The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
March - April 2007
Athletics trying to sprint past environmental review
Sierra Club asks Fremont to study ballpark cautiously
If the Oakland A's move to Fremont, the new stadium will bring massive development to an area adjacent to the wetlands and wildlife habitat of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. The site is far from any major mass-transit facility, and no adequate transit plan has been presented.
For these reasons, the Southern Alameda County Group of the Sierra Club has asked Fremont to carefully follow the full lawful environmental-review process.
Lew Wolff, owner of the Oakland Athletics, spoke to the Fremont City Council on Jan. 16, presenting his plan for a new 32,000-seat ball park in a "village" with 2,900 homes and over a half million square feet of retail. The site is west of I-880 between Fremont Boulevard and Auto Mall Parkway. Despite presenting few specifics, Wolff suggested that the city "move this along sooner rather than later".
The request to accelerate the normal development process is alarming. Full review under the California Environmental Quality Act is especially important for such a large project. To rush would be reckless planning.
Our concern is intensified because Wolff is asking the city for extensive development rights with numerous concessions. Wolff described how a city can get a ball park without having to pay cash: "What cities do have, especially in the area of growth - and the Bay Area, good or bad, is growing; whether it's growing right or not is not my decision totally - they have zoning rights. We call them entitlements; you're entitled to build 1,000 apartment units. Those entitlements are the new currency, in my opinion, for cities, governments and regionals and counties and so forth."
What's striking is his admission that the growth doesn't have to be `good' for the idea to work. The cities just have to allow the developers the right to develop.
Economic concessions are already being discussed. It is expected that Wolff will ask the city for tax breaks on revenues generated by the project. While he was vague on the specifics of the tax breaks, city manager Fred Diaz was quoted in the Mercury News interpreting Wolff's comments: "If there's a way through any means of increasing the amount of revenue that's produced from that land by new development and putting that into the project, that's probably where he's coming from.''
Obviously, the pressure will be on for a larger and larger development to generate enough revenue to offset the few hundred million dollars that the ball park will cost. Wolff and other developers have been buying up nearby properties in anticipation of development extending well beyond the ball-park site itself.
The City Council seemed giddy about the possibility of bringing in a major-league baseball team. Chamber of Commerce representatives lauded the ball park as an economic boon. The attitude appears to be that the city must get the Athletics whatever the cost. Unfortunately, that cost may not be cheap and may be paid by Fremont residents for years to come.
© 2007 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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