20 March 2005

Estuary plans may hinge on election

A ballpark is not currently being considered for the Oak-to-9th section of the Estuary. Instead, Signature Properties has plans for a major housing/retail development on the 60-acre property at the mouth of Lake Merritt Channel. While final approval is still at least a year away, Signature has already put up floorplans and other information for prospective buyers.

Something that may eventually accelerate or delay the development process is the May 17 Special Election for the District 2 (Oakland Grand Lake-Chinatown) City Council seat. Whoever fills the vacancy will have some measure of ability to shape the final plan. He/she will may be dealing with his/her immediate predecessor, Danny Wan, who resigned from the District 2 seat in January to take care of his parents and work for the Port of Oakland.

You may recall that the Estuary site was studied in the HOK report. It came in 5th out of 7 sites. The site has a couple of things going for it. Mainly, it is an absolutely gorgeous location with a view of the Alameda marina across the water. If a south-facing ballpark were built, fans in the grandstand would have an enviable, foul pole-to-foul pole, panoramic view of Alameda and beyond that, the Peninsula and SF. Since some of the land is vacant or in the process of being vacated, groundbreaking could occur once clean-up is completed.

That clean-up could be expensive due to toxicity levels at the site. Site preparation would also take some time because the ports were largely built with dredged bay mud and sand, making it not the most suitable foundation material. This was the case for China Basin as well, and the Giants solved that problem by driving 2,103 concrete piles into ground. Still, the area is a high-risk liquefaction zone, so special care would have to be taken to ensure the ballpark was seismically sound.

Yet the greatest opposition may come from a particularly plucky group of residents at the 5th Avenue Marina, which has established a nice reputation as a thriving little artist colony. Property owner J.W. Silveira, who may have more clout and more lawyers at his disposal, has sued Oakland to prevent the marina from being acquired or otherwise used in the greater development plan.

Whatever happens, the election winner will have no shortage of voices to hear from regarding what should be done with the land. The only guidelines exist in a 1999 document, the Estuary Policy Plan. One of those voices may be a new one in Lewis Wolff, who has plenty of experience building resorts and hotels and may find a unique opportunity to build one right on the estuary. With a ballpark, of course.