used.
“Between late 2016 and 2017 there were over 300,000 gate moves at Howard Terminal for intermodal trucking support. That’s a critical component of what we do and a critical component why you designate this property to be part of the seaport plan,” Jacob said.
Some users of the port are expressing concern that the ballpark would increase traffic congestion on the highways leading to the port.
Opponents of placing the ballpark at the terminal, which is close to Jack London Square and downtown Oakland, may have an uphill battle.
A story in the Los Angeles Times this week said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf supports the plan, telling the newspaper, “This really stands to revitalize a part of the city that has been in this kind of vague transition between the old industrial waterfront and the new public amenity waterfront.”
The article said the ball team is proposing to “build 3,000 residences near the new ballpark and another 3,000 on the Coliseum site,” where the Oakland Athletics play today.
But the AgTC said, “Industrial waterfront property suitable for container and other international ocean shipping expansion is virtually nonexistent on the U.S. West Coast. That such an asset would be voluntarily sacrificed has port authorities and economic development authorities scratching their collective heads. We, the agriculture exporters who continually strive to increase our sales to global customers, will be among the first to feel the loss of this gateway expansion opportunity.”
Friedmann estimated that farm goods account for 40 to 50 percent of the Port of Oakland’s total exports, saying about $6.1 billion worth of containerized fruit and veggie shipments moved through Oakland in 2017, equaling 135,000 TEUs.
Oakland serves agriculture exporters throughout the country and is “particularly critical if the Central, San Joaquin, Salinas and Napa and Sonoma valleys are to remain premier export generators. The port serves as the primary gateway for California’s premium agricultural goods, including nuts and dried fruits, wine, dairy products and other products,” the letter said.
“We ask the governor, city of Oakland officials and port commission to very carefully consider the impact of permanently limiting the ability of the port to expand and negatively impacting existing maritime operations to serve the states’ and the nation’s agriculture production and exports. Such deep water marine terminals are already in short supply; taking Howard terminal offline and creating barriers to Oakland’s other marine terminals is directly contrary to the expanding infrastructure taking place at all U.S. coasts, in Canada, Mexico and Latin America and efforts to improve cargo velocity and flow.”
The letter said, “California’s agriculture competitors in those countries are benefiting by these new and expanded marine terminals, gaining more efficient access to global markets. California and the port should know that removing this terminal and impeding vessel and truck access to marine terminals would be a step backwards, as it will limit the potential for growth of our own U.S. and California exports.”