Athletics Sue State Over Failure to Properly Police Alleged Pollution

John Hickey

The Oakland A’s push to move forward with their planned new ballpark at Howard Terminal on the Oakland waterfront took a twist Wednesday when the club filed suit against California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) over alleged pollution at Schnitzer Steel’s metal shredding facility in West Oakland.

The Schnitzer recycling center, California’s largest metal shredding facility, is located next to the Howard Terminal site north of Oakland’s Jack London Square at 1101 Embarcadero West. Schnitzer as well as several trucking and shipping groups based in the Port of Oakland area, have pushed back at the A’s plans to get stadium moving forward.

A’s president Dave Kaval took to Twitter Wednesday morning to explain the team’s position. In a 16-thread series of tweets, Kaval said “We wasn’t our ballpark project to be a catalyst for environmental justice in West Oakland. We’ll fight regardless of what happens with the ballpark. This is bigger than baseball.

“West Oakland has long dealt with unacceptably high levels of pollution, as well as elevated risks of health problems like asthma, heart disease, and COVID.”

The “regardless of what happens” quote is the first time that Kaval has hinted that the A’s plans for Howard Terminal might be in trouble. The plan had been to have shovels in the ground come the first month or two of 2021. To this point, an Environmental Impact Report that the club had hoped to have in hand in late 2019 or by February at the latest has yet to be certified.

The A’s plan was to have the stadium ready for occupancy by 2023. But the coronavirus pandemic has impacted everything in the state, including courtrooms and construction, and there has been some acknowledgement that April, 2023, is going to be difficult.

That’s in part due to Schnitzer. The steel company combined with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, the Harbor Trucking Association and the California Trucking Association to file a suit against the A’s in March in an attempt to block the environmental fast-tracking of the Environmental Impact Report at Howard Terminal.

Those four companies are longtime tenant in the Port of Oakland, and it’s the Port that owns the land the A’s are trying to build on.

Talking with the East Bay Times, Kaval said the A’s Wednesday lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, isn’t retribution, adding that “if we built the ballpark on the moon, we would still pursue this.”

The Howard Terminal site had existing environmental issues when the A’s settled on it as the place in Oakland the A’s would attempt to build a stadium. A fraction of the A’s building costs will be getting the site environmentally usable.

“Hazardous materials are supposed to be tightly regulated,” Kaval posted in his tweet stream. “Long ago, California passed tough rules on the handling of hazardous waste to protect communities. California DTSC has exempted Schnitzer for having to fully comply with the law for 30 years. This is a regulatory failure.

“It’s wrong, and it needs to stop. We want to be part of the solution. Environmental stewardship is core to our commitment to Oakland. We are doing this with our groundbreaking environmental justice legislation to improve air quality, reduce car trips by 20 percent and address sea level rise.”

The dueling lawsuits and the lack of an Environmental Impact Report certification are just some of the reasons the club’s hope for a 2023 opening is getting increasingly fainter.

Those reasons include:

--The difficult of getting on a court docket because the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic shut doors to courtrooms, which are only slowly reopening.

--Construction projects in California were limited to essential projects in March by Gov. Gavin Newsom. As the state has reopened, contractors are coming back. Even so, the need to practice social distancing has made for smaller work crews, making for fewer workers. If that doesn’t change, that would stretch out completion time.

--Auxiliary entities like architecture companies and engineering firms who would be deeply involved in the projects are in many cases working remotely during the pandemic. These are people who would generally need to be on-site with some regularity, and if they aren’t, that would tend to eat up more time.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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