The Port of Oakland is "very interested" in turning a shipping terminal into the future home of the Oakland A's, but warned that a stadium plan will face bureaucratic and environmental hurdles.
If the potential obstacles can be overcome at Howard Terminal, a stadium could be constructed within five years, Omar Benjamin, the port's executive director, wrote this week in a letter to city officials.
The 51-acre terminal, located a few blocks north of Jack London Square, has emerged as one of Oakland's two most viable sites -- along with the Coliseum complex -- for keeping its baseball team. The terminal is entirely publicly owned, making it easier to fast-track construction, and is favored by both business leaders and baseball officials because it is much closer to the city center than the Coliseum site.
Stadium boosters envision putting a ballpark at the terminal along with restaurants and shops that would complement Jack London Square.
With A's owner Lew Wolff determined to move his team to downtown San Jose, Oakland needs to show baseball officials that it too has a viable site for the team that could persuade baseball owners against pursuing the very touchy subject of rescinding the San Francisco Giants' territorial rights to San Jose.
The terminal's current tenant, SSA Terminals, has sued the port over its lease, which expires in 2017. Benjamin wrote that if both parties can agree to settle the matter, the port would have to look at nonmaritime uses for the terminal.
However, Benjamin noted that the waterfront site is subject to the Tidelands Trust, meaning the State Lands Commission could require a land contribution to the trust. Also, the terminal site is contaminated, which would likely add to stadium costs and require approval from state environmental agencies.
Oakland wins pension lawsuit
Oakland can expect to save about $2.3 million a year and potentially recoup several million more after winning a lawsuit against the board that manages the pension fund for long-retired police and firefighters.
In a ruling earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo held that the board had been overcompensating retired police officers covered in the pension program that ties the pay of retirees to that of active police officers of the same rank.
After signing a new agreement with the police union in 2008, the city held that the board was incorrectly setting pension benefits based on bonus pay that active officers received for working holidays and late-night shifts.
The Police and Fire Retirement System was closed to new employees in 1976 because it was so badly underfunded. As of June it had 1,086 benefactors and an unfunded liability of $427 million.
The city approved a special tax to fund the pension system in 1981 that currently costs the average homeowner $419 a year. But that alone proved insufficient forcing the city to issue bonds first in 1997 and again this year.
Attorneys for the pension fund didn't return calls about whether they planned to appeal.
Grillo determined that the city intended for the pension board to consider only fixed compensation of current officers, and not the total compensation that includes bonus pay.
In addition to reducing the pensioners' future benefits, which range from about $4,000 to $5,400 a month, Judge Grillo ordered that the pensioners return past overcharges, but didn't specify how much should be returned. The city argued in court papers last year that the overcharges had cost it more than $7 million since 2008.