Monday, November 29, 2010

"A Better Oakland" Looks at Victory Court

Over Thanksgiving weekend, popular Oakland blogger VSmoothe discussed the Victory Court proposal on her blog, A Better Oakland. She also mentioned that the site will be publicly discussed at this Wednesday's Oakland Planning Commission meeting.

We've always been fans of VSmoothe's blog, even the past times she was pessimistic about a new Oakland A's ballpark. So we consider it great progress that she now thinks a ballpark at Victory Court is a very real possibility and that, despite some of her concerns, the site could "spur the success of Jack London Square and the Lake Merritt BART Station area" and the Victory Court A's ballpark surrounding areas of Chinatown, downtown and Laney College.

She also notes many of the area's strengths, such as the abundant parking around the Jack London Square, Chinatown and Laney College areas.

We also would like to add that Victory Court's public transit options are excellent: the Lake Merritt BART station is as close to Victory Court as the Coliseum BART is to the Coliseum; the Broadway St. "B" Shuttle could easily service the park; the nearby Amtrak station is a stop for ACE and Capitol Corridor commuter trains, as well as Amtrak; the Jack London Ferry stop is nearby, and a closer ferry stop could be added to serve the stadium directly, just as was done at China Basin for San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

To her credit, VSmoothe also noted the few concerns around the site. She says that getting to Victory Court en masse by automobile during game time might be a problem, to name one example. Addressing concerns of nearby residents and businesses obviously will be paramount. But these and other potential issues are not insurmountable and any dismissals of the site are premature.

Instead, VSmoothe's blog post recognized that the public planning process has only started, and Wednesday's public meeting is just one step in a continuing, multi-step process that will allow the public to share their concerns and weigh in on the ballpark site with transparency. Part of that public process calls for identifying possible problems and coming up with solutions. San Francisco found a way to build new infrastructure around AT&T Park and to address traffic concerns, for example. There is no reason to believe that Oakland cannot accomplish the same.

Second, VSmoothe informed her readers by writing in detail about the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process:

Basically, California state law requires that before a City can approve a development, they have to recognize what impacts that project will have on the surrounding environment. An EIR is the document that tells them what those impacts are going to be.

When a developer or, in this case, the City decides that they need to complete an EIR, the first step is to issue a Notice of Preparation (NOP), which briefly describes the proposal and notes what types of impacts are expected. The City issued a NOP (PDF) for a ballpark at the Victory Court location on November 10th. The purpose of this document is to alert the public and other interested parties that you are doing an EIR.

In short, Wednesday’s meeting will be an EIR scoping session to solicit public comments on the NOP.

For further explanation, VSmoothe quotes from the EIR staff report:

The main purpose of this scoping session is to solicit comments from both the Commission and the public on what types of information and analysis should be considered in the EIR. Specifically, comments should focus on discussing possible impacts on the physical environment, ways in which potential adverse effects might be minimized, and alternatives to the project in light of the EIR's purpose to provide useful and accurate information about such factors. Comments related to policy considerations and the merits of the project will be the subject of future, duly noticed public meetings.

In other words, you can go to the hearing to give your comments or you can put questions and/or comments in writing.

Those fans who are anxious to get something done, like, yesterday, should keep in mind that this process is a marathon and not a sprint. It takes time, and you want the city to study the site carefully in a transparent way. Meetings like the one being held Wednesday are crucial to that city process. As the Victory Court plan evolves, attending the meetings is the best way to find out the plan’s details and its real viability.

In the meantime, we look forward to seeing all of you at City Hall at 6PM on Wednesday night, as Oakland residents continue the fight to retain the A's here in Oakland.

Here are the details for the meeting:

WHEN: 6PM, this Wednesday, Dec. 1
WHERE: Oakland City Hall, in Hearing Room One
ADDRESS: One Frank Ogawa Plaza (14th St. & Broadway)
WHAT: Oakland Planning Commission Meeting
WHY: New A's baseball park near Jack London Square

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