Sep 21, 2015, 1:08pm PDT
Over three hundred Oakland residents have signed up to testify at a City Council hearing today on potential coal shipments through a new logistics facility at the former Oakland Army Base, pitting environmentalists and activists against one of the city's most prominent developers.
The hearing focuses on a $1.2 billion shipping center in West Oakland set to create 2,400 jobs. Four Utah counties have approved a $53 million investment that would ship coal and other products through the facility, which would then be loaded on to ships to Asia. Environmentalists including the Sierra Club have criticized the plan as environmentally destructive and a public health hazard.
Phil Tagami's California Capital & Investment Group is developing the project. Tagami has been one of the most influential developers in Oakland for over a decade and also redeveloped the historic Fox Theater and Rotunda Building.
“Everything we are doing is improving Oakland, including its air quality. The project is a prime example of best practices of a community benefits agreement negotiated over three years ago. The package we agreed to with community stakeholders is unprecedented, all of which is framed by thousands of good paying, union jobs,” Tagami said in a statement.
The tenant of the facility's first phase, Terminal Logistic Solutions, has led the coal negotiations. "To be economically viable, we must be able to transload raw materials such as corn, soy beans, borax, iron ore, pot ash, soda ash, and yes, coal," Jerry Bridges, head of Terminal Logistic Solutions, and a former Port of Oakland executive director, wrote in a July letter to Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf.
He noted that coal would be transported by covered railcars that would prevent coal dust from leaking and comply with state air quality regulations. The agreement with the Utah counties hasn't been finalized and could still change.
The opposition has been joined by union groups including the Alameda Labor Council's executive committee, which voted to oppose coal shipments earlier this month, as well as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 and Local 34, who work at the nearby Port of Oakland. Former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also stated her opposition to coal shipments on Sunday.
Some business and labor groups have come out in support of the project, touting its economic benefits and criticizing "fearmongering." The Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO and Teamsters Joint Council No. 7 sent letters last month to city officials.
“We think the issue deserves a thoughtful approach free of rhetoric, politics and personality attacks. And we call on you as Oakland’s elected leaders to lead with principle,” the Teamsters stated in its August 5 letter.
The project was entitled in 2013, and the development agreement states that the city has a right to regulate the project based on public health and safety. In 2014, the City Council voted to oppose the transport of hazardous fossil fuels including coal through Oakland. But city may be limited in its authority to regulate interstate commerce, the domain of the federal government, a land use attorneytold the Business Times in July.
The hearing will begin at 4 p.m. at Oakland City Hall at 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.
Roland Li covers real estate and economic development